Category Archives: ESPN 8: The Ocho

For those sports that we don’t see on a regular basis.

The Declining Integrity of Professional Sports

The past eight days have not been baseball’s proudest. The suspension of Melky Cabrera for using testosterone and his attempted fake website coverup were followed a week later by another suspension for the same violation, this time for Bartolo Colon.

With these suspensions, the MLB has quickly learned that their battle against performance-enhancing drugs is still raging. In fact, Victor Conte, founder of BALCO (the company closely linked to Barry Bonds’ steroids case), claims that close to half of the players in the MLB are juicing. MLB vice president Rob Manfred quickly shot down Conte’s claim as nothing more than a guess, but the whole scenario underscores a major problem. Any credibility baseball had to its fans is long gone.

An example of the rock hard abs performance enhancing drugs will give you.

ESPN analyst  contrarian Skip Bayless proved this by accusing Derek Jeter of using performance-enhancing drugs, given the 38 year old’s impressive season after appearing “washed up” a year ago. Jeter responded to the accusation, suggested Bayless be the one who is tested. But how are we as fans supposed to take Jeter’s side when Bayless, for once, makes a decent point. Jeter is hitting 30 points higher than last season, and his average last year was 30 points higher than the year before. Athletes aren’t supposed to get better as their body deteriorates. Jeter has never tested positive for any performance enhancers, but because of the recent violations, fans and analysts alike are entitled to a higher level of skepticism.

What makes matters even worse is that last year’s NL MVP, Ryan Braun, tested positive for testosterone during his MVP campaign. He was able to avoid suspension by appealing the test, which he retook and passed. The false positive was never explained, casting doubt over the whole situation, regardless of whether or not Braun is guilty.

The MLB does not want to deal with another era in which nearly all of its best players are cheaters. That was the case for the past decade, where Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmiero, Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Roger Clemons, and Jose Canseco were all linked to performance enhancing drugs. With All-Star teams comprised of the players who juiced the most, not necessarily the most talented ones, little separated the MLB from the WWE. With this new bout of cheaters, the MLB may soon be struggling to maintain its ethos. How can fans differentiate talent from testosterone.

That’s right, Lance. 7 is how many gold medals you’re being stripped of.

Sadly, this issue goes beyond baseball. Cyclist Lance Armstrong was given a lifelong ban from the sport today after announcing he was finished fighting against the doping charges leveled against him. He will be stripped of his seven Tour de France gold medal and, while not conceding guilt, his legacy will be forever tarnished.

Armstrong was an athlete everyone wanted to love. Overcoming cancer and regaining the strength to compete at a high level was a great feel-good story, but he won’t be remembered for that courage. He’ll be remembered instead as a man who betrayed the trust of his supporters.

With so many athletes across nearly every sport hiding behind the veil of drugs, the sports landscape has turned into some sort of Oz-like mockery. Yet even with such widespread drug use still prevalent, the cheaters surely must be outweighed by the clean players. But because of those cheaters, a cloud of distrust has been cast over everyone.

It’s no longer about innocence, but the fact that we can never truly be sure.

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For Uganda, Williamsport Isn’t Just About Baseball

For the second time in two weeks, pride in Uganda is at an all-time high.

In last Sunday’s men’s marathon in London, 23 year-old Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich outlasted two of his Kenyan training partners to win Olympic gold.  It was his country’s second-ever gold medal—a long awaited victory after a forty-year drought.

This week, the East African nation is again rejoicing—this time over the accomplishments of around a dozen 11 year-old boys.

The youngsters from Lugazi made the trip to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series last week.  They are the first team ever from Africa to play in the annual tournament.

Team Uganda has been the feel-good story of WIlliamsport this year.

2011 would have been the first, as a team from Kampala, Uganda defeated Saudi Arabia to qualify as the representative from the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.  However, at the eleventh hour, officials from the United States Embassy in Uganda denied the team’s visa applications, citing discrepancies in the ages of some of the players.

Take two has been a success—the new MEA representatives are the talk of Williamsport, and deservedly so.

It’s difficult to think of a situation in the history of sports in which the score has been such a minor detail.

Part of the reason is that the context is so different for Uganda than for the rest of the baseball world.  For example, the United States is the birthplace of Little League baseball and has a fifty percent chance of winning the tournament each year.

