Why the 2017 US Open is Worth the Watch

 Maria Sharapova First Round 2017 US Open

Maria Sharapova.  Period. End of discussion. She’s more than cute, she’s courageous. She’s a dodgy, dainty dame who can play the game of tennis like nobody’s business. Now, in front of the entire tennis world, she’s mounting a comeback after being out tennis for 15 months for doping. And if you love sports, you’ll love watching a true champion play poorly and yet still win successfully, even on a bad day (or night) at the Office.

Maria Sharapova defeated 18-year-old Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-2 last night in the third round of the U.S. Open at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Open’s version of center court. The victory wasn’t clean, but it was conclusive, and some points were a thrill to watch. 

But Sharapova has history and baggage (don’t we all?).  She’s trying to overcome negative, popular opinion and overtake her own prideful propensity to prove to the tennis world that she’s still got it; and so far, she indeed seems to be one of the best tennis players in the tournament.

 D’Arcy Maine of espnW.com may have said it best:

“I need to get something off my chest: I have never been a Maria Sharapova fan.

From her former (and in my mind, unjustified) status as the highest-paid female athlete in the world, to her icy demeanor and less-than-stellar rapport with her peers on tour, I’ve always felt she was overhyped. Despite frequent comparisons to, and a lopsided head-to-head record with, Serena Williams, she’s nowhere near that level.

And when she got suspended in 2016 for doping, it only fueled my disdain. On top of everything else, she was using banned substances, too?

As you might imagine, I wasn’t exactly rooting for her to come back. She returned in the spring to much fanfare, but excitement quickly faded as she failed to receive a wild card to the French Open and was hampered by injuries for the rest of the summer. I didn’t feel sorry for her, and, frankly, I didn’t miss her.

Then, on Monday night, Sharapova made her post-suspension Grand Slam debut after receiving a wild card to the US Open. Playing in front of a packed and animated crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium on opening day, the unseeded Sharapova faced No. 2 Simona Halep. As the match began, I was rooting firmly for Halep.

But then a funny thing happened.

Sharapova impressively won the first set, and I found myself admiring her play and her gutsy resolve against one of the best in the game.

Halep came back to win the second set. But there was something about Sharapova’s tenacity, and all the emotions visibly strewn across her face, that was compelling. It looked like a different Sharapova than we had seen before. While her skill set has always been revered, for the first time, she was showing us just how much she wanted to be there.

When she finally closed out the match after an exhausting 2 hours and 44 minutes, she fell to her knees and cried. I couldn’t believe it. Was this the same Maria Sharapova, who was allowing all of her emotions to show as she fought for a win?

It may have just been a first-round match, but it looked like she just won the title. It was (gasp) … sort of inspiring.

As she took her seat on the sideline, she couldn’t control herself and held her head in her hands and sobbed. Meanwhile, I was thinking to myself, “Damn it, Maria! Don’t make me root for you!” But it was too late. I had been pulling for her for at least an hour without even realizing it.

‘I just thought this was another day, another opportunity, another match,’ she told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after the victory. ‘But this was so much more. You can’t control your emotions. Everything you go through is worth it just for this moment.’

As tennis fans, perhaps we needed to see and hear that from her. For once, she acknowledged her own feelings, and more importantly, her vulnerability. It was humanizing, and maybe even relatable. (Until, that is, she talked about the Swarovski crystals on her dress, but I’m going to let that slide this time.)

The reality is, it’s the human emotion, triumph of spirit and fragility of it all that makes sports so great in the first place. We need our athletes to want it as badly as we do from our seat on the couch. While Serena Williams makes cheering for her easy because she seems to live and breathe with every contested point, Sharapova’s previously cold disposition sometimes made it difficult to connect with her. Monday perhaps finally revealed the truth — she does care and isn’t afraid to let everyone know. And that makes her infinitely more likable.

Not only is Sharapova’s story one of redemption and determination — two things I’m always a sucker for — but it also makes this tournament a heck of a lot more fun. With the absence of Williams and the early elimination of Halep and defending champion Angelique Kerber (not to mention everyone else who’s out on the men’s side), the US Open is somewhat lacking in its usual drama and star power.

But with Sharapova, we have someone to get behind — or, for those who still haven’t come over to the dark side, against. Either way, we’ll be watching.”

 http://www.espn.com/espnw/voices/article/20501359/never-liked-maria-sharapova-rooting-the-us-open?addata=espn:tennis:index

Anybody Hate The Dallas Cowboys? (Besides Eagles And Redskins Fans)

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I hate Dallas. I mean hate. Ever since Jerry Jones fired Tom Landry back in the day, I’ve hated the Dallas Cowboys. I mean hate.  Landry WAS Dallas, and I loved Roger Staubach and Golden Richards and the “Doomsday” Defense. But Landry was unceremoniously released by the haughty and high minded, hubristic and  narcissistic, egocentric and egoistic owner Jerry “it’s all about me” Jones. But enough about him, even though “him” impacts and influences the entire team, I’d rather not focus on him. But to be sure a little leaven leavens the whole lump (Galatians 5:9).

