The Tokyo Olympics will have Fanfare but no Common Man

On July 8, 2021, in another in a long list of “the show must go on” actions it was announced that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics would still start at the end of July 2021, but would do so without fans in attendance.

In short, the games would have fanfare but no common man or woman in the stands cheering the athletes onto victory.

The reason cited for the nixing of fans and pomp and circumstance was the fact that Tokyo is currently under a state of National Emergency due to the number of COVID-19 cases sweeping through the region.

COVID-19 was surging in Tokyo last year as well which caused the 2020 Summer Games to move to 2021.

So, with not much changed in terms of the amount of virus in and around Tokyo between this time last year and now, the games will continue. After all, organizers will be quick to say that there is too much money on the line to postpone the games once again.

Although the idea of going full blast with the Olympics while the average citizens of Japan are battling the COVID-19 monster sounds like the plot of a bad Godzilla movie, it is very much a real thing.

In 1992 I made my first trip to the Los Angeles Coliseum. I returned over 20 years later and the building was just as iconic and awe inspiring as it had been to me as a child. In 2028 the Olympic games will make their fourth trip to the coliseum.
Photo R. Anderson

I have always loved watching classic Godzilla movies. While the battles between Godzilla and his band of monsters are entertaining, I enjoy the way that the heroes always win in the end by using sound scientific principles.

It does not take a scientist battling a radioactive monster to see that even without fans, having thousands of athletes, coaches, media and other support personnel travel to a virus hot spot for two weeks and then returning to their home countries does not seem like the brightest idea.

At least by banning fans from the venues inside Tokyo the number of people who would potentially take COVID-19 back to their home countries is minimized somewhat.

But this is not a column about my love of Godzilla movies, or the rationale of holding international sporting events during COVID-19. For right or wrong, numerous leagues across the world have declared themselves open for business and the COVID0-19 virus vanquished. Many scientists and other people dispute that claim but still the games must go on.

Were I in a position to make that decision, I would certainly postpone the games. However, at the end of the day, it does not really matter to me whether the Olympics are held or not since I will not be watching them, nor really caring about who wins what medal.

My ambivalence towards the Olympics is a somewhat recent development. I was once a fan of the Olympic games and all that I thought they stood for. However, I grew cynical to the point of despising the Olympics while pursuing my Master of Science (M.S.) in Sport Management.

I am sure that my instructors thought that the in-depth study of the Olympics would fill me to the brim with pride. However, the more I studied the Olympics, the more it had the opposite effect.

Once you peel back the layers of the Olympic onion and get past all of the pomp and circumstance, one is left with a very rotten core where sportsmanship and competition are overshadowed by greed and graft.

In 2014, I glowingly wrote about my excitement to watch the Opening Ceremony for the Winter Games in Sochi Russia. In my column, I mentioned some of the issues that the Russian organizers were having in finishing the facilities in time for the opening ceremonies but the overall theme of the column was that I was looking forward to the games and saw them as something that brought the world together for a few weeks of positive competition.

From the bribes and kickbacks during the host city selection process, to the fact that billions of dollars in facility construction is often spent in third world countries where citizens live in poverty and the shiny arenas of the Olympics turn into crumbling relics after the games the Olympic are rife with a darker side.

Six months after the torch was extinguished at the 2016 Summer games in Rio de Janeiro, many of the Olympic venues had been abandoned and were in various states of decay. One need only do an internet search on abandoned Olympic sites to see that Rio is far from alone in spending billions of dollars to build the infrastructure for the Olympics only to watch it all go to waste after the torch has moved on to the next city.

The crumbling Olympic venues dotting landscapes across the globe serve as reminders that as cities continue to battle to host the games, some countries would be better off spending the billions of dollars it takes to host the games in others ways.

When the Summer Olympic Games return to Los Angeles in 2028 they will utilize myriad existing stadiums, ballparks and arenas which is a stark contrast to the build it and abandon in place approach employed during the Summer games in Athens and Rio de Janeiro among other cities.
Photo R. Anderson

As someone once said, “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.”