Other countries like Mexico, Curacao, Japan and Chinese Taipei (formerly Taiwan) have had competitive programs for years, support from hometown heroes playing in the MLB and recognition on the international stage.

For Uganda, the building process has been progressing at a crawl.  According to 303 Development Corp, a non-profit organization from the United States whose goal is to develop Little League Baseball throughout Uganda, there are “15,000 children sharing about 700 gloves” within the national baseball program.

Funding has only been provided for three regulation-size Little League fields in the entire nation.  The vast majority of the young men who would be interested in baseball do not have access to the facilities, equipment and coaching that have the potential to mold them into great baseball players.

But in Uganda, unimaginable hardship has long extend beyond baseball.  Currently, there are around 2 million children without parents in Uganda, 45% due to AIDS.  30,000 people currently live in refugee camps, which offer horrible living conditions and extreme risk of both AIDS and malaria.

The inhabitants in these camps are the last “lost” Ugandans still suffering from the atrocities of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which mutilated nearly 100,000 people in Uganda between 1986 and 2007 and kidnapped, raped, disfigured and enslaved thousands more.

Uganda—which still faces severe poverty and hunger crises—now appears to be rid of the LRA, but the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sudan, despite some progress, are still suffering.

These young Ugandan men, because of what their country has had to cope with and what they are hoping to recover from, stand for much more than just a couple unfavorable scores, which will not be mentioned in this article.

“This is a message to all of Africa, We can’t be worried about results,” Uganda manager Henry Odong said. “We have to get the kids to play the game.”

Despite being eliminated, the MEA champions leave exactly as exactly that–champions.

And play they did.  Despite their early exit from the tournament at the hands of Panama and Mexico, respectively, Uganda competed until the final out and even brought the house down in Williamsport thanks to a Daniel Alio two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game One.

The hope is that Lugazi’s youth will inspire the expansion of baseball throughout Africa and other impoverished areas around the world.

Though the world is much more complicated than a simple game, maybe baseball, which has unified millions of people over the years, could continue to build hope for this still-healing continent.

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Cycling’s Long Road Back to Legitimacy

When you hear the word “cycling” come out of someone’s mouth, what words always seem to come to mind?

Lance?  Spandex?  Doping, maybe?

For the last few years, numerous sports have had their troubles with performance enhancers but have recovered in one form or another.

In baseball, black eyes left by players like Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco have been nursed back to health with modern day superstars in the class of Josh Hamilton and Jose Bautista.  Youth has done its part, too—Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have been the toast of Major League Baseball this year, as both have promising futures ahead of them.

Track and field took a long time to recover, with athletes like Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin serving lengthy suspensions and having their gold medals from 2004 stripped.  But, as the saying goes, “time heals all,” as four years brought along arguably the world’s most exciting athlete in Jamaican Sprinter Usain Bolt.

Oddly enough, the sport’s recovery process has come full circle as eight years later, a clean Gatlin is a threat to medal in the 100 meter dash in London after finishing first at the US Olympic Trials last month.

The sport of cycling, however, is clearly still on that winding, mountainous road to redemption.

If it wasn’t already bad enough that the sport’s greatest champion of all time, Lance Armstrong, could soon face official charges from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), cycling still struggles to find that one legitimate superstar to rally around.

The seven-time Tour de France champ continues to deny doping allegations pinned against him.

Following his 2006 Tour de France victory, American rider Floyd Landis had his title stripped after multiple tests proved he had abnormally amounts of testosterone in his system in the last few stages of his race to victory.

Two-time champion Alberto Contador is not competing in cycling’s biggest tour this July as a result of a 2010 urine sample that contained a considerable amount of clenbuterol, a banned substance that is normally used by patients with severe asthma to ease breathing.

It’s no wonder Contador made the Pyrenees look like a Sunday morning at Venice Beach during his two Tour de France victories in 2007 and 2009.

Despite the fact that these irrevocable damages will not likely be forgotten any time soon, especially considering that the Tour de France is cycling’s only event all year that receives significant press, a small glimmer of hope has shone through in this year’s tour.

During a Stage 14 climb up the Mur de Peguere, one of the Tour de France’s toughest climbs as the tour enters the Pyrenees, a few mischievous bystanders thought they would liven up the competition by throwing more than 30 tacks onto the road.