So, if you hate Dallas and you know it, say AMEN!  All those of you out there that can’t stand and can’t stomach Dallas, join in tonight and wish Carson Wentz and my Philadelphia Eagles well. We’re going into Big “D” with nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s a big, mid-season matchup between NFC East Division rivals and it will have far reaching implication for the playoffs.

So, if you hate Dallas, hit me up and hit me back!

Seriously though, arrogance isn’t just found on this Dallas Cowboys team, it’s endemic and systemic across the board and throughout the span of sports. God hates a proud look. And “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  So, I’m just saying that if you team or your favorite player is prideful and pompous and pretentious and ostentatious, pray for humility. Because they’re going to need it.

There are only seven things that God hates, and pride is at the top of the list.

These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:  A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,  An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,  A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

Proverbs 6:16-19, KJV

Can Anybody Beat Alabama?

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Alabama beat USC into the ground. I mean it was so bad that USC doesn’t know if they got beat up or beat down. It was that bad. Their motto is “Roll Tide”, and Saturday at the Jerry Jones Arena, I mean Dallas Stadium, they did just that.

Alabama is king of the college football jungle. They are the reigning football phenomenon and they are a force to be reckoned with. The question is, can they be beat? Or, better still, will they be beat? Is it possible for Alabama to lose this season? They pasted USC. So will they lose in two weeks to Ole Miss? Or to LSU? Their schedule doesn’t seem all that challenging, so again, the question looms large. Let’s watch and see, and enjoy the ride along the way.

This reigning football dynasty is so similar to how we are to live as spiritual beings in the earth, it again gives credence to the nexus between God and sports. As God’s creatures in charge of the Tera firma, (and the sky and sea, too) we are to dominate and rule and kick butt.  That’s what Adam was told to do in the beginning.

Now, with the help of our Lord, we are to be invincible and insurmountable and indomitable. As believers in the Most High God, the ruler of the universe, we are to be unshakable and unbeatable and unconquerable. That’s if we obey and observe and submit to the pure and perfect will of God.

So, how ‘bout it? Let’s live as champions and as victors and as more than conquerors through Him that loves us. Let’s triumph in everything and over everything. Let’s live a life pleasing to God so that we continually kick devil butt, and solve the problems that face us all.

So back to Alabama:

The only thing that Alabama and their coach Nick Saban have that we shouldn’t want is arrogance. This is the one caveat that Alabama has that we need to be wary of. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Alabama needs to know that if you’re the best, it takes God to keep you humble and holy and modest and lowly.

Because this season, the only team that is going to beat Alabama, is Alabama.

Cam Newton: Dissapointed and Dissapointing

Cam Newton Presser After Super Bowl

I’m disappointed for and disappointed with Cam Newton, both at the same time.

First, I’m disappointed for Cam because I like Cam. I do. The Carolina Panthers were arguably the best team in football this year and were the favorite to win Super Bowl 50. With a 15-1 regular season record, they seemed destined to win it all. But it just wasn’t meant to be.  And Cam has been up and down and all around as a pro and as a collegian. He’s been beat up and beat down; he’s taken a lickin’ and he keeps on ticking.  Like him or not, you must admit that his story is compelling.

Cam was a back up to Tim Tebow at Florida. Go figure. Then he was dismissed from the Florida Gators program and fell from grace. Cam landed at a Texas Jr. College, won the JuCo National Championship and then worked his way back to Auburn where he won it all – the BCS Championship game, that is.  His is a rags to riches to rags story, for sure.  

But I’m disappointed with Cam because of his attitude and his ingratitude. Hundreds of NFL veterans would kill to play in a Super Bowl. And while I get it that “you play to win the game! Hello!!!” (thank you, Herman Edwards), you simply can’t win them all. No one does.

But Cam didn’t see it that way. Cam can be a ham but his leg of lamb just got cooked by the Denver Bronco’s battering ram of a defense. So while Cam expected to hit a grand slam, his offense hit a log jam. And it wasn’t pretty. Cam gloated and gloried through the regular season and playoffs and he acted as if the Super Bowl was his to have. His entitled spirit has more than a  touch or a tinge or a twinge of conceit and condescension. And so, it appears that his self-inflicted wounds are what’s probably burning him up the most.

And to add insult to injury, Cam’s countenance fell and his body language went to hell as he soured and sulked and slumped and pouted and puttered and muttered through the game that he felt his team should have won. Yet he got beat like he stole from his own momma. It happens at least once to every athlete. He’s been playing competitively almost all of his life, so he should know what it means to be a good sport, and yet he still doesn’t know how to lose. At least not gracefully and respectfully.

So I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed, not that he lost, but that he handled the loss so poorly and so unprofessionally. He stormed out of the presser (post game press conference) after a unbelievably crass appearance as he responded to reporters questions with haughtiness and hubris. Cam’s arrogance was altogether distressing, disturbing and displeasing. And it was unacceptable.

It just goes to show ya, the Bible is STILL right: pride does come before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Odell Beckham Jr: OBJr = OMG!

