Drought over somewhere

Just two weeks remain in the 2016 MLB season, and not many people could have predicted what we are seeing right now. The three teams that have a chance at winning it all this year are three teams that haven’t come close in years.

The last time any of the three teams remaining won a World Series title was in 1988 by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then 40 years before that the Cleveland Indians won it all against the Boston Braves. And we all know about the Chicago Cubs. They have the longest drought of all, going on 108 years.

NLCS PREDICTION

I think this one is going to Game 7. Thursday’s game was the last where the Dodgers will have home-field advantage in the series.

Kenta Maeda’s performance for the Dodgers thus far in the postseason can’t be called anything but below average. Through two starts he’s given up seven earned runs on nine hits in seven innings. He’s struck out six but walked five which has pushed him to a 2.0 walks plus hits per inning pitched. His final two starts in the regular season were poor as well.

Jon Lester on the other hand is a left-handed pitcher. Despite having a lefty-heavy lineup, the Dodgers were one of the worst offensive teams in the league against left-handers this season. I’ve got to give Lester the advantage on the mound.

Game 6 and 7 will be in Chicago, giving the Cubs the home-field advantage, but we are guaranteed to see Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw once more this series. The Dodgers will need to use Kershaw in Game 6 to avoid elimination and force a Game 7. Tied up at 3-3, the series could go to anyone. As a Dodger fan I have to go with Los Angeles, but the numbers continue to favor the Cubs.

WORLD SERIES PREDICTION

Each playoff team’s chances of winning the World Series are: Cleveland Indians, 42.6 percent; Chicago Cubs, 31.2 percent; and Los Angeles Dodgers, 26.2 percent, according to SportsLine as of Thursday morning.

On Wednesday the Cleveland Indians polished off the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 5, making them the first team to advance to the World Series. This is the reason SportsLine has them as the current favorites. But the Indians have been the underdog since we entered the postseason. They weren’t supposed to win the ALCS. Experts went for the Blue Jays, whom the numbers supported but Cleveland proved them wrong. Perhaps it’s the underdog mentality that will carry them to a win.

Once the NLCS is decided, that team will be the favorite to win it all with a 47.4 percent chance. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s significant enough. Defensively I’d have to give the Indians the advantage. On paper either NLCS team would seem to have the edge. While both teams had great regular seasons, in the postseason the mound has been owned by Cleveland. The Indians have gone 7-1 on their road to the World Series with their downright amazing pitching performances leading the way.

Turn to the other side and offensively it’s the two NLCS teams that should dominate. Unlike some teams, Los Angeles has been consistent in scoring runs this postseason and has yet to be shut out. It’s already shown it can perform at the plate against the Nationals and Cubs.

The reason Chicago was the favorite through the regular season and moving into the postseason is the fact that it has the most complete team in the MLB. If they don’t crack under the pressure there seriously is no stopping them. That is if they can get past the Dodgers first.

Prediction: Whoever wins the NLCS will win the World Series. I predict Cubs over Indians in five or Dodgers over Indians in six.

Weekend watch list

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The two games on my must watch list this weekend have the potential to really shake up the rankings. As we enter the second half of the season and get closer to playoff season, game outcomes are event more important.

The first Saturday match up is in SEC country with No. 1 Alabama traveling to No. 9 Tennessee.

Tennessee has put up quite the impressive performance this year. It has just one loss and that was in Week 6 against Texas A&M in double overtime. But perhaps the most notable Vol stat is that in five of six games this season, they have turned up the heat in the second half to come from behind and either win or force overtime.

Alabama has been the undoubted favorite since the beginning of the season. Nick Saban’s Roll Tide won’t go down easy, but this is their second straight road trip. Last week they were at No. 16 Arkansas, which actually put up a challenge. Bama only won 49-30.

I believe Roll Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts will decide the game. Hurts has 256 yards of total offense this season and he could be a real struggle for a Vol defensive line down two starters.

The Vols have more on the line with this game than the Tide. If Tennessee loses, the University of Florida is right back in the mix for the SEC East. If that is the case, Tennessee would need Florida to lose one more time. With both teams having two losses, the Vols would own the tiebreaker.

