Over the past 20 years, America’s pasttime has become the sport of football. Not the football that is the love of the rest of the world. But the football that sees 6’3″, 250 pound linebackers smashing into other grown men at full speed, all while equipped with shoulder pads and a helmet. The football that is the most popular sport on the planet is what we know as soccer.

Soccer is a beautiful game that employs some of the best athletes in the world. So why isn’t it as popular in America as it is everywhere else in the world? Soccer is perhaps the most popular sport in every other country in the world with the except of Canada (hockey). It’s possible that America hasn’t gravitated to soccer because we do not raise and employ elite athletes in the sport. We have the best baseball players in the world and the best basketball players in the world. While we don’t raise the best hockey players, the elite hockey league is based in America. The best soccer is played on the European and South American continents and the American based Major League Soccer (MLS) is an afterthought in the soccer world.

Perhaps the lack of scoring turns off American fans. Baseball has lost its luster in our country because of low scoring. Baseball saw its highest popularity during an era of rampant steroid use. This led to a significant increase in home runs and scoring. The most popular sports in America are football and basketball were we commonly see high scores.

We view soccer as an “Olympic sport”. America gravitates towards these sports every 4 years when athletes are fighting for gold medals. It’s ironic how Americans don’t watch soccer for 3 years and are all of a sudden the biggest fans in the world when the Olympics and World Cup are being played. This past summer, the U.S. women’s team made it to the World Cup final. It was one of the most watched sporting events in American history and players such as Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan have become household names. The previous summer, men’s captain Landon Donovan scored a miraculous last minute goal to win a World Cup game against Algeria. If Americans have more opportunities to see the excitement that we’ve seen for the last two summers, maybe soccer will become more popular in our country. But probably not.

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Heisman Watch

The Heisman. The most prestigious individual award in all of sports. The Heisman is given to the best college football player in the country each year. Here are my top 5 candidates for the award this season.

Andrew Luck, Junior QB, Stanford – Finished 2nd for the award last year. Dude is the next Peyton Manning. He is simply the best quarterback in college football. So far this year he has 8 touchdowns and 1 interception for 786 yards.

Marcus Lattimore, Sophomore RB, South Carolina – Only a sophomore, Lattimore is a beast. His team hands him the rock and lets him put them on his back for the victory week after week. He’s got 611 yds for 8 TDs.

Tyrann Mathieu, Sophomore DB, LSU – Mathieu is a nuisance to defenses that play the Tigers each week. He was all over the field last week against West Virginia. He had multiple tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and 1 interception.

Russell Wilson, Senior QB, Wisconsin – The athletic quarterback has been a blessing for the Badgers. He transferred from North Carolina State after his coach there would not allow him to play baseball at the end of the football season. Doubling as a minor league baseball player, Wilson has led Wisconsin this season with 1,136 yards, 11 touchdowns and 1 interception.

Robert Griffin III, Junior QB, Baylor – Griffin has been a monster this season. Baylor has always been a less than mediocre football program. However, this season Griffin has people believe in the Bears. He has yet to throw an interception, has thrown for 962 yards and more touchdowns than incompletions (13 TDs, 12 incomplete passes). Unreal.

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Players and Coaches come to Simmonds’ Defense

While the fans in London, Ontario showed a great amount of disrespect for Wayne Simmonds by throwing a banana on the ice while he was making a shot, players and coaches around the NHL came to his defense. The league has to show solidarity for Simmonds. The league took a huge PR hit a few years ago when they cancelled the 2004-2005 season. They lost television rights and they have yet to regain the popularity that the NHL enjoyed prior to that lockout. Discrimination and racism in the league would only intensify the skepticism that some U.S. fans feel for the league.

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Racism in Hockey

Hockey is not a sport that you expect to see many people of African descent playing. For the most part, the sport is exclusively played by men of a much lighter complexion. Hockey originated in Canada so, naturally, the majority of National Hockey League players are Canadian. The rest of the players hail from the Scandinavian countries, Eastern Europe, Russia and other countries where the climate is much colder. There are also a fair share of American players, most of them hailing from the Northern or North Eastern United States. However, there are a few players in the NHL who are of African descent. There are currently about 30 players who fit this description. In fact, one of the leagues best players, Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames, is of Nigerian descent. The public and players, however, may not be so thrilled that there are African players succeeding at the professional level.

Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers was a victim of racism last week during an exhibition game in London, Ontario, Canada. Simmonds, a Black Canadian, was about to attempt a shot during a shootout when a fan threw a banana onto the ice, insinuating that he is a “monkey”. While the league condemned the act and the fan was arrested, Simmonds said he comes to expect such acts. This is not okay. Blacks have just as much a right to play the game as anyone else and it’s sad that a player sees such acts as the norm. If Blacks are talented enough, they should be able to play the game without feeling as if they are not welcome or equal to their counterparts.

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On to October

Last night was one of the most exciting nights in Major League Baseball history. After 161 games, the playoff fates of 4 MLB teams came down to the last night of the regular season. With one game remaining, the Atlanta Braves were tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for the last National League slot in the playoffs. On the American League side, the Boston Red Sox were tied with the Tampa Bay Rays. The situation was simple: if you win and the team you’re tied with loses, you make the playoffs; if both teams win or both loses, the two tied teams square off for a one game playoff to determine who goes on to the postseason.

