We have been taught, by endless features, to feel pity for bad sports towns. I cannot pretend I haven't engaged in this very activity—I am a complicit part of the depressed fan base industrial complex. And it works well for places like Buffalo, NY, which seem vaguely depressing anyway. If you're on Lake Erie, get ridiculous snowfall, your economy stinks, and your public libraries are unfunded? Yes, the pain of also having terrible sports teams is legitimate, and feels like a kind of universal cruelty. The same could be said for Cleveland, prior to the Cavs title (although if you think people in that city care about the Cavs one-hundredth as much as they care about the Indians or Browns, you're nuts), Indianapolis, Oakland, or Minneapolis. It fits.
But lately, you've probably heard a general sound of whining coming from our nation's capital, where the NHL's Capitals just lost for the 300th straight time to the Pittsburgh Penguins (streak estimated), and the Wizards are almost surely about to fall to the Celtics (and will fall to the Cavs even if they pull off a miracle). The city hasn't had a title since whenever the Redskins last won a Super Bowl, their NFL owner is a megalomaniac exemplar of incompetence, their baseball team is cursed, and even their fun NBA team mostly serves as a reminder that they exist just below the upper echelon even in the best of times.
Yes, things are dire in the District. But let's not start comparing them to a place of real suffering, like Buffalo. The truth is that Washington is the soulless societal hub of American politics, where the people who can afford to even attend games are the same people who dedicate their lives to complicating (best case scenario) or ruining (worst case scenario) the systems we depend on. I'm not even going to get partisan here—D.C. is a city of bloodless hacks, on both sides of the aisle, and any poll will show you that the rest of America despises them, party affiliation be damned. Do not feel bad for these people—they are not rust belt factory workers, or gritty working class stiffs from the Pacific Northwest. They are annoying wonks, and since we'll always be subject to whatever nonsense they cook up in the halls of power before they slink off to their ritzy Maryland/Virginia suburbs, the least we can do is enjoy the schadenfreude that comes from their professional sports failures.
Celebrate, America! D.C. isn't even a real state! They deserve this!
Most Nauseating Overkill Celebration Of A (Once) Beloved Athlete
If you think you know anything about Derek Jeter's actual personality, let me be the first to tell you that you're wrong. Derek Jeter is the poster-boy for the new breed of curated superstar, by which I mean someone whose image is so carefully managed that they never betray an ounce of anything like identifiable human behavior. Instead, they say nothing controversial, do nothing controversial, and let the blank slate that they present to the world be colored in by legions of fans who can project whatever qualities they want onto that empty canvas. Throw in a major media market, some signature moments on championship teams, and, voila, this is how a Derek Jeter is built.
All of this allowed Jeter to make millions and millions of more extra dollars than he would have from baseball alone, and it didn't really hurt anyone. If there are a few credulous baseball fans out there who believed in the myth of the god-like, flawless creature called JETER, who cares? It probably made their lives a little better, and we all need to put our faith in something. Also, I'm a Yankees fan, and I'm 100% guilty of this myself—in my less rational moments, I truly believe Jeter is not a human being, but a supernatural creature made of grace and class and mystique. And it's actually great to believe it.
And yet, there is a certain amount of hero worship that goes too far. We finally reached peak Jeter in 2017 with the atrocity that was "JETER WEEK," which occurred over the past seven days and is just as overblown and annoying as it sounds. The guy wasn't anywhere close to the best baseball player of his generation, but he still got a farewell tour and oodles of idolatry when he retired. Apparently that wasn't enough. No, the Yankees had to devise a week-long love-fest to him in 2017, for no particular reason except to retire his number and add another plaque in Monument Park. And even that's OK (although this YES Network TV schedule is pretty hilarious), but somehow, it's managed to seep out of the New York City media market and into mainstream media. It's all over ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and all the usual places, but the most offensive example by far is the ad put together by none other than Budweiser.
Behold, "This Bud's for 2":
This is so awful, and the fact that the commercial is professionally done, and almost evocative, makes it even worse. It absolutely kills Jeter for me, once and for all. Because at heart, this is what the Derek Jeter myth was always about. It wasn't about the fans, really—it was about selling products. It was about making money. And by using and abusing the special moment that was his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium to cynically peddle the world's shittiest beer, the beast that is capitalism just struck a death blow. It erased the last vestiges of humanity in Jeter, and turned him fully into a commodity.
Best Sports Human of the Week: A Squirrel
God, this squirrel rules. Watch it frolic and cavort for four minutes, interrupting a Twins-Indians game:
Unlike the lame baby squirrel (read: adorable) that stole the spotlight at the Medinah Ryder Cup, befriending personalities like Davis Love III and Tiger Woods, this chipmunk is a full-grown wild card. It has spunk, a sense of humor, and other very human traits that are definitely identifiable and not just my own wishful thinking. The other great thing about a squirrel, in this case, is that the cameras at a baseball game which actually show it on TV. They won't show streakers, despite the fact that streakers and this particular squirrel were both naked. Also, let's be real: Streakers are terrible at getting away from security, while nobody, uniform or no uniform, was catching this little squirrel. Good job, furry little fella.
Most Honest Strategy by a Cool Coach: Gregg Popovich
The Spurs are an awesome team, and have been an awesome team for a very long time, but now that they've made the Western Conference Finals, they have the unenviable task of facing the Golden State Warriors. When asked to outline their strategy for beating the presumptive favorites, Spurs coach and NBA legend Gregg Popovich offered one word: "Pray."
You can bet the Spurs will have something a bit more complex up their sleeves, but deep down, Pop knows that they'll need a lot of luck, and maybe a bit of divine intervention (which is interesting, because if anyone coach seems like he'd be a cynical atheist, it's the eternally grumpy Popovich). You have to love his honesty, which is almost as great as his sideline interviews.
Dumbest Financial Move By a Sports Person I Didn't Know Existed: Doug DeCinces
Doug DeCinces was a baseball player—an infielder, to be specific. He played in one World Series, but his team lost. He retired after 15 years in 1987, and then disappeared for a bunch of years until he did something really stupid. In 2009, his neighbor gave him a hot tip that a medical device firm was about to be sold to a much larger company. So DeCinces bought 90,000 shares a few days before the big deal was about to happen, and then sold immediately after it happened, making about $1.3 million in the process. Sweet! Payday!
The bad news for him is that this is the world's most obvious example of insider trading. The worse news is that the neighbor who gave him the tip happened to be the CEO of the damn company. Incredibly, DeCinces also passed the tip on, and the recipients made millions of their own. In short, this was likely the easiest case ever prosecuted by the SEC.
On Saturday, a jury found him guilty of 14 federal charges, and now the dude is facing decades in prison, despite the fact that he made way more than $1.3 million as a baseball player and was living in a pretty ritzy California neighborhood when he decided he had to get greedy. Man, this was stupid.
Best Question to Ask a Basketball Player at the Combine: Anonymous NBA Team
Frank Mitchell III, out of Kansas, was asked the following: "How would you like to die?"
Mason answered that he'd like to die in his sleep, which must have pleased the anonymous team, who were likely afraid that he'd answer: "By taking over the team bus on a day when the GM and the owner are on board, and driving into a giant gas tank, so that we all go together in one glorious fiery ball, burning to ashes together, screaming, as a team."