Search This Blog

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sports are Hard

Are you kidding me?  How can a pro mess that up?  We've all heard ourselves yell something like this at our television as we watch world-class athletes mess up something they usually make look easy.  Well, the answer to those questions is simple:  Sports are hard.

I have compiled a list of run of the mill athletic activities that fans take for granted every day.  This is not a list of the most difficult things in sports.  I think we all acknowledge that we could not perform hand stands and flips on a balance beam.  We acknowledge that we could not dunk from the foul line.  And, nothing from hockey appears on this list because everything those guys do looks extremely hard.

The list below only includes actions that we watch the pros do effortlessly everyday.  The actions that make us incorrectly scream, "Come on, I could do that!" when a pro fails.

Catching a Football in Full Pads.  Baseball may be America's pastime, but football is America's passion.  Few things get a football fan more incesnced than watching a wide receiver drop a pass that hits his hands.  But, those of you who are weekend warriors in any sort of rec league know that doing anything while running at full speed is much harder than it looks.  Add a set of shoulder pads that restrict your movement and put a 4 pound helmet on your head, and now you've got a real challenge.  Sure, if you are paid $3 million a year to play football for a living then you ought to be able to do this, but let's not lose sight of just how difficult this usually routine act really is.

Sinking a Five Foot Putt.  At the beginning of April, the best golfers in the entire world gathered at Augusta National to play the Masters tournament.  When Brandt Snedecker five-putted from inside five feet on the 14th hole on day three of the tournament, the nation let out a collective gasp.  Men gathered at the 19th hole of their favorite golf course put down their beers and declared to anyone within earshot that they would never commit such an atrocity.  Well, I'm gonna call B.S. on that.  Making five-foot putts is a lot harder than the pros make it look.  I know a lot of you who are reading this are pretty automatic at that range, but that is because you are good at putting.  It's not because human being are born with an innate ability to sink short putts.  Weekend duffers don't play with gimmies because they make short putts 100% of the time.  Gimmies exist because short putts get missed on a regular basis, and no one enjoys paying for 18 holes worth of missed putts.

Making a Contested Layup on a Fast Break.  It sure looks easy from your seat on the Lazy-Boy.  All you have to do is kiss the ball off the glass, and you get two points.  But, the first part of "layup" is "lay."  That implies you can get off the floor enough to place the basketball against the backboard.  That eliminate all the ladies I know and most of the men over 35.  But, even if leaping that high is part of your athletic repertoire, doing that under game conditions is a totally different scenario.  In order to be in position to make a layup in a game, you either had to dribble at full speed or catch a pass on a dead sprint.  Neither of those is particularly easy.  Then you have to finish off the drive by having enough body control to decelerate in the air and gently place the ball against the backboard.  Easy for John Wall?  Yes.  Easy for you?  Not so much.

Pitting in NASCAR.  Nothing gets a race fan more riled up than when their favorite driver makes a crucial error in the pits.  Speeding.  Overshooting the stall.  Banging into an exiting car.  How hard can getting gas really be?  Well, very hard.  First of all, there is a speed limit on pit road.  Drivers need to adhere to that even though they do not have speedometers in their cars.  Pit road speed limits vary from track to track, but 50 mph is a pretty good average.  Imagine driving at that speed and then making a hard left into a space that is just a bit longer than a regular parallel parking space.  After the service is complete, the driver then has to pull back out into traffic without the aid of side mirrors.  I don't know about you, but I'd have a pretty dinged up ride if I tried to do that even once, let alone 5 times in one race.

Laying down a bunt.  My grandfather was a patient man, but one thing that always made him angry was watching a major league ballplayer fail to lay down a bunt.  But, my grandfather was invited 1948 to go to spring training with the New York Giants.  Yeah, the same Giants that had Johnny Mize and Bobby Thomson on the roster.  PopPop chose the Navy instead, so he was allowed to gripe about bunting.  The rest of us need to relax a bit.  Very few people reading this post have ever squared up to face a pitch coming in at 90 plus miles per hour.  That has got to be a little intimidating.  But, let's leave the fear factor out of it for a moment.  Laying down a successful bunt means more than just getting wood on the ball.  A bunter is basically asked to catch a cylindrical missile on a round piece of hardwood and get that missile to drop softly onto the grass near home plate.  Read that sentence again, and think about that the next time you boo someone for failing at that task.

Subscribe to Banshee Sports by Email

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: French Onion Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese.  The name conjures up warm memories of childhood.  But, grilled cheese does not have to be just for the kiddies.  This French Onion Grilled Cheese puts a mature twist on a traditional favorite.  I originally discovered this recipe at  It appears here with a few Wild Banshee tweaks.

French Onion Grilled Cheese

Wine Braised Onions Ingredients:
4 large sweet onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Tbs butter
Tbs olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup beef stock

Wine Braised Onions Directions:
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic.  Saute until the garlic gets fragrant.  Do not let the garlic brown.  Add the onions and toss to coat.  Add the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme.  Reduce the heat to medium-low.  Slowly caramelize the onions for approximately 40 minutes.  Add the wine and beef stock.  Continue cooking for an additional 10 minutes or until the liquid has mostly evaporated.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Sandwich Ingredients:
Sliced French bread
Gruyere cheese, shredded (2 oz per sandwich)
Softened butter
Fresh thyme leaves (1/4 tsp per sandwich)

Sandwich Directions:
Butter one side of each slice of bread.  Add the 1 oz of shredded Gruyere cheese to the unbuttered side of one slice of bread.  Pile on some wine braised onions.  Sprinkle on the thyme leaves.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Top with the remaining Gruyere cheese.  Close the sandwich with the second slice of bread.  Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Place the sandwich into the skillet and cook until each side is a golden brown.


