Monday, August 30, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> How Arsenal destroyed anti-football

Arsenal went toe-to-toe with Blackburn this weekend, a team designed to beat them. So how exactly did the Gunners neutralize Blackburn's "anti-football" tactics and walk away from Ewood Park with a 2-1 victory? Here's how ...


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> The inaugural Arsenal Q&A!

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the dramatic unveiling of the inaugural Arsenal Q&A!

Enjoy! And of course, send in your own questions to Sports Tzu by clicking "E-mail Erik" to the right, or send in your Arsenal questions through The Gunning Hawk.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Arsenal fans, are you ready for a war?

With so much stuff going on around Arsenal right now, my normally neat and tidy bucket of brain LEGOs has been dumped on the floor. In an attempt to save myself from football-induced psychosis, I've decided to tackle all of it at once! Blackpool, Squillaci, Frimpong, Mel Gibson, and other hilarious words will now be sorted into their proper color-coded bins.

Come on Arsenal!

Friday, August 20, 2010

HBO provides some "Hard Knocks" for crappy parents, analysts

Rex Ryan likes to swear.

He does it with a cheeky smile on his face, using the F-word like a painter uses a brush, with confidence and flair. He is an auteur of cursing, and, thanks to HBO's reality series "Hard Knocks," which follows around a new NFL team every year as it prepares for the upcoming season, the unsuspecting ears of the nation have been hit with a barrage of Rex Ryan's creative use of the English language.

Let me make this clear: I love to swear. It's cathartic, it's fun, it makes me feel good. Swearing is, in my humble opinion, the only way for normal people to stay sane. Someone cuts you off in traffic? "!@%&; you!" ... Your favorite sports team gives up a goal? "Aw, come the !#%& on!" ... Your other favorite sports team gets hijacked and moved to Oklahoma City? "@$%! off, rednecks!"

See? Catharsis.

My mom doesn't believe in swearing, so she's invented her own secret gibberish language to be able to swear without actually saying any swear words, which I still think totally counts. Even without saying real words, my mom is using the same theories put in place by the great swearers of our time (Scarface, 13-year-old kids on Xbox Live, etc.) to maintain composure in an increasingly-effed-up world. Swearing is a release.

So for an NFL coach to swear, someone who faces high-pressure, high-stakes situations under a constant microscope from 24-hour news networks and increasingly-impatient ownership, surrounded by horde of insubordinate, prima donna athletes making millions of dollars (and babies), makes a lot of sense sometimes. We know people swear, we know coaches swear, so where in the !%$# has the sudden outcry against Rex Ryan's colorful vocabulary come from?

Tony Dungy, one of the "distinguished emissaries" of the NFL, has become somewhat of a holy figure within the league thanks to his soft voice and public Christianity. Dungy, who helped the Indianapolis Colts win the Super Bowl as a head coach, is a man who's leveraged his media platform into a preacher's podium to admonish the wrongs of the NFL and its players. He's tutored Michael Vick back from the depths of prison, he's worked with Ben Roethlisberger after Big Ben was suspended by the NFL for six games for sexual abuse. He's basically sent out by the NFL to clean up messes (like the Wolf in "Pulp Fiction"), and deserves all the credit and respect in the world for taking on that charge to help athletes find the right path. But for Dungy to publically come out against Rex Ryan's use of "foul" language is so absurdly hypocritical that it, well, almost makes you want to swear.

The NFL is a league built around violence. Players have to wear pads because they hit each other so hard and so often that their bones and bodies couldn't handle the punishment without space age padding wrapped around every square inch of their bodies. Fights break out in training camp, like the one LeGarrette Blount just participated in, with such regularity that sports anchors laughingly shout "Training camp's kicked off!" while the NFL coaches shrug them off. Training camp fights are celebrated, not admonished in some holier-than-thou outcry for the protection of our morality and values, because it shows the tenacity and competitiveness that helps teams win championships. Ask any coach in the league what they want out of their offensive line. Ask any coach in the league what adjective he hopes describes his defense. Nasty, tenacious, aggressive. The sport is violent, and that's why people watch it. People like big hits, they like concussions, they like when the smelling salts come out. It's the same reason why Mixed Martial Arts is pushing boxing into oblivion. Something MORE violent? Americans are saying, "Yes please!" That doesn't make it right, the moral argument is one that isn't really for me to discuss, it's just the truth, the sport is violent and celebrated because of that. But, of course, people are okay with it. Tony Dungy built a career around a it. But swearing on an HBO documentary series about that violent sport isn't okay.