While I am against the Olympics on principle, I support the various athletes who train for years for what often amounts to a single chance to go for gold on the world stage.

In that regard, I can see that continuing to postpone the games will have serious ramifications on athletes from around the world who dream of that one shot at Olympic glory and immortality.

The old saying about hating the game not the player comes to mind along with visions of Hamilton and Eminem not wanting to give away their one shot.

The 2020 games taking place in 2021 will feature the return of baseball, and softball as Olympic sports. Baseball was last an Olympic sport in 2008. Additionally, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed back in 2016 to add karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing to the competition slate for the Tokyo games in a bid to attract younger fans to the games and stay relevant.

Although I no longer watch the Olympics, every four years I dust of my 100th Anniversary of Olympics music soundtrack for some fanfare for the common man as well as some good old fashioned Olympic fanfare by John Williams.
Photo R. Anderson

As someone who still has their 1985 Topps Mark McGwire Olympics rookie card, I am certainly happy to see baseball back in the Olympics, but even that does not really move my excitement needle to want to watch the games this year.

Despite my current position on the Olympics, I am hopeful that I may once again put on my blinders and see the whole onion instead of the rotten layers.

I have always been more of a Winter Olympics fan than a Summer Olympic fan. As such, perhaps my cynicism will melt by the time hockey and curling roll around in 2022 at the Beijing Winter Olympic games. If not, one can hope that I will be California dreaming by 2028 and will be watching beach volleyball and surfing on the sands and waves of SoCal that I know so well.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the sudden urge to listen to some Blue Oyster Cult.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Return of USFL is Latest Example of Everything Old is New Trend

A long, long time ago in a swamp far, far away a wise old green puppet said, “long enough live you do, all things old become new they will.”

Okay, maybe I am not remembering the exact source of the quote but the force behind it is that if one waits long enough, everything old will become new again; even things one never thought would return.

The latest example of this recycling of retro chic is the recent announcement that the United States Football League, aka the USFL, plans to make a return to the gridiron in the spring of 2022 after a lengthy time on the sidelines.

For those unfamiliar with the USFL, it was a spring football league that played for three seasons from 1983 through 1985. Some notable USFL players who later joined the NFL include Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie, Steve Young and Hershel Walker just to name a few.

Ultimately like the myriad spring football leagues that followed, the USFL went the way of the dinosaurs and became extinct. Of course, with the number of failed leagues trying to come back to life lately perhaps one should say the USFL is trying to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its own Icarus style hubris of flying too close to the sun during its initial three season run.

I will not get into the inner workings of why the USFL failed aside from saying that had they stayed in their lane it is possible the USFL would have never disappeared from the sports landscape all those years ago. At least that was the thesis statement of a research paper I wrote during my M.S. in Sport Management studies.

For those wanting more specifics on what ultimately killed the USFL, numerous books and documentaries cover that subject in grave detail. However, for those wanting to get down in the weeds on why the league failed, I do recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?”

Aside from my academic studies of the USFL, I am old enough to remember the league from the perspective as a fan. Granted a very young fan. Growing up in Florida I was a fan of the Tampa Bay Bandits and the Orlando Renegades who were coached by Steve Spurrier and Lee Corso respectively.

Spurrier would of course spend his post USFL days reinventing college football at the University of Florida, while Corso became a key member of the College Gameday crew that changed how college football pregame shows were done.

So, as a fan of the old USFL with the hats, programs, media guides and team buttons to prove it, I am both intrigued and horrified at the thought of the league making another run.

Like a moth to a flame, I was always drawn to the spring football teams of Orlando. From the Renegades of the USFL, the Thunder of the WLAF, and the Apollos of the AAF, when it comes to failed spring football leagues Orlando has seen its share of short-term tenets that enter with a flurry of promise and excitement and exit with a whimper of disappointment and failed potential. Time will tell if the Renegades rise again after spending a single season in Orlando in 1985. If the Renegades are resurrected it is highly likely that the native American identity and penchant for tomahawks from the earlier version will be toned down or eliminated all together in the current climate of acceptable team names and iconography.
Photo R. Anderson

Would I love to see Orlando get yet another minor league sports franchise while continually getting passed over as a serious contender for the NFL and MLB? Sure, I suppose.