Subscribe to Banshee Sports by Email

Friday, April 11, 2014

NLRB Ruling: Blessing or Curse?

Players of the world unite!

That is the chorus that rang out from the halls of the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board last month.  On March 26, 2014, the Chicago district of the NLRB granted a petition seeking to grant football players at Northwestern the right to form a labor union.

The media unanimously rejoiced.  Anyone who failed to join in the celebration was considered to fall somewhere between a slave master and a robber baron on the social morality scale.  And thus, any real discussion on the logistics and realities created by the ruling was hushed.

However, I personally believe that this ruling by the NLRB falls squarely under the caption: Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.  In granting the collegiate players the right to unionize, the NLRB declared that student-athletes are actually employees of their universities.

Before anyone gets too angry with me, I want to make a few things clear.  First of all, I do not believe that college sports are just perfect now.  One of the longest pieces I have ever written for this blog was a proposal for how to change big time college athletics.  So, I'm not in the camp of people saying that an education should be enough and wanting anything more is just greedy.  What I am saying is that this ruling by the NLRB could have tremendous unintended consequences for thousands of collegiate athletes at multiple levels of NCAA competition.

At this stage, the National College Players Association and the College Athletes Players Association are not seeking pay for play.  The stated goals are related to health care and the ability to finish a degree after eligibility expires.  Those are laudable goals.

However, in the process of seeking those goals, the collegiate athletes were declared "employees" of their university.  As part of this ruling, the scholarships that players currently earn were deemed compensation by an entity of the federal government.  Compensation is a synonym for income, and income is taxed.

According to the NLRB's ruling, a Northwestern football player receives grant-in-aid that amounts to $61,000 per year.  In that income bracket, an employee of Northwestern University would owe $11,185 in federal taxes alone.  That does not include Illinois state taxes or FICA.  The fact that the compensation does not come in the form of a paycheck does not make a difference when the tax man comes knocking.  Just ask anyone who inherited a house or won a car on Wheel of Fortune.

In the normal course of employment, federal taxes are withheld from an employee.  An employee whose salary is $61,000 per year would have $11,000 of that salary sent directly to the federal government before the employee sees a penny.  However, that withholding system does not work for non-cash income.  When a non-cash windfall comes along, the recipient often has to liquidate the asset in order to pay the taxes.  Unlike grandma's inherited ranch house or a Chevy Malibu, a scholarship at Northwestern cannot be liquidated.  It cannot be sold to cover the tax bill.

There are a lot of young men who have the athletic talent and academic acumen to attend Northwestern but do not have that kind of cash on hand.  An inner city kid from Chicago who earned a full scholarship to play free safety at Northwestern would now have to figure out a way to come up with more than $11,000 in cash each year to pay the government for their compensation.  Instead of graduating debt-free with a business degree from Northwestern, that young man may now have to find a way to come up with more than $44,000 over four years for Uncle Sam.

Although the unionization movement was started from a revenue generating sport with players dreaming of lucrative professional careers, the "employee" designation does not actually end there.  Nothing in the NLRB ruling restricts this designation to students who are currently earning money for their school.  After all, employees at businesses that lose money are still liable for their tax bills.  And, the ruling certainly does not restrict the "employee" designation to students who may one day earn millions of dollars playing their sport professionally.  So, if you were a top-notch lacrosse player who was happy with your scholarship and debt-free diploma, the this union movement may have inadvertently ruined things for you.

The Northwestern football team is scheduled to formally vote on April 25, 2014 on whether or not they will actually unionize.  It is by no means a foregone conclusion that the final vote will be pro-unionization.  The quarterback and several other Wildcat players have publicly stated that they will vote against unionization.  The irony is that regardless of the players' vote, the cat may already be out of the bag when it comes to the income and taxation issue.

The take home point here is not that college football players are greedy.  There are plenty of reforms that can be made to college sports.  Unionization, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, either.  The pros and cons of that decision is worthy of a an article of its own.  The point of this piece is solely to issue a word of warning.  I do not have all the answers, but I do have some of the questions.  Questions that may be too late to answer.

Subscribe to Banshee Sports by Email

March Madness Master

The NCAA basketball season wrapped up on Monday night when the UConn Huskies defeated the Kentucky Wildcats to capture the national championship.  But, Dallas, TX was not the only place where a champion was crowned.  Here at Banshee Sports, the hotly contested tournament challenge also came to an end.

Joseph Lee is the winner of the third annual Banshee Bracket Bonanza.  Mr. Lee went with his alma mater and picked the Virginia Cavaliers to win the tournament, but a strong first two rounds carried him to victory.  Joseph defeated a strong field of entrants that included two past winners and a bevy of sports writers and bloggers.

Because the Final Four took place in the Lone Star State, the first place prize has a Texas theme.  As a reward for his mastery of March Madness, Joseph will receive a six-month subscription to the Salsa of the Month Club.  The second place prize this year is a one-time delivery of chocolate covered bacon.

This year, there was a tie for second place.  Yeah, Yahoo! has a tie-breaker method.  But, the Banshee is a benevolent dictator, so both Eric Harrison and Jenna will be receiving a the coveted bacon prize.

Thank you to everyone who played this year.  And, congratulations to Mr. Lee.  Until next year ....

Subscribe to Banshee Sports by Email