Even more important than the violent aspect of it ... ATHLETES SWEAR. Anyone who's ever been to a professional sporting event or watched one on TV has seen, heard (and re-seen and re-heard when the replays show it in slow motion) athletes swearing! Coaches swearing! Owners swearing! Fans swearing! EVERYBODY SWEARS at sporting events. Morality arguments aside, that's just the way it is. If ESPN can mic-up a coach and jokingly say, "That was the one clip we had that we could air!", the culture of swearing is clearly a part of sports. So much is on the line for these people, so much is on the line for the fans, that, sometimes, people just let the expletives fly. Sure, athletes and coaches are supposed to be role models blah blah blah, but it always comes down to the parents. Parents are the real role models (or should be), parents are the ones who should establish the rules, and if a child is incapable of handling a swear word without immediately turning into Howard Stern, that's a reflection on the parents. And, if a parent is incapable of protecting his/her children from Rex Ryan's mouth on an adult TV show on an adult TV network, they clearly haven't read the Comcast instruction manual.

Mike Greenberg, of ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning," launched into his own sermon Friday morning about how Rex Ryan isn't being a good representative of the "NFL shield." Greenberg thinks that, because Ryan's swearing is now featured on a private, adult cable television show, intended for adults, slapped with a "TV-MA" warning, and blatantly designed to show the underbelly of the NFL that isn't always shown on ESPN's made-for-TV, cupcake broadcasts, that Ryan somehow isn't living up to the standards of the league. The same league that purports violence, slaps light fines and suspensions on players who abuse illegal steroids and their wives, and employs convicted drug dealers and killers. Despite all of that, Greenberg said, because of Rex Ryan's swearing, he couldn't show it to his kids even though he wanted to, and other parents were e-mailing in to echo his sentiments.

Okay, wow, where to start ...

Parents are okay showing their kids the hyper-violent side of the NFL, watching Antonio Cromartie labor over the names and ages of his eight kids (from seven mothers ... no joke), players literally fighting over "respect" like prison inmates, and the ruthless side of the NFL as injured players are cut the day after picking up brutal injuries, BUT they can't handle the F-word?! Are you serious? Tony Dungy's okay building a career off of other peoples' violence, but he's not okay with a fellow coach swearing? Let's step down from the pedestal, people.

There's a lot of grey area in this topic, what role the media plays in making athletes and coaches role models, what responsibility parents have for their kids, what responsibility other fans have to make the environment safe and friendly for children as well. There's a lot of grey area and, when it comes down to it, making sporting events accessible for kids should be a goal of every organization across the world. And, in fairness, it IS a goal for every organization! That's why we have mascots and family days and ice cream and bobbleheads (oh my). It's how you build loyalty and legacy fans. It's how you get more money out of families for generations! Owners and organizations understand that and do everything in their power to exploit the "family" experience. But do you then dilute the experience for adults so that kids can participate too? Or do you just tell your kids, "Hey, some people are going to swear during this game, I just don't want you using those words, okay?" Do you censor yourself, your coaches, your athletes from being emotional and expressive? Do you realize that all of this overblown nonsense is happening on HBO and that nothing on that channel is intended for your 12-year-old Pop Warner quarterback?

Maybe it's time to clean up our priorities, not our mouths.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> One nation, under Arsenal

Does your nationality determine how much you can appreciate football? Some people think it does, I tend to disagree.

Send in your questions (both sports and non-sports) to be in the next Q&A!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Arsenal's embarrassing opener

Arsenal traveled to Anfield for the Premier League opener Sunday with high hopes for a trophy-filled season. After a lucky 1-1 draw, a man up for a full half but only scoring on a Liverpool own goal at the death, Arsenal fans are scrambling for answers (and some serious reinforcements) just one week into the year.

Come on Arsenal!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

ESPN is the new MTV

You know The Buggles song, "Video Killed the Radio Star"? That song, and it's subsequent music video, became the first video released by MTV when the television network launched in 1981, forever changing the face of music and musical entertainment. Singers were no longer just listened to, they became a spectacle, eye-candy that blossomed the careers of musicians around the world. MTV loved music, pushed music, and wanted people not to just fall in love with the songs themselves, but with the strange, beautiful, and bizarre characters who created them.