It wouldn’t be a huge deal to Bama if they lost to the Vols. Suffering just one loss the Tide would most likely still be in playoff contention but the pressure would be on to win out the season. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.

A few hours later is the biggest match up in the Big Ten: No. 8 Wisconsin versus No. 2 Ohio State. A Badger win could heavily change the playoff picture, but this game is more about the Buckeyes and other Big 10 opponent, University of Michigan, than it is the Badgers.

The Buckeyes need the win in order to cement themselves over the Wolverines until they face off on Nov. 26. Plus a Buckeye win over the Badgers on the road would be much more impressive than the Wolverines’ win over the Badgers at home, 14-7.

The loss to the Wolverines is the only loss for Wisconsin this season. A win over the Buckeyes and winning out the remainder of the season is needed to keep the Badgers’ playoff hopes alive. If Wisconsin wins on Saturday, it will be the third win over a top-10 team this season.

This game will come down to defense (Wisconsin) versus speed (Ohio State). Wisconsin has one of the best defenses in the country, but Ohio State has more playmakers, including one named J.T. Barrett. The Badgers have proved themselves a lot more than the Buckeyes this season as well, with games against LSU, Michigan State and Michigan. Ohio State’s toughest opponent was Oklahoma, who maybe wasn’t as big of a deal as we thought.

MLB

In case you haven’t heard, it’s postseason in Major League Baseball. Friday night starts the race for the American League pennant and Saturday for the National League pennant.

In the American League Championship Series, we have the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians. Both teams are unbeaten in the postseason. Toronto started by having to beat Baltimore in the AL wild card game, and the Indians had to beat the Red Sox at Fenway. This should be a series for the books with both teams red hot, not to mention on July 1 they competed through 19 innings to determine a winner. Cleveland has home field advantage to start, and first pitch is at 6 p.m.

In the National League Championship Series we have the headline winners of the month: the Chicago Cubs. If anyone has heard anything about the MLB postseason, it has most likely been about the Cubs. Chicago had to take down San Francisco in order to enter the pennant race, and not many thought it was possible — it is an even year mind you — but they got the job done. Joining Chicago is the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers and Washington Nationals faced off Thursday night in the NLDS Game 5 with Los Angeles taking it, 4-3.

Attempting to stay in bounds

It has been nearly a month since Colin Kaepernick was first noticed for sitting out the national anthem. Many thought that his gesture and stance would be talked about for a few days and like many other things would fade. But Kaepernick’s movement has done everything but that.

INDIANA FEVER

On Wednesday, the WNBA’s Indiana Fever became the first professional sports team to take on the protest. Prior to its playoff game against the Phoenix Mercury, which eventually won the game, the entire team took a knee and linked arms during the national anthem. They were even joined by two Mercury players Mistie Bass and Kelsey Bone.

This isn’t the first time that a WNBA team has spoken out either. In July, prior to Kaepernick, players for the Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty, Fever and Mercury players wore T-shirts with messages seeking change following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

TEXAS YOUTH FOOTBALL TEAM

The movement has gained many supporters at the high school and youth level. Unfortunately these athletes aren’t immune to the backlash that comes with being involved in such a high-profile protest.

A youth football team is receiving death threats after deciding as a team to take a knee prior to a game on Sept. 11 in Beaumont, Texas. The decision to protest was brought up by the children ages 11-12 and was supported by the coaches and parents. According to a mother whose son is on the team, online comments have said their “coaches and players should be lynched. They should have burned in 9/11. There are people who are saying the n-word.”

Some say the kids don’t know what they are kneeling for, but these kids aren’t blind to what is going on around the country.

On Tuesday, Kaepernick came out saying that he has received death threats.

“To me, if something like that were to happen, you’ve proved my point and it will be loud and clear for everyone why it happened and that would move this movement forward at a greater speed than what it is even now,” Kaepernick said. “Granted, I don’t want that to happen, but that’s the realization of what could happen, and I knew there were other things that came along with this when I first stood up and spoke about it. That’s not something I haven’t thought about.”

How is this right? You may not agree with Kaepernick’s and others motives or methods, but when is it ever OK to threaten someone’s life because of it? People making death threats to Kaepernick and anyone else who have knelt in support of him are only fueling the fire.

CAM NEWTON

During a press conference Wednesday night, the Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fielded questions regarding racial issues despite normally being hesitant. His comments came a day after the fatal shooting of Keith L. Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, which sparked protests throughout the city.

“We all have to hold each other accountable,” Newton said. “I’m a firm believer of justice. I’m a firm believer of doing the right thing. And I can’t repeat it enough of just holding people accountable. … I am not happy with what or how the justice has been kind of dealt with over the years.”

Newton has not joined the Kaepernick movement, but he is the latest NFL player to come forward and make a statement regarding the need for change. During the press conference he asked the same question that Kaepernick did in one of his first interviews: how do police on a leave of absence still get paid?

The reigning NFL MVP has commented on social issues before and knows the backlash that often comes with it. He called the place that he stands along with many other athletes a lose-lose.

The Right to Sit

Before the Niners’ preseason game on Aug. 26 against the Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem. Since then his name has been in news headlines and he is trending on Twitter.

What is the problem with choosing not to stand? The No. 1 argument is that it is disrespectful to our county, our flag and our military. But there is no law saying that U.S. citizens are required to stand when the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played. We aren’t the only country who stands when their national anthem is played. When other countries’ anthems are played, we are taught to stand out of a sign of respect. But what happens when that country isn’t respecting its citizens? Does that country still deserve a standing ovation?

Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem because he believes that America isn’t living up to what it was founded on.

“Ultimately, it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what is really going on in this country,” Kaepernick said following the game. “There are a lot of things going on that is unjust, people aren’t being held accountable, and that is something that needs to change. This country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all and that’s not happening right now.”

The main issue I’ve come to find from people who aren’t happy with Kaepernick’s stance is that it disrespects the military. Well, that’s not true. By choosing not to stand for the national anthem you are not disrespecting the U.S. military, you are exercising the very right that men and women in uniform have served and sacrificed for.

The First Amendment specifically states the right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble. It is this amendment and the remainder of the constitution that our military is fighting for. They fight so that we all have the right to do what Kaepernick chose to do. If you don’t believe me, check out #VeteransForKaepernick.

In his Donkey of the Day segment, Charlamagne tha God chose Kaepernick as his Aug. 29 donkey. And in that radio segment he brought up a good point, the flag represents a system and America is a business — “like any place of employment, when you promise your employees certain rights and don’t deliver, those employees have the right to speak out and demand what is promised.”

Kaepernick is demanding what the United States of America has promised ALL of its citizens because now not ALL of us are receiving those so-called promises.

Kaepernick is one of several athletes who have spoken out on the issues of police brutality and the system of racism that still exists in this country. But there is something that separates Kaepernick from the ESPY speech of Carmello Anthony, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul. There is something that sets Kaepernick apart from all the rest. He is forcing you to take a side, forcing you to acknowledge that there needs to be some real change.

I think what many people need to ask themselves regarding the controversy — are you upset because he isn’t standing or are you upset with his reasoning for not standing? If the issue is solely with him not standing then, heads up, it is not an act of patriotism if we “need” to stand and if standing is the requirement you aren’t being patriotic for doing so. If your problem with Kaepernick’s stance is in regards to what he is standing for, then you are un-American for thinking that not all of America’s citizens deserve the same treatment and the same rights. If you think that all of America’s citizens receive the same treatment and the same rights, then you are blind.

In his op-ed to the Washington Post, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar voiced his support for Kaepernick and called his act highly patriotic, “What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after (Muhammad) Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities.” Ali, Smith, and Carlos are all black athletes who were once considered controversial for their protests but have since become iconic symbols of the U.S. civil rights movement.

I guess the real question is should we as a country celebrate how far we’ve come in regards to equality or continue to work toward improvement because we still have a long way to go? For me, we must continue to work on it and, because of that, I will continue to sit alongside Kaepernick on this one.

 

All about that photofinish

There is something about that photo finish that makes me get butterflies in my stomach and sit at the edge of my chair.

The swimming competition brought us a few photo finishes in the first week of the 2016 Summer Olympics, but it has been at Olympic Stadium, where track and field has gotten underway in week two, where the best photo finishes have happened.