But, at the same time I am skeptical that any spring football league can make a serious dent at long term stability. If I thought that the USFL, or any league stood a real chance at being financially independent and not just some made for TV revenue stream to fill the air on the airwaves or a streaming service, I would dust off my Sport Management degree in a heartbeat and stand in line with the rest of the applicants wanting to make a lasting impression on the wide world of sports with spring football.

Instead I will quote Lee Corso and say “Not so fast my friend” when it comes to my belief that the USFL can succeed in the current sports climate.  I just do not have a good feeling about the USFL succeeding as more than just a gimmick and a way to for Fox Sports to sell some ads on television.

It should be noted that Fox Sports, which has a minority equity stake in the company that owns the new USFL, will serve as the league’s official broadcast partner.

One has to wonder how quickly Fox will run away from the deal if their ratings expectations are not met. It is also a slippery slope when the people creating the content are also the same channels broadcasting it.

Of course, the rising symbiosis between leagues and broadcast partners is a column and/or research paper subject for another day. Suffice to say, as a classically trained sports journalist I am deeply troubled by the trend of mergers and blending of networks and leagues.

It goes back to the age-old journalism school question of whether sports events are news or entertainment. Based on the number of leagues jumping into bed with gambling interests I would say sports are sliding into the easy to manipulate realm of entertainment programming which could very well soil the sanctity of the game.

So, the USFL selling a portion of the league and perhaps their soul to Fox Sports is a huge red flag for me in terms of whether I should get excited about yet another Spring Football league coming to town.

I have gone down this road many times and it never ends well. One of the first sports articles I ever wrote for my high school newspaper was about the arrival of the World League of American Football (WLAF). My article focused on the Orlando Thunder and the excitement that the City Beautiful was getting another chance to be a professional football town. The excitement lasted all of two seasons as the WLAF became NFL Europe and the Thunder and the other domestic teams ceased operations.
Photo R. Anderson

I have gone down this road many times and it never ends well. One of the first sports articles I ever wrote for my high school newspaper was about the arrival of the World League of American Football (WLAF).

My article focused on the Orlando Thunder and the excitement that the City Beautiful was getting another chance to be a professional football town.

The excitement lasted all of two seasons as the WLAF became NFL Europe and the Thunder and the other domestic teams ceased operations. A fun fact tying the WLAF to the USFL was that Lee Corso was the Orlando Thunder’s general manager after coaching the Orlando Renegades of the USFL.

So, the Renegades and the Thunder were strikes one and two. My skepticism is further fueled by the rise and fall of the Alliance of American Football (AAF). The AAF came out of the gate strong in 2019 and even lured the Old Ball Coach Steve Spurrier himself to coach the Orlando Apollos. Despite good coaching, and decent on field action, the AAF folded during the inaugural season after it was unable to secure additional funding to make payroll.

Strike three.

Of course, leagues will always say that they learned from the mistakes of others as they climb over the smoldering remains of all of the spring leagues that came before them. In this way they really are like the classic tale of Icarus who flew too close to the sun and fell down to earth after his wax wings melted.

It really would be fitting for a spring football league to use Icarus for one of their teams if one could decide if the plural should be the Flying Icaruses or the Flying Icuri.

In making the announcement of their return, USFL 2.0 noted that it will play the 2022 season in the spring with a minimum of eight teams. The league also noted a desire to “deliver high-quality, innovative professional football to fans.”

In keeping with other big spring league announcements over the past few years no details were given on which eight cities will be blessed to be given an USFL franchise. The USFL did note that they still retain all of the naming rights and intellectual property of “key original team names.”