For years, MTV was the beacon of the music industry, showing nothing but music videos pumped out and celebrated by VJs -- like a radio show for your eyes. When a band's video made it to MTV, it signaled an extraordinary up-leveling in their career from indie unknown to pop culture sensation. MTV defined music, and, in turn, defined pop culture (styles, sayings, everything). A simple television show was having a profound impact on the world. Directors started seeing music videos as a global platform to perfect and perform their art, and marketers saw those same videos as a way to reach millions of people with advertising, messages, and commercial branding. MTV was where people went to know what was cool and important to them.

Then the 1990s hit, and as the decade screamed toward Y2K, the focus and purpose of MTV took a monumental shift. Network executives decided to focus less on, well, "music television," and more on exploiting the demographics of the people who watched it: Young, impressionable consumers. MTV launched a host of reality TV series, scripted shows, and rebroadcast movies that gutted the music-centric programming and filled it with brain trash ultimately designed to expand the MTV "brand" deeper and deeper into the lives of its viewers. Goodbye Michael Jackson, hello Jessica Simpson. Goodbye Bruce Springsteen, hello "Jersey Shore." Goodbye Black Sabbath, hello "The Osbournes." Goodbye music, hello reality TV.

With that shift came enormous criticism from people within the music industry and like-minded citizens who wondered where their music videos had gone. The music had become secondary to self-promotion and mindless sensationalism from the network and its sponsors; sounds and songs had been replaced with a sales pitch. Mainstream music changed to match the network; while talent dwindled, the spectacle of celebrity exploded thanks to MTV. Music had lost a major ally, and a huge division formed in the industry between "entertainers" and "musicians," facilitating the uprising of the indie scene and self-publishing for major artists sick of the MTV-perpetuated culture. MTV is still relevant and important, but not for what it was designed and purposed to be. It was meant to bring music into homes across the globe, providing more than the radio experience, but making the artists tangible, vulnerable, amazing. Instead, they became the afterthought. The music wasn't important anymore, just the spectacle.

Two years prior to the formation of MTV, another television network started, a little 24-hour sports network called ESPN. TV executives all destined ESPN for doom, stating there was no interest, no market from the masses, for non-stop sports. People read the newspaper, watched their local teams on local channels, there was no need for tireless, ad nauseum coverage of the sports world. Luckily for sports fans, they were wrong. ESPN grew and grew, gaining credibility on the hard-working backs of transitioned journalists and investigative reporters who took an inside look at sports in a way that had never been done before. This hard news, often tongue-in-cheek approach to sports coverage set ESPN apart from its competitors. Just like MTV initially won over a market by appreciating and sharing music the "right" way, ESPN mirrored that sentiment with SportsCenter and its brilliant coverage of live games and events.

It turned out there was a hungry market for the 24-hour sports news cycle, and as ESPN secured lucrative contracts with all the major professional sports leagues across the country in the 1990s and 2000s, the consumption of ESPN's services became a lesson in exponential mathematics. Their market grew, their coverage grew, and their wallets really grew (over $400 million in ad revenue alone each year), entering into lucrative partnerships with ABC and Disney and expanding overseas with the ESPN brand. ESPN began to consume the sports world and all it contained.

There is no competition for ESPN in sports television, just as there's no real competition in the music industry for MTV. There's no alternative, so the power these companies own is unshielded. The radiation was leaking, but the execs and anchors were too busy counting their money and patting themselves on the back to care. They say with great power comes great responsibility, but for MTV and ESPN, great power came with the opportunity to take advantage of the audience and methodically change the expectations of the consumer. Forget listening to music, watch reality TV instead. Forget watching sports, listen to our anchors talk about themselves instead.

Thirty years later, ESPN has emerged as the self-appointed "Worldwide Leader in Sports" with more than 10 dedicated sports channels, radio presence in nearly every major market, an award-winning magazine, and a handful of global Web sites that all receive millions of viewers, listeners, and hits per day. And, while MTV was defining youth pop culture, ESPN was defining sports pop culture the same way. The ESPN name and its anchors started showing up in sports movies, Saturday Night Live, and late night talk shows. The tough journalists were thinned out for young, beautiful TV hosts who looked better on camera than the grizzled veterans who founded the network. Sports broadcasters replaced writers and reporters, and the network itself lost its once-defining journalistic edge. Gone were the hardcore investigative pieces and critical analysis; in its place arrived sideline Barbies and incessant, blowhard coverage of only the biggest and baddest sports teams in the world. If you weren't a fan of a major market team, sorry, look elsewhere. Oh wait, there's nowhere else to look, so watch this highlight package of the Yankees and LeBron James.