Weather in Baltimore began to have an effect on the Red Sox-Orioles game and in the 7th inning, the umpires delayed the game with the Red Sox leading 3-2. The Sox had a 9 game lead on the Rays on September 3, losing this game would conclude the biggest collapse in baseball history. When play was resumed, the Orioles bats woke up and in the bottom of the 9th inning, they scored 2 runs to win the game and leave the Red Sox to watch the conclusion of the Rays game to see if they would qualify for the playoffs.

The Rays were losing 7-0 to the Yankees with an inning and a half to go. Commentators around the country were considering the game over and the Rays’ season over. Miraculously, the Rays scored 6 runs in the bottom of the 8th and another in the 9th to tie the game 7-7. Three minutes after the Sox lost in Baltimore, Rays shortstop Evan Longoria (pictured) stepped up to the plate while the crowd cheered after hearing the final Red Sox score. Longoria, having hit a homer earlier in the game during the 6 run rally in the 8th, had the pressure on his back. He subsequently belted the game winning home run and put the Rays in the playoffs when everybody counted them out. THE RED SOX CHOKED!!!

The NL side of things was dramatic as well. The Cardinals held up their end of the deal rather easily, defeating the lowly Astros 8-0. All the Braves had to do was win in order to force a one-game playoff. They had a 2-1 lead with one out left to win the game against the Philadelphia Phillies but couldn’t hold on to the lead. The Phillies, the best team during the season, came from behind to win the game and eliminate the Braves.

Such an exciting night for baseball. I don’t always watch during the regular season but last night was definitely a special one. If the playoffs even come close to the dramatics of last night, they are definitely going to be must see TV.

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Conference Craziness

While there has been much action on the field during this college football season, the action off the field has garnered the most attention. Conferences have run wild, dominoes are falling and teams are being pilfered in an effort to make more money. The conference realignment had already created much confusion prior to this season: the Big 12 Conference has 10 teams, the Big 10 has 12 and a Texas team is set to join the Big East Conference. But the conference craziness has reached a boiling points in the last month and a half and all signs point to there being no stoppage in conference realignment.

The most recent conference confusion started when the University of Texas and ESPN created the Longhorn Network. The network is a 20 year, $300 million deal with ESPN that provides Texas Longhorn sports programming and other events such as graduation ceremonies. The other universities in the Big 12, Texas’ conference, felt the network gave the Longhorns an unfair recruiting advantage; which makes sense because kids are going to want to play at a school that is going to afford them the opportunity to gain exposure in homes across the country. One school in particular, century-long rival Texas A&M, decided to take matters into their own hands and opted to leave the Big 12 in order to join the almighty Southeastern Conference (SEC). The SEC has produced football’s national championship each of the last 5 seasons. While A&M contends that they are leaving because they fit the SEC better, it is evident that they are sour about Texas’ advantage and the creation of the Longhorn Network.

With two powerhouse football programs leaving the Big 12 in the last two years (A&M and Nebraska) as well as the departure of Colorado, the Big 12 was reeling and many believed the conference would die. Adding fire to this speculation was Texas and Oklahoma’s flirtation with the Pac 12 conference. They would be bringing Texas Tech and Oklahoma with them to create a Pac 16, the first 16 team super conference. However, Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac 12, decided that the conference would not expand at this time. All this lead to the resignation of Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe.

The Big East, a conference which many consider one of the weaker in the nation in terms of football, also had two schools leave their conference in the last week. Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh left the conference in order to join the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The ACC is thought of as a basketball conference and consists of basketball powerhouses such as Duke and North Carolina. The addition of Syracuse and possibly Connecticut would strengthen its basketball prowess.

So much to digest but this is what has become the norm in college athletics over the last two years. Schools making millions leaving conferences to make more millions, hurting feelings in the process and dragging other universities with them. College football has become a multi million dollar industry with millions of fans tuning in each Saturday. Conference realignment has created so much confusion and ended many traditional rivalries all in the name of $$$$$$.

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NFL Week 2

Week 2 of the NFL season is in the books and there were definitely some great games this past Sunday. I had the chance to watch three: Patriots/Chargers, Bears/Saints and Falcons/Eagles. Patriots QB Tom Brady proved that he is, in fact, the best quarterback in the game. Dude is ridiculous. He doesn’t care who’s on the field, he looks to get everyone involved and elevates the game of his teammates. Chargers QB Philip Rivers is one of my personal favorite players in the league. He is extremely accurate and his swagger is through the roof. Although he had a solid game, it was evident that Brady is in a league of his own. Brady threw for 423 yards and 3 touchdowns on his way to becoming only the second QB to throw for 400+ yds a week after throwing for 500+. The Patriots won the game 35-21. The Pats look good and Brady may be on his way to capturing his 4th Super Bowl ring.

The Bears/Saints game wasn’t even a contest. The Saints defense line looked unstoppable and sacked Bears QB Jay Cutler 6 times, leaving him unable to make any plays on offense. Saints QB Drew Brees, however, was able to lead his offense with ease by throwing 3 TDs and winning the game 30-13.

Finally, the marquee game of the week involved Eagles QB Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta to play the Falcons. Everybody knows his story. The former Falcons star missed two seasons due to being locked up on dog fighting charges. But he’s redeemed himself and received his 2nd $100 million contract and elevated his play from before he was incarcerated. Vick had a very good game, although he did make some mistakes early on. The Eagles were about to take a big lead in the 3rd quarter before Vick ran into a teammate and received a concussion. He left the game with the Eagles up 31-21 and didn’t return. The Falcons were able to capitalize on the loss of the playmaker and were able to come back for a 35-31 victory.

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