The nasty little obstacles made conditions chaotic on the course, causing crashes and punctured tires galore, especially for defending champion Cadel Evans, who had to change tires twice and promptly fell off the back of the peloton.

With stage leader Luis Leon Sanchez and others already more than ten minutes ahead of the peloton, overall leader Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky urged the peloton to slow its pace to allow Evans, who is directly behind Wiggins in the overall classification, to catch up and finish with the main field.

Wiggins’s unwillingness to capitalize in a situation in which he had a lot to gain on the clock and a lot to lose in terms of karma shows something different about the sport—that maybe there is a small amount of sportsmanship and integrity present left in a sport that has been ravaged by deceit and unfair advantages of late.

As well as having fantastic sideburns, yellow jersey holder Bradley Wiggins’s actions in Stage 14 showed his respect for the sport that has treated him so well.

Still, an act of respect like this doesn’t restore cycling to its former state, especially after a failed doping test disqualified “star” Frank Schleck from the Tour just this afternoon.

In all honesty, we may never see a completely cleansed, pure form of the Tour de France or the sport of cycling for the rest of its existence, as chemists and testers will constantly be racing to discover the next big thing in drug technology—in other words, what they’ve always done.

It’s just nice to see that for once, some of the sport’s biggest riders understand there are some things greater than getting ahead in this 2,200 mile test of character.

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A Very Filling Independence Day Tradition

If you had nothing better to do with your Fourth of July, chances are you turned on the television.

If there was nothing particularly riveting on the tube, which there generally isn’t at one o’clock in the afternoon on a holiday, you might’ve tuned in to ESPN.

If these stars of boredom aligned, then you were in for a treat—it meant you were watching the 2012 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

According to legend, the contest originated in Brooklyn’s Coney Island on July 4, 1916, when a group of four immigrants had an eating competition with this most American delicacy to determine who was the most patriotic.

96 years later, the great American gluttony is still on display.  Last year, the broadcast of the Hot Dog Eating Contest garnered nearly two million viewers and this year, the Surf and Stillwell intersection of Coney Island was visibly full, with thousands of spectators packed shoulder to shoulder.

Since 2001, the event has been dominated by two competitors—Japan native Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut from San Jose.

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The former champ Kobayashi, who once lost a hot dog eating contest to a bear, was arrested at the 2011 competition for trying to trespass on-stage during Chestnut’s victory ceremony.

For six years, the competition belonged to Kobayashi, who held the title and the Guinness World Record of 53.5 hot dogs and buns (H.D.B.) eaten in 12 minutes.

In 2007, the two went head to head and Chestnut stole the show, eating 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes to Kobayashi’s 63.

And while a contract dispute has kept Kobayashi out of the competition for the last two years, Chestnut has kept on eating.  This year, he managed to scarf down 68 beef franks in 10 minutes (the time limit was reduced in 2008), earning his sixth straight title belt.

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Following his victory, Chestnut appeared to be very close to a “Reversal of Fortune,” an automatic disqualification in the competitive eating world.

No, six titles does not make him Michael Jordan.  It never will.  No realistic comparison will ever be drawn between some of the grittiest performances sport has ever seen and something that could take place between two 300-pound drunkards at a chili cook-off over who is the bigger Lynyrd Skynyrd fan.

But that’s not to say Chestnut’s performance wasn’t impressive in its own right.  Each standard Nathan’s Famous hot dog is roughly 309 calories.  Chestnut ate 68 of these cylindrical meat surprises, meaning he consumed 21,012 calories worth of hot dogs—or over ten days worth of food—in just .7% of a day’s time.

In total, he inhaled 2,108% of the total fat, 816% of the cholesterol, 1,972% of the sodium and 544% of the carbohydrates recommended of a 2,000 calorie diet each day.

Following his tie of his own Guinness World Record, a visibly queasy Chestnut knew his efforts weren’t all for naught.

In addition to being the guy with the best story at every party he goes to this year, the six-time champ walked away with a $10,000 cash prize.

Dominating the International Federation of Competitive Eating (yes, that is a real federation) year-round, Chestnut makes a decent living.  In 2010, he raked in $218,500 in total earnings.

So, as you turn off your TV and begin your Independence Day feast preparation by tossing a few hot dogs on the grill, maybe you too will start to consider how they can bolster your retirement fund.

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