The programming itself changed as well as the network moved into less live sports and focused heavily on self-promoting TV shows, self-promoting anchors, and even scripted dramas and made-for-TV movies. Instead of tuning in to ESPN to watch a game, you had to watch their people tell you their interpretations of games you didn't have the opportunity to watch because they were too busy pushing themselves onto the screen. ESPN had gone to bed with the people and teams it was supposed to be covering objectively, pushing forward promotions designed and orchestrated by the teams and leagues with shameful ignorance. It didn't matter though, they were becoming a financial juggernaut.

They stopped caring about sports and focused on growing their ESPN brand even more, embedding themselves in the world of pop culture and celebrity reporting like immature kids trying to prove they were popular. ESPN was shifting from sports coverage into sports entertainment coverage (which, granted, we should've seen coming from its name alone). Just when it seemed like ESPN couldn't alienate the core it had originally set-out to provide for, it began buddying-up with the biggest athletes, coaches, and executives in professional sports, forever altering its ability to properly and objectively cover them. It all culminated in the last 12 months with the absurd, TMZ-style coverage of the Tiger Woods affairs and the decision to let LeBron James (Inc.) hold the network hostage for an hour to announce his free agency destination.

The MTV path has been followed almost to a T.

And, on top of all that, ESPN began competing with itself to break stories. Screw investigation, screw sources and confirmations (all the stuff the prior journalistic regime vowed by), all that mattered to ESPN anchors and writers, who had basically become self-perpetuated celebrities by the network that featured them as such, was becoming famous. That's what ESPN has become now, a place for the non-famous, non-athlete anchors and "analysts" to become famous. Catch-phrases, commercials, "as reported by ESPN's ..." all come down to a greedy, self-entitled network trying to push itself further into the reaches of mainstream pop culture. And these anchors and reporters don't actually care if they're right, they don't need to be, they just need to be first. That's the network design: Be first. Not be accurate, not be fair, not be smart, not be balanced ... just be first. And as many mistakes and criticisms they've received for inaccurate, morally ambiguous, slanderous coverage, they refuse to change. They refuse to reevaluate their journalistic ethics and integrity ... that just slows down their fame.

For ESPN, being the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" isn't enough anymore. Being in every home, car, and computer from morning to night is what ESPN wants, and the only way they know to do it is through superficial gimmicks, masturbatory coverage, and news prostitution (if it bleeds it leads) that competes with the few remaining strands of trend-setting pop culture that exist today. ESPN's competition is no longer Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, or ABC's Wide World of Sports, it's now TMZ, CNN, and, really, itself.

And just like MTV's abandonment of its fans spawned a generation of indie kids and underground music that reinvigorated the true essence of music and culture, ESPN has spawned popular "indie" sports sites (like Deadspin) and revolutionized sports blogs that essentially sundered the newspaper world into oblivion. More people read blogs and sites dedicated to their specific teams than ESPN because they can't get anything but the upper crust of coverage there. ESPN has pushed true sports fans away in an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of everyone, and true sports fans have responded by latching onto satellite writers and sites who actually care about giving them honest, researched news and analysis.

ESPN was supposed to make watching sports better, just like MTV was supposed to make listening to music better. But, at this point, all they've done is alienate and strangulate the fans they were originally created to serve. Video killed the radio star, and ESPN killed the sports fan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Your new home for Match Day: Arsenal Interactive

The Gunning Hawk family is growing with the launch of "Arsenal Interactive!" Check it out and be ready for the season opener on Sunday!

Also, send in your questions (both sports and non-sports) by clicking "E-mail Erik" to be in the next Q&A!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Barcelona, your tears taste so good

It's official! Cesc Fabregas is staying with Arsenal. Our captain released a statement through the club last week announcing his return to the Gunners, so I thought it was only fitting to analyze and immortalize those words (sometimes I worry I'm starting to sound like Kanye West ... need to stop ironically-reading his Twitter feed before I go crazy).


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> The Best & Worst of Arsenal's preseason

Five games, four wins. It may just be the preseason, but things are looking great for Arsenal less than two weeks away from the Premier League opener against Liverpool! YES I'M EXCITED. I run through the Best & Worst of the preseason, with one match remaining at Legia Warsaw (can we give Fabianski back? No? Shoot ...)

Click E-mail Erik to the right and send in your questions (both sports and non-sports) to be in the next Q&A!