THE DIVE

Perhaps the most controversial event finish of the games thus far was the women’s 400-meter dash. One of the most anticipated races, it featured U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix, also known as the Queen of track. The four-time Olympic gold medalist was the favorite to win and she put up one heck of a fight but finishing the footrace on her feet led to a silver medal finish.

Heading into the final 200-meters it was unclear if Felix would even be able to make the podium, hanging with the middle of the pack, but in the final 100-meter she burst past the rest of the field and drew even with Bahamian Shaunae Miller. Miller had led throughout the race.

50-meters left and I knew it would be a photo finish. The two sprinters were neck and neck. I sat there in anticipation for the result. I thought Felix crossed first but then the photo went up on the screen and it was obvious that the gold was going to Miller who crossed the finish line in a diving fashion.

An avid track fan and a sprinter myself back in the day, the diving finish was an after thought for me. Miller definitely was not the first sprinter on the men’s or women’s side to do it, and yet almost immediately social media users went crazy saying Felix got robbed.

The question then became, did Miller fall or did she dive? Replay definitely made it look like she dove. A fall I can condone, you have so much momentum going into that finish line. Sprinters are taught to lean knowing that ones torso it what marks the finish, it’s quite easy to lose balance. To dive across the finish line is questionable but according to the track and field governing body, IAAF, it’s completely legal.

Clearly many think this is a terrible rule and I don’t disagree. There should be clarification, what constitutes as a fall and what constitutes as a dive. How can diving be allowed in what is described as a footrace?

I wish I could say Felix got robbed of a potential fifth gold medal but with the rules being as they are and me knowing she isn’t the first to do it, I can’t. Miller won and she did it by leaving everything out on the track.

THE KING AND HIS PRODIGY

Sometimes photo finishes aren’t about figuring out who the winner is sometimes it’s simply just about the photo. The men’s 200-meter semifinal provided one of those perfect photo moments.

Coming out of the turn Usain Bolt was in the lead and it was clear no one would be catching him. It became a race for the other automatic qualifying spot. Canada’s Andre De Grasse ran a great race. The further down the final stretch he got the further he pulled away from the rest of the field.

Then Bolt decided to slow down like he normally does in effort to save some energy. At 29-years-old it’s become a little more important in the sprinters routine. But De Grasse seemed to kick it up a notch, pushing Bolt to the finish line.

The reaction of the finish where the two runners neared and crossed the finish line with smiles on their faces was a positive one, but was it a positive one for the runners? Bolt seemed not entertained by the 21-year-olds antics. He is even quoted as saying, “it wasn’t cool.”

For some, Bolt’s reaction fuels the fire in the belief that the runner is too cocky. Bolt has every right to be cocky, but De Grasse has every right to push the envelope. Bolt can’t tell him how to run a race. Either way it will be entertaining to watch the two in the final.

Mental toughness brings home the gold

What makes an Olympic athlete? Of course amazing athletic talent, but one thing I think many fail to acknowledge is the extreme level of mental toughness that is required. Athletic talent can only take one so far. It’s the mental game that takes someone all the way.

Following a fifth-place finish in the men’s gymnastics team all-around, team member Alex Naddour told NBC, “Fifth in the world. It’s still pretty good.” Overall the team was disappointed in their finish.

The U.S. men’s Olympic gymnastics team is a perfect example of mental toughness. After finishing fifth at the 2012 London Games, the men felt they had much to prove in Rio. Unfortunately mistakes cost the team from making the medal stand, and they placed fifth once again.

Although disappointed, there was still plenty of gymnastics left, and the men’s mental toughness would decide how the remainder of the games would go. Two nights after the team all-around, team captain Chris Brooks and Sam Mikulak returned to the arena for the men’s individual all-around, where they finished 14th and seventh, respectively, out of a field of 24. The individual event finals still remain. There really is a lot of gymnastics left.

Watching the Olympics one can see the mental toughness of these athletes in every event. In volleyball a team gives up a set — will players be strong enough to win it back or will they let the woes of one set determine the overall outcome?

The pool has been another great avenue for mental toughness. America’s Missy Franklin, a breakout star in 2012, almost didn’t make the team for Rio, and many don’t have high expectations for her now that she is there. But despite a rough last three years in the pool, Franklin continues to be praised for her steadfast positivity, and she won’t be leaving the games empty-handed. She helped the women’s 4×200-meter relay team win gold and has a chance of making the podium in the 200-meter backstroke.

For as long as these athletes have been molding and perfecting their athletic talents, they have been doing the same to their brains. Obsession. It’s a word that holds a negative connotation, but it is what is required to make the Olympic stage. Mental toughness starts with the ability to wake up every morning and not skip a workout, knowing that if you do you are taking a step away from accomplishing your dream.

That mental toughness continues to grow with every competition. Not all of these Olympians were stars straight out of the gate. Some of them failed time and time again, but unlike some who turned their backs on the sport thinking they didn’t have the talent, Olympians persevere.

We can see this mental toughness with great athletes around the world, and it is this mental toughness that professional athlete hopefuls should be taking note of. If you can’t drop the baton in the 4×100-meter relay and get back on the track to win the 200-meter dash, the Olympics are not for you.

“Never give up,” is a saying used in all aspects of life, but sports have adopted it as their own moniker. We learn the greatest perseverance through sports. There is always going to be a winner and a loser, but what are you willing to give up, what are you willing to do, to ensure that winning is a possibility?

Just take it from the dominant Simone Biles.

“If you ever have a mistake, you try to just kind of forget about it because if you carry that with you for the rest of the routine then the rest of your routine might not go as planned,” she said. “So you just kind of shake it off and you just continue your routine like you didn’t fall.”

Olympic Integrity Threatened

One week out from the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games and a shadow of doubt has been cast. On Sunday the International Olympic Committee made the decision to not put a blanket ban on Russia. This decision does not sit well with me. Through this fiasco I believe the IOC has failed both athletes and spectators and I am not alone.

Joseph de Pencier, CEO of iNado, the membership association of National Anti-Doping Organizations, released this statement following the IOC’s decision: “The IOC Executive Committee has failed to confront forcefully the findings of evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia corrupting the Russian sport system. It has ignored the calls of clean athletes, a multitude of athlete organizations, and of leading National Anti-Doping Organizations, to do the right thing by excluding Russia from the Rio Olympic Games.”

On July 18, the World Anti-Doping Agency released a 97-page report that charged Russia with operating a state-run doping program spanning 30 sports over several years. All the report did was confirm the accusations that have been floating around in the year leading up to Rio de Janeiro.

This is the worst doping scandal in history, and the IOC in a way turned a blind eye. Without a blanket ban I fear that other countries will believe that they can get away with the same thing. There was an opportunity here to send a message that the Olympics will have a zero-tolerance policy, but instead from this day forward the IOC will never be able to completely ban a country for abusing the system or fooling around with performance enhancing drugs.

IOC President Thomas Bach said that he felt comfortable with the decision because it protects and respects the rights of clean athletes. While I know that not all 387 originally listed Russian athletes were a part of the original scandal or had doped in the past, their suffering is what would have set fear into the hearts of all athletes and countries.

If the IOC had enforced a blanket ban on Russia, I would feel bad for the athletes who had stayed clean. In order to get to this point in their career they’ve put in a crazy amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifice, but the fact of the matter is the country that they represent messed up. It failed them.

Without a blanket ban the IOC is leaving it up to the 28 individual federations that govern each sport to make the final decision on who can compete. Of the original 387 listed Russian athletes, 110 have already been banned. The International Association of Athletics Federation, the governing body for track and field, announced back in June that no one from Russia would be allowed to compete in Rio. But other governing bodies like gymnastics prefer to see Russia competing, and gatekeepers like tennis officials have said that all the Russian athletes have cleared their screening policy.

Some federations fear they face immense backlash and potential damage claims if they choose to block athletes from competing. Perhaps it’s this same fear that prompted the IOC from not placing a blanket ban. Russia is a powerhouse and a country the IOC probably wants to keep on its good side. The IOC wouldn’t be the first to bow down to Vladimir Putin.

I can’t say that a blanket ban would get rid of doping within international sport or the Olympics, but it would definitely make a difference. The sanctions placed on Russia probably won’t keep out all doping athletes, and I am sure Russians aren’t the only ones. The issue now is that by allowing Russia to compete, every time Russians make the podium I will wonder if they deserve it and if they are stealing it away from someone who earned it the “right” way.