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Odell Beckham Jr., the New York Giants’ sassy and sensational young receiver, is a knucklehead. Or maybe he’s a knucklehead in the making. Or maybe he’s already a full-fledged, full-blown, full throttle blockhead who doesn’t know his butt from his belly bottom. I’m talking dumb and dumber, personified.

Beckham in two seasons has become one of pro football’s most popular and celebrated players and the focal point of the Giants’ offense. His spectacular one-handed catches and entertaining end zone dances after touchdowns have made him a marquee name in sports and a frequent pitchman for commercial products across multiple media platforms. Beckham also graced the cover of Madden N.F.L. 2016, the best-selling sports video game.

But he’s also a knucklehead. A knucklehead is a person of questionable intelligence. The point is, figuratively speaking, that the size of their brain is being compared to the size of a human knuckle. The term is similar to pinhead, or someone of limited intelligence and with a mean nature or someone who prefers using their knuckles or fists, to using their head.

Odell Beckham Jr., or OBJR., was penalized three times for unsportsmanlike conduct during a game-long battle with Panthers cornerback Josh Norman AND THEN after the game he was suspended by the NFL for one game because he repeatedly tangled with Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman.

The suspension was for multiple acts as Beckham was whistled for three personal fouls (and it could have been more) for unnecessary roughness. But the most glaring incident came in the third quarter, when Beckham, running at full speed, slammed his helmet into the side of Norman’s. In college they call that “targeting” and it warrants an immediate ejection from the game, whether it was unintentional or not.

In announcing the suspension, the league referred to the vicious collision as a flagrant hit against a defenseless player, “in which Beckham left his feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent.” Unbelievable.

In an era where safety comes first and flagrant fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness are examined under a microscope, players do well to play within the rules and within themselves and not let their emotions get the best of them, especially when it comes to inflicting injury on another player. But OBJR doesn’t see it that way.  

After the game, Beckham defended himself.

“We are out there playing football,” he said. “We are competing. You are a competitor. I’m a competitor. We are always going to go at it.”

Wow. “Go at it” he says. Slamming your head into another player is called targeting or spearing, and once they called it head hunting. Can somebody say “Knucklehead!?”

Not surprisingly, this is not the first time OBJR has been fined for this type of behavior. In fact, this is the FOURTH, count it, fourth time Beckham has been suspended or fined in his short career for violent acts or temper tantrums. In 2014, he was fined $10,000 for kicking Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree in a brawl-filled game in St. Louis. The same month, he was fined $11,025 for taking off his helmet and throwing it to the turf during a prolonged protest of a late tackle out of bounds. Early this season, Beckham was fined $8,681 for throwing a punch at Buffalo Bills safety Duke Williams.

So what can we learn? Or, more pointedly, what should Mr. Beckham learn?  He is 23 years old; old enough to know better and yet young enough not to know what he doesn’t know.  And he doesn’t know how to behave like a professional. He’s substituted macho chauvinism for proper professionalism and is behaving badly like so many of his other young and unbridled stud athletes these days. Jahlil Okafor, take note (https://godandsports.net/2015/12/02/jahlil-okafors-rookie-mistakes/). 

So let’s just hope and pray that his pride is humbled before his haughty, high mindedness costs him more than fines and one game suspensions.

Brady Is Busted

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OK. Let’s take a poll. Guilty or not guilty? It’s a simple, straight-forward question. What did Tom Brady know, and when did he know it? Sound familiar? For all of you youngins out there, that’s the famous question asked by Republican Senator Howard Baker about President “Tricky Dick” Nixon during the Watergate hearings.  And it continues to be applicable 50 years later. Here’s what The NFL said about Tom Brady’s involvement in “Deflategate:”

With respect to your particular involvement, the report established that there is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots’ employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge.

Moreover, the report documents your failure to cooperate fully and candidly with the investigation, including by refusing to produce any relevant electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information, and by providing testimony that the report concludes was not plausible and contradicted by other evidence.

It’s hard to argue that someone is innocent when they refuse to come clean. It’s hard to believe that someone is blameless when they hide and conceal and fail to disclose facts. It’s hard to conclude that a person is unsullied and unknowing and untouched by unethical conduct when there’s plenty of smoke in the air. And you know what they say; where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

I don’t like Tom Brady. I don’t. And I like him less and dislike him even more now that he’s determined to try and prove his innocence when it’s been proven that he’s at least partially guilty. Come clean. Admit the deed and diminish the damage. If he’s not an accomplice he was at least complicit. Case closed.

Tom Vincent, the NFL’s investigator and Roger Goodell—who got this decision right, as harsh as it is—basically believe that Brady lied and obstructed. They view Brady as someone who thought he was above it all – the law and the League. The NFL viewed Brady’s actions as arrogance. Brady scorned and spurned and disregarded and disrespected not just the rules but the entire sport. Nuff said.

Brady will appeal the suspension, but the suspension should stand. The only thing worse than being wrong is being arrogantly wrong. Yes Brady’s pride is hurt, but humbling himself will help him heal, and heal his public image, if he’s at all concerned about that.