Over the course of the USFL three seasons the Denver Gold were one of only five teams that played all three years without relocating or changing team names. The other teams with three season staying power were the Los Angeles Express, Birmingham Stallions, New Jersey Generals, and Tampa Bay Bandits. It is likely that those markets will be included as part of the new version of the USFL.
Photo R. Anderson

For those who are curious, the key names that the USFL could select from based on their first go round include; Wranglers, Stallions, Breakers, Blitz, Gold, Gamblers, Bulls, Express, Showboats, Panthers, Generals, Invaders, Outlaws, Stars, Maulers, Gunslingers, Bandits, Federals, and Renegades.

Over the course of the USFL three seasons only five teams played all three years without relocating or changing team names. Those lucky teams with the most stability were the Denver Gold, Los Angeles Express, Birmingham Stallions, New Jersey Generals, and Tampa Bay Bandits. It is likely that those markets will be included as part of the new version of the USFL.

While the new USFL claims to have the intellectual property rights for all things USFL, Steve Ehrhart, the executive director of the original USFL was quoted in a Philadelphia Enquirer article following the news of USFL 2.0 as questioning the legitimacy of those claims.

In the Enquirer article Ehrhart noted that when it comes to claims that the new USFL has all of the rights to logos and names, “I was surprised when I heard about it this morning. I want to dig into it and see who they’re claiming they acquired these rights [to the name] from. Because it didn’t come from any legitimate source.

“My guess is there’s some knucklehead out there who claimed he had registered the name and had the rights to it. We’re not being antagonistic. But if they want to do this, they should do it the right way and talk to the actual people, not some guy who sent in an internet registration or something like that.”

Assuming the right knucklehead is located, and the rights really do belong to Fox and friends, time will tell whether the latest iteration of the USFL can match, or best the three-year high-water mark of spring league viability it set nearly 40 years ago. Perhaps Icarus will use some stronger wax this time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to dust off some USFL gear and take a trip down memory lane.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Supermarket Shooting Shatters Safe Zone and Reignites Gun Control Debate

When the news first broke earlier this week of a shooting inside the King Soopers in Boulder, CO I found myself flooded with various emotions. When news broke later that 10 people lost their lives, the emotional flood continued along with a realization that mundane, every day activities like going grocery shopping are no longer safe.

The tragedy struck me on several fronts. While people dying inside a grocery store, or anywhere else, is tragic, I had driven past this particular store several times during trips to Colorado. I also have many friends who live in that part of the state so my mind immediately started to wonder whether any of them had been in the store at the time of the shooting.

Waiting to hear whether any of my friends were among the victims was an especially trying period. Thankfully, my friends were not among the victims. However, for the friends and family of the 10 people who were killed, their lives will never be the same.

Aside from feeling a connection to that particular store, I also have a tie to the grocery industry as a whole. When I was a senior in high school, I started working part time at a local Albertson’s grocery store. I would end up spending four and a half years in the grocery trade before hanging up my apron at college graduation and entering the world of journalism full time.

And while those days working retail are long behind me, I have always felt a sort of kinship to those people working within the grocery industry. During the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic I was especially thankful for grocery store workers as they ensured that the shelves were stocked and that customers had the opportunity to do curbside pickup if they did not feel safe going inside the store due to COVID-19.

On November 8, 2018, one day after a gunman killed 12 people, including a police officer, at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA, I took part in a moment of silence at the Staples Center before an L.A. Kings hockey game. Over two years later, another mass shooting, this time at King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, CO that ended with 10 people killed, once again leaves a community and nation to wrestle with the issue of mass shootings and gun control.
Photo R. Anderson

Now, thanks to a shooting inside a grocery store that left 10 people dead, people may have an entire new reason to not feel safe doing something as simple as going inside the store to pick up a loaf of bread.

The grocery store I worked in was one of the first in the area to have a bank inside it.

It also dealt with a lot of cash with the registers. The thought that the bank, or the store in general, could be robbed was always in the back of my mind. However, we were trained to just let the robbers take the cash and to not resist. The thought being it was not worth dying over money. We also had plains clothes off duty police officers in the store during the more popular times as mitigation to prevent shop lifting.

Of course, that philosophy does not work when the person bringing a gun into the store is there not to rob it of money or products, but to rob the people inside it of life.

There is no perfect defense for a gunman intent on causing harm, versus someone just trying to grab some cash, or snow crab legs and go. That is a sobering and scary change in the threat level for people in a grocery store as well as people in any public place.

Of course, school aged children have had to face the constant fear of active shooters for over 20 years. One of my first post college graduation professional newspaper assignments was interviewing a man who ran a company that trained students and school staff on what to do during an active shooting event.

Sadly in the years since that interview the business of training people to avoid gunmen in public places has only grown in importance, and the shootings have gone from primarily taking place inside schools to occurring everywhere from movie theaters, concerts, clubs and big box retail stores to massage parlors and grocery stores.

A week before the grocery shooting in Colorado eight people lost their lives at the hand of another gunmen in Georgia who went to three different massage parlor locations on his killing spree.

There will be discussions in the coming days, weeks, and months about gun control. These discussions occur every time there is a mass shooting. The result of the discussions is usually one step forward and two steps back.

I am not going to get into the politics of gun ownership vis a vis the Second Amendment and all of the gun lobbies, Republican senators from Texas whose names rhyme with Fred Snooze, and other factions that tend to resist any calls to curb the access to high powered firearms.

And yes, there is the tried-and-true argument that always gets brought up following mass shootings that, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” One could just as easily argue that water doesn’t drown people, swallowing too much water drowns people. But I digress.

Most gun owners are responsible people who are not going to go on a shooting spree. However, for those irresponsible gun owners there needs to be a way to prevent senseless loss of life.

While stopping short of diving into the political quicksand that talk of gun control seems to generate, I will just say that mass shootings and vaccine hesitancy seem to be mostly American concepts.

One could argue that it is the very freedoms that Americans enjoy that cause the high incidents of mass shootings and vaccine resistance, but that would be too simple of an answer for a complex issue.

Until the root cause of mass shootings is identified and addressed, there will likely be more cases of heavily armed individuals killing innocent people who are just trying to go about their daily lives.

One person I saw talking about the shooting in Boulder even brought up the possibility that the isolation and restrictions of COVID-19 may be behind the shooting. Short of the gunmen directly saying what motivated him to do what he did, the experts on TV are free to hypothesize and generalize as they try to rationalize the irrational.

As the world prepares to reopen and gatherings get larger and larger it will be interesting to see if people return to normal activities in large crowds, or if the fear and isolation brought about by the restrictions of the past year cause people to think twice before heading to that packed Ballpark for a game.

Personally, I have not decided how ready I am to cram shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people inside a Ballpark once attendance restrictions are lifted. Of course, I was already tired of being crammed in like a sardine in a can before COVID-19 closed things down. Life in the press box definitely spoiled me.

So, any apprehension of returning to sitting butt cheek to butt cheek with perfect strangers has nothing to do with COVID-19 and everything to do with it being way more comfortable to watch games from home.

I will likely still attend some Minor League games and the occasional Major League game but any desire to have season tickets has gone away. Of course, whenever I do attend a game, I will continue my long-held tradition of having enhanced situational awareness of exit routes and my surroundings.

Thanks to the events in Boulder, that enhanced situational awareness will now be needed whenever I venture to any public place.

I have many fond memories of my time working in a grocery store. However, now I will be a little more cautious and aware of the people around me whenever I go inside one. I will also likely rely more heavily on curbside pickup. However, some victims of the Boulder shooting were killed in the parking lot so even curbside is no longer 100 percent safe.

I never thought that I would need to be on high alert making a Dr Pepper run. Sadly, recent events have shown that danger is all around and even the simple act of getting a massage or buying a soda and a candy bar can turn deadly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to try to make some sense out of all of this senselessness.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson