Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Today in Sports …

January 24, 2016

So, today, right about now, for me, there is:

1) The Scotties playdowns for Ontario, with Rachel Homan taking on Jenn Hanna for a spot in the Scott Tournament of Hearts, which is at this moment tied at 3, with Hanna having taken 3 in the second and Homan having taken 1 in the first and 2 in the third, so a close, tight match.

2) The Peyton Manning – Tom Brady showdown in the NFL playoffs. I’m not a big NFL fan, but I love a good story and this, well, is a really good one.

And I don’t have picture-in-picture, as it turns out, so I have a choice to make. I’ll remember this when there’s absolutely nothing on some Saturday/Sunday afternoon …

EDIT: I kinda flipped between the two — I tried to catch the third and skip stones of the curling — but Jenn Hanna upset Rachel Homan … although Homan mostly did that to herself, missing shots that she normally makes easily. Now I can watch the rest of the football.

The Uniqueness of Curling

November 16, 2015

So, it’s curling season again, and as I’ve been watching it I’ve noticed that it has an aspect that I don’t think that I’ve seen in any other sport.

At least once if not more per game, a team is actively trying to get the opposing team to score.

At least once if not more per game, a team is actively trying to avoid scoring.

And both of these tend to happen at the same time, which means that at various points in the game one team is trying to force the other team to score, as the other team is trying quite hard to avoid scoring.

I don’t know of any other sport that — and can’t even think of any other sport that could — has that as a regular dynamic in the game.

To understand how this happens, let me give a brief rundown of curling. Curling is typically played by two teams of 4 people, throwing eight “rocks”, two apiece, towards a set of rings at the other end of the ice. The teams alternate throwing, so you start with one player from one team, and then a player from the other, alternating until all of the rocks are thrown. This means, of course, that one team gets to throw their last rock last, which is known as having the “hammer”. In order to score, you have to have your rock be closest to the centre of the rings, called the button. But it isn’t the case that you can only score one point an end (set of 16 rocks). If the next closest rock to the button is also yours, you get another point, and so on until you run out of rocks in the rings or the next closest rock belongs to your opponent. So you want lots of rocks close to the button, and none of your opponents. In theory you can score a total of 8, but that is incredibly rare (I recently saw a 7-spot in a game, however, which is still rare).

Given this, having the hammer is usually incredibly important. It gives you the last opportunity to do something to ensure that your rocks are closer to the button than your opponent’s are. It also lets you react to what your opponent is doing the entire end. So you really want to have the hammer because it gives you your best chance to score, and especially to score multiple points. Which leads to the last thing that leads to the dynamic I’ve described above: if you score even one point, you lose the hammer and it goes to the other team.

So you want to maximize your opportunities with the hammer, and so score at least 2 whenever you have it. This means that if you don’t think you can score 2, you want to blank the end and try again in the next end. But your opponent doesn’t want you to have the hammer the whole game, because while they can indeed score with stealing (scoring when you have the hammer) it’s a lot harder than scoring with the hammer. So what they want to do is force you to score, but only 1, so that they can get the hammer themselves and try to score 2 or more, to gain an advantage over you and win the game.

Thus, the dynamic. The team that doesn’t have the hammer is constantly trying to get the other team to score only one in an end, while the team without the hammer, if they can’t score two or more, wants to avoid scoring only one by blanking the end instead. Again, I can’t think of any other sport that has this.

(As an aside, I tend to prefer the women’s game, and right now my favourite curlers are Rachel Homan and Val Sweeting because they’re young, they’re pretty and, most importantly, they can curl.)

Why I Prefer the DH in Baseball …

August 26, 2015

Well, the Toronto Blue Jays are making a late season run to hopefully make the playoffs, and so I’m paying more attention to baseball as a whole now than I used to … and so are most Canadians. Because of that, a little while ago I had a short discussion with a co-worker about the Designated Hitter rule. He doesn’t care for it, and I prefer it. So, here, I’m going to go over the reasons why I prefer the DH, even though I started watching baseball with the Expos — and so the National League — and was a latecomer to the Blue Jays.

About the best argument against the DH is that baseball is a game that has two separate but equal components: fielding and hitting. Thus, the quality of a baseball player has to be determined on the basis of the combination of their ability to field and to hit. So the interesting decisions in terms of who you have on your team come down to balancing that. Do you keep someone who is a great hitter but can’t field over someone who is an excellent fielder but doesn’t hit very well? Or do you go with a player that balances the two more? Having more hitting will score more runs and having better fielding will prevent more runs … but going with a player who is merely good at both doesn’t give you an advantage there. The DH, however, takes away that consideration. For pitchers, you simply evaluate them on the basis of their ability to pitch, and for the DH their ability to field is irrelevant (for DHs whose main role is to DH). So, it can be argued, this allows for two positions where the player isn’t evaluated as a complete baseball player … and so isn’t, in fact, a complete baseball player (or at least need not be).

This is a fair criticism, but I evaluate the DH on the basis of what it means to me, as a fan, and having watched both, and both recently (when I got cable back, one of the big things I watched was baseball, and the baseball playoffs). And as a fan, it seems to me that the pitching position is unique enough that making pitchers hit doesn’t really add anything to the game, and that allowing some players to mostly hit does add to the game. The big issue I have when watching National League games is how often pitching changes are made not for pitching-related reasons, but for hitting related reasons. A pitcher is pulled because they’d be hitting and the manager needs or wants someone who has a better chance of getting on base or driving in a run. But the interesting pitching changes, to me, are the ones that are related to “How can I best get this next guy out?”. Matching lefty vs lefty, for example, or going with the better or worse history between the two, which then can spawn counter-moves from the opposing manager. The moves because you need a better hitter are not only moves of this sort, but, in fact, impede these sorts of moves because you end up making earlier and more frequent pitching changes which means that you don’t have the arms in the bullpen to make that move. And let’s not forget that the reason managers change pitchers in favour of pinch hitters is because pitchers, in general, don’t hit all that well. They have so much more to worry about that, in general, working on their hitting is not going to be a high priority for them, especially considering that starters get about 3 at bats once every 5 games and relievers might get 1 at bat in a blue moon.

Pitching, then, is just not the sort of position where hitting can ever or ought ever be a priority. Pitchers will generally hit infrequently compared to other position players, and hitting and running the bases can be an issue for them since pitching is so complicated that, in general, pretty much anything else they do can impact their pitching. If they have to run full out on the bases — going first to third, for example — that might tire them out and shorten the number of innings they can work. Remember, this is a position where a blister or even a twinge can greatly impact their stance and ability to throw pitches. Everything has to be working right for a pitcher to pull off the complicated pitches and to hit the spots that the modern pitcher needs to hit; adding hitting into the mix just provides another distraction from their real job, a distraction that isn’t one for the other positions.

From the other side, having a DH can extend the career of great players, who can still hit but simply aren’t able to play in the field every day anymore. Without the DH, it’s hard to justify a roster spot for them since they can only be a pinch hitter and occasional substitute, but with the DH they can play every day, do spot inserts into the field, and pinch hit if they aren’t DH’ing. I remember Paul Molitor fondly for his time with the Blue Jays in their run to the World Series, but he was, indeed, pretty much a DH. Without the DH rule, he wouldn’t have been on the roster. And there are a number of cases where this can allow a great player to keep playing and thus help to do things that are magical and win and be integral to the win of titles even though they wouldn’t be on the roster otherwise. We lose those players and those moments without a DH.

As a fan, I prefer the DH. It let’s pitchers be pitchers and lets managers manage pitchers for their pitching rather than their hitting, and extends the career of great and storied players who just can’t play full-time in the field anymore. Sure, it excludes some players from having to play both aspects of baseball, but I think the gains more than overcome that. At the end of the day, having the DH just makes the game of baseball more fun to watch. And God knows, it needs it [grin].

Women’s Sports

July 24, 2015

So, with the recent Women’s World Cup of Soccer recently ending and having massively high ratings, and with people commenting on the skill level and the quality of those games, there have been a number of articles and discussions about why those events get a lot of fan support but the leagues for women’s sports get no attention at all. On the one side, you have the arguments about how women’s sports just aren’t as entertaining as men’s sports, which explains the discrepancy, and on the other side you have various “patriarchy” arguments about how they really are as entertaining as men’s sports but that men somehow feel threatened by women performing in sports, and that’s why they don’t watch or don’t want to give them the attention they deserve.

I’m going to try to settle the debate.

The first thing to notice that is those arguing for the “It’s just unfair!” line don’t usually appeal to women’s sports being as good as men’s sports. They don’t argue that in general the quality of play in most women’s sports is the equal to that in men’s sports. In fact, they find all sorts of ways to try to dismiss considering that as being any kind of relevant question. They don’t bring up the comparison. They dismiss out of hand comments that the best women’s teams are the equivalent of men’s high school or junior teams as being irrelevant. They handwave at “different styles of play” — which is similar to the reasons why I prefer women’s curling to men’s curling — but ignore that a) this argument is based on assuming that women just can’t do some of the things that men can and that’s why they have to play different (which is not always and bad thing) and b) that women who are able to play that way both end up dominating the sport and end up killing that part of it (which is the main reason I used to like and now hate women’s hockey).

So if they don’t claim that the quality of play is as good, and so by implication accept that judged on that basis alone women’s sports wouldn’t be as entertaining as men’s sports are, what argument do they use? Well, they not unreasonably argue that most people don’t watch sports for the quality of play, at least not primarily. No, they watch it for the competition and the stories and seeing people perform at their peak potential. And since women aren’t playing against men and getting slaughtered, the level of competition is the same as that of men’s sports: we have equally matched teams fighting it out and all of the players performing at their peak levels. And since this is what drives our viewing of sports, and since women’s sports are equal to men’s sports in that regard, there is no reason to claim that women’s sports are less entertaining than men’s sports.

Which is reasonable right up until the point you recall that the level of competition is, at best, the same between men’s and women’s sports. It’s not the case that the level of competition, or stories or how hard the players are playing is greater in women’s sports than in men’s sports. But the quality of play is greater in men’s sports than in women’s sports. And all things being equal, if I can get the same level of competition but if one of two options has a higher quality of play, then I’m going to choose the one with the higher quality of play. This applies to junior leagues, academic leagues … and women’s leagues. So, then, relatively speaking, women’s sports aren’t as entertaining as men’s sports because the competitive drive is equal, but the quality of play in men’s sports is superior. So the only way to push someone, when given the choice, to choose women’s sports over men’s sports is if you can give another reason to do so. This, I think, is the reason that the Women’s World Cup is so popular in North America, because it provides two big reasons for North Americans to watch. First, it’s about national pride. Second, in terms of soccer it’s the only area where the North American national teams have a very good chance to win it all. The American women’s team is ranked #1 in the world, with the men’s team #34. For Canada, it’s even sharper, as the women’s team is #11, and the men’s team is #103. So given a chance to see their country a) play in the World Cup (for Canada) and b) have a not unreasonable shot at winning it, there’s a lot of interest. But take away that story, and try to watch for the competition alone without an additional reason, and yes, people will prefer to watch the English Premier League than a women’s national game that’s relatively meaningless.

The only way to refute this argument is to refute the idea that the men’s leagues, in general, have a greater quality of play overall than the women’s leagues. And that is the argument that those who are claiming that it is unfair for women to get so much less attention are studiously trying to avoid talking about. Thus, I’m not holding my breath.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Stanley Cup Finals

June 2, 2015

So, in the semi-finals I picked both of the teams with home ice advantage … and got both wrong. But those were two amazing series that could have easily gone either way, so I don’t feel too bad about that. Still, that lowers my record to 8 – 6, so let’s see what happens with the final.

This is an amazingly tough series to call. You don’t want to pick against Chicago, who has made it to the finals and won Cups before with this team and with their stars. They know how to win in the finals. Tampa Bay doesn’t have that experience yet. But except for the first round they’ve made a habit of winning series against teams with more experience and that most people picked to win over them. It hasn’t always been pretty, but they’ve won when they’ve had to, with Bishop not always playing well but playing well when he needs to, and ultimately beating better goaltenders than himself.

Still, it’s hard to go against Chicago’s experience, so I’m going to go with them.

Prediction: Chicago Correct

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 3

May 15, 2015

For the second year in a row, in a Montreal/Tampa Bay series I hit a case where if I had known something before making my prediction, I would have changed it … and would have been right. This time, it was the sterling record Tampa had against Montreal in the regular season; while the regular season doesn’t mean that much in the playoffs, that dominant a record usually means that there’s something about your team that matches up really well against that team, and in a close series that’s all you need. That being said, that was the only series that I predicted incorrectly this round, leaving me at 8 – 4, which means that I will be above .500 for this playoff year. So let’s see how far above it I get this year.

Eastern Conference

Rangers vs Tampa Bay: The Rangers had to go to 7 games to get rid of Washington, while Tampa Bay had to go 6 to get rid of Montreal. There’s not much difference in how much rest they’ve had. The teams, obviously, are both strong. But there are a couple of things that stand out for me. First, the Rangers have played something like 14 straight one goal playoff games. Second, the Rangers have just come back from a 3 – 1 deficit. This is a team that can and has played in close games and is a team that simply will not go away if you get up on them. Tampa Bay didn’t really rush to put Montreal away either when they had them on the ropes. So I have to give the Rangers the edge.

Prediction: Rangers

Western Conference

Anaheim vs Chicago: This one is really, really close and tough to call. You don’t want to bet against a recent Stanley Cup winner who is playing really well right now. But you don’t want to be against a conference champion who’s playing really well right now either. Rest could be a factor … but it could be a factor either with fatigue or rust. With Game 1 not until Sunday, fatigue won’t be a problem, but rust might. And one game could make the difference in this series. Flipping a coin’s probably going to be as accurate, but I’ll take Anaheim in this one.

Prediction: Anaheim


Rangers vs Tampa Bay Incorrect
Anaheim vs Chicago Incorrect

Overall Record: 8 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

April 30, 2015

So, last round, I went a respectable 5 – 3. Or, well, at least it was respectable for me, since I have a goal of finishing over .500 so that I can be said to be generally better than what you’d expect from flipping a coin. What’s interesting is that in the East every higher seed won their series, while in the West 3 out of 4 lower seeds won theirs … and I’d have done a lot better there except that I picked the wrong higher seed to make it through.

But the second round starts tonight, and so now I have to try to predict the second round.

Eastern Conference

Rangers vs Washington: The Islanders put up a much bigger fight against Washington that I expected, and Washington was full marks for winning that series. That being said, the Rangers are a better team than Washington is, are playing well, and have solid and reliable goal tending. Don’t expect Washington to overcome this challenge.

Prediction: Rangers

Montreal vs Tampa Bay: This is a tough one, because both teams had a harder time beating their first round opponent than anyone expected, but how much of that is to the credit of the team they beat and how much of that can be blamed on weak play isn’t clear. These teams are close in terms of points and probably close in terms of overall team skill. So, I hem and haw and go back and forth but, finally, I decide that I have to go with the better goaltender, and that’s Carey Price right now. Sure, he didn’t play that well against Ottawa in a number of games, but he never plays well against Ottawa. If he rounds back into Vezina and potential Hart-winning form, Montreal will win the series.

Prediction: Montreal

Western Conference

Anaheim vs Calgary: I’m not sure it’s wise to pick against the lower seed in the West, given how the first round worked out, and Calgary has been overcoming all adversity and refusing to go away for pretty much the whole season. However, when they faced Vancouver they faced a vulnerable team that didn’t have all that much better a season than they did. Anaheim had a much better season and as evidenced by how they handled Winnipeg seems to be firing on all cylinders. This isn’t a match-up that Calgary can win.

Prediction: Anaheim

Chicago vs Minnesota: This is another close one. Minnesota has the advantage of having their goaltending set and playing well, while Chicago seems undecided between Darling and Crawford. On the other hand, Chicago has a strong and experienced team to throw at Minnesota. In the end, I think I’ll go with the experience, especially since Crawford has indeed won in the playoffs before and so even if they go with him he probably won’t cost them the series.

Prediction: Chicago


Eastern Conference

Rangers vs Washington Correct
Montreal vs Tampa Bay Incorrect

Western Conference

Anaheim vs Calgary Correct
Chicago vs Minnesota Correct

Overall Record: 8 – 4

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 15, 2015

So, it’s that time of year again, when the NHL starts their playoffs and I try to predict who will win what series. This is actually fairly tough to do, because it seems that in today’s NHL upsets are common-place, so much so that you have to start to wonder if picking the underdogs is now the equivalent of picking the favourite, especially since so many of those underdogs come into the playoffs after fighting hard to get there and having to have everything go well and having to go on a roll to get there, meaning that the increased level of play that the playoffs produce is just another day to them.

Anyway, here are my predictions for the first round, starting in the East:

Eastern Conference

Montreal vs Ottawa: I think this series will be decided in Game 1. If Ottawa wins that game, they’ll probably ride that momentum to a series win. If they lose a close one, they still might be able to ride the confidence they gained during their improbable run to win the series. But if Montreal manages to burst their bubble, they’ll collapse and Montreal will take it easily. So will that happen? Montreal has a strong team, and Carey Price has had a great season. Ottawa, however, has a team that has been playing really, really well over the past few months. If they can ignore the pressure, and Hammond can keep playing the way he has been when facing a team that is going to analyze his tendencies to death, they can win the series. You could wonder if they’ll run out of gas, but they’re a very young team so fatigue isn’t as big an issue. Montreal has the edge in playoff experience, however.

This one will be a close one, but I’m going to go with Ottawa.

Prediction: Ottawa

Tampa Bay vs Detroit: I don’t ever want to count Detroit out, because they’re a team that tends to make it into the playoffs and do things in the playoffs even when they really shouldn’t. That being said, Tampa Bay has a strong team this year and as far as I know isn’t starting with any critical injuries, and come in on a roll. This one might go the distance, but I think in the end Tampa’s talent will win the day.

Prediction: Tampa Bay

Rangers vs Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh comes in after limping into the playoffs, and with major injuries, especially on their blue line. The Rangers are the President Trophy winners, a very skilled team, and Lundqvist is back and seems to be playing well. For Pittsburgh to win this, Fleury would have to stand on his head and steal the series with Lundqvist being at most human. That won’t happen.

Prediction: Rangers

Washington vs Islanders: This series pits two Hart Trophy candidates against each other, Ovechkin and Tavares. The teams are even in points and even in talent, so this should be a close series. That being said, the Islanders slumped their way into the playoffs and Halak has seemed shaky whenever I’ve watched him play lately, and so while he has more experience Holtby is playing better at the moment. Everything else being a wash, I give it to Washington.

Prediction: Washington

Western Conference

St. Louis vs Minnesota: I don’t think that St. Louis has any big injuries, and they had a great season. Minnesota is a good team and can force the upset, but I don’t think they’re playing any better than St. Louis is right now. So I’ll give this one to St. Louis.

Prediction: St. Louis

Nashville vs Chicago: The teams are close in points, but Chicago has a lot more playoff experience than Nashville does. Nashville pretty much only has home ice advantage working for them, and I don’t think it will be enough.

Prediction: Chicago

Anaheim vs Winnipeg: All through the panel discussion during the Senators game yesterday, people kept saying how they felt that Anaheim, for all of their points and success, was vulnerable. Winnipeg will get a massive boost just from making it into the playoffs for the first time, and that’s always dangerous. Anaheim will have more pressure due to expectations on them and Winnipeg has nothing to lose. This is probably a mistake, but I’ll go with the emotional boost on this one.

Prediction: Winnipeg

Vancouver vs Calgary: Vancouver has the weight of expectations on them with a team that hasn’t performed that well this season, including its top stars. Calgary has been overcoming massive adversity the whole season, and as the panel commented everyone thought that they were just going to go away, and they never did. Let me predict them to not go away this round either, playing against a team that isn’t that much better than they are.

Prediction: Calgary


Eastern Conference

Montreal vs Ottawa Incorrect
Tampa Bay vs Detroit Correct
Rangers vs Pittsburgh Correct
Washington vs Islanders Correct

Western Conference

St. Louis vs Minnesota Incorrect
Nashville vs Chicago Correct
Anaheim vs Winnipeg Incorrect
Vancouver vs Calgary Correct

Overall Record:  5 – 3

We need more differentiation, not integration.

March 2, 2015

So, over at Skepchick, Olivia has put up a post talking about women’s sports and what she sees as some bad stereotypes about them. Ultimately, her push in the post is to eliminate the distinction between men’s and women’s sports through various means, an argument that strikes me as odd because for me the best women’s sports are the ones where women aren’t trying to play the game like the men do, but instead take their natural abilities into account and play according to that. To me, every woman’s sport becomes massively less interesting and exciting the instant they start being able to play/playing the game the way the men play it, but without the attributes that the men’s game was targeted for. As soon as women start being able to win with big serves or with the big weight or with the big slapshots but while still having less powerful serves, less weight, or slapshots that are not as hard as the men typically do what you have is an inferior copy of a men’s sport, and the women’s sport loses what makes it special and interesting to watch. But let’s look at what Olivia is saying. She starts talking about stereotypes about women’s sports that annoy her:

More often than not I just hear that women aren’t as good, their bodies don’t allow them to be as powerful, as strong, or excel to the extent that men do. So it’s not interesting to watch them.

This often leads to me yelling about how women are just as athletic and impressive as men, and that we need a better system for differentiating leagues in sports than “men” and “women” …

So, I’ll (mostly) agree with her here. It isn’t the case that women’s sports aren’t as exciting as men’s sports because women are less athletic or competitive. In fact, I’d argue that in general taken in isolation when you watch a sport it is the competition level that drives the excitement of the sport, which means that your enjoyment is normalized to the competitors that you are watching. So as long as they are well-matched, the game will be interesting. The problem is that we don’t really have these things in isolation, as we have a choice of what sports and what leagues to watch. So to use a completely non-gendered example, it’s clear that in general people won’t choose to watch, say, minor league baseball instead of major league baseball because the game is the same in both cases, but the overall skill level is higher in the major league game, and so if you want to maximize your sports watching entertainment you’ll go for the equally competitive but higher skilled option. And so, in general, a woman’s sport that is the same game as the men’s league but has less skill at the elements of the men’s sport won’t be as interesting to watch as the men’s version. And vice versa (more on that later).

Because there’s no absolute value that says being bigger or stronger is always better in sports. There are sports in which female athletes do beat male athletes (equestrian events are integrated and women win medals regularly, Billie Jean King beat out Bobby Riggs in tennis, and many of the top rock climbers in the world are women), and even some sports that favor women overall, such as gymnastics and volleyball. The problem is that people don’t take those sports as seriously.

No, she’s right, there isn’t anything that says that bigger or stronger produces the better sport. However, her examples are a bit weak, because tennis, for example, is not a sport where female athletes beat male athletes. As was pointed out in the comments, her example was of a female player in her prime against a male player past his prime. If you took the top male tennis player and the top female tennis player and had them play, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that the male player would win handily. The raw power of his serve would almost certainly overwhelm his opponent, while her serve would be average at best. On the other hand, gymnastics is a sport that follows my model: the women’s sport is radically different from the men’s, focusing more on flexibility and the like while the men’s version focuses a lot on upper body strength and power. And women’s gymnastics is far more popular than men’s gymnastics, and I think it is, at least in part, because of that sharp distinction. Women’s gymnastics is not just men’s gymnastics done by people with less upper body strength, but is a sport shaped and formed by the things that women’s bodies are best at doing. I’ve also talked in the past about women’s curling and how I like it better than men’s curling because it’s a completely different game, and one that I enjoy more. My excitement with women’s hockey from the Nagano Olympics turned to massive disappointment four years later when it turned from being a different game to the same game as men’s hockey, but with players that simply weren’t up to that level.

Also, she’s a bit off in talking about how those sports aren’t taken as seriously. They all fit into a category of sports that could be considered, well, generally amateur sports, and essentially include in North America everything outside of the big professional leagues. Hockey in the United States was at least at one point in the same category, while soccer in North America generally is as well while it isn’t outside of North America. I guess the best way to describe them — instead of calling them “amateur” — is to call them “Second-Tier”. They are sports that you see on your sports shows and that are popular when there are big tournaments or at the Olympics, but are generally filler most of the rest of the time. These sports include skiing, volleyball, figure skating, gymnastics, curling (in Canada), tennis, golf and a host of others. It’s hard to explain how a sport gets into that sort of role and how it gets out of it, but it seems that right now tradition has more to do with it than anything else; the First-Tier sports tend to be the sports that have been there for ages, and perhaps more importantly have had leagues built around them for ages, as opposed to simply having tournaments week in and week out. They’re also generally strongly team sports, and sports that you can associate with geographically, and so cheer for a team rather than a person. But it is somewhat mysterious how this happens, because there are more masculine sports that are clearly Second-Tier — boxing, for example — and so contrary to Olivia’s opinion that doesn’t seem to be the driving factor. Heck, baseball and soccer aren’t anywhere near the top of the heap in terms of what you’d consider “toughness” and yet outdraw the tougher hockey pretty much everywhere except Canada. So the implication that it’s a culture of masculinity doesn’t quite seem to work.

There are many similar examples, like upper body strength in swimming, or weight in football. But the sports that take advantage of women’s abilities like gymnastics, open water swimming, figure skating, or shooting, are not pushed on the media, supported, or even really considered sports in the way that the big male sports are.

Figure skating, at least in Canada, is actually given far more attention than swimming is. So is gymnastics. Shooting seems like a pretty boring spectator sport, meaning that I can’t see it gaining more attention in areas that don’t already have it as a sport of interest than, say, darts does (which is, to my mind, amazingly popular in the U.K.). It also seems like a prime masculine sport, but has never really enjoyed a lot of attention as far as I’m aware. So I don’t think “They’re just not supported” is a good explanation here; given the success and attention paid to Canadian figure skaters over the past few decades due to their success, it would seem that in Canada at least figure skating’s more than had its shot, for example.

Ultimately, she seems to want to solve this problem and bring about a host of other benefits by integrating men’s and women’s sports. And immediately runs into a problem that she tries to solve:

It also seems entirely possible that there could be leagues with slightly altered rules to make women more competitive. Some people might whine and moan about how this would destroy the sport, but all our rules are completely arbitrary anyway and the way we set up our competitions is completely arbitrary, so why not make it more accessible to women? We have rules against using steroids or against sticking a trampoline under the basket, both of which mean that players aren’t being as outstanding in their abilities as they could be. I know you all love dunks, but imagine a league in which dunks weren’t legal and how that would change the playing field for gender equality. Ok MenBA fans, stop throwing things, you can still have a dunking league too if you want.

The issue with simply integrating them, she realizes, is that if the rules are kept the same then the elite leagues would likely end up being defacto men’s leagues anyway. So then she starts talking about changing the rules. She refers back to her example of basketball and says that one way to eliminate the height issue is to remove dunking. Except that height is beneficial beyond dunking. There’s rebounding, for example. And shot blocking. And being able to pass or shoot over a defender without having to do a fade away. And all sorts of other things. If you changed the sport to allow for that that much, you’d have a radically different game … which you could achieve in some sense by just not integrating and letting women who are generally shorter play, and not providing any rule changes to adjust it for their height.

The problem with this is that it will end up being ruined as soon as you get women into the game who are tall enough to play the game the way the men play the game, because then again if the rules haven’t changed then they will be able to dunk, rebound, and shoot and pass over the smaller women just like the men would. Except that they’ll still be shorter than the men in the men’s league, and so you’ll have a league that plays the same as the men’s league but isn’t as good as it. This is what bugged me about the Williams sisters in tennis (which I don’t really watch), the Jennifer Jones rink in curling, and essentially all of women’s hockey: becoming more like the men’s game meant that you had nothing more than an inferior men’s game, which took away what made those sports interesting in their own right.

So, could you integrate? Maybe. But to do what Olivia suggests requires taking the existing frameworks and essentially making a new game, and it’s hard to see how that could be done without turning it into the gymnastics model: two completely different games, one for men and one for women. Especially since you have the issue of competition to deal with, as already mentioned. If you radically change a sport, then you essentially end up with two — or more — completely different versions of the same sport. If they compete against each other, unless you manage to hit completely different markets, one is likely to push out the others to become the dominant one. It’s not likely that dunkless basketball will outdraw “traditional” basketball. And, even worse, you might actually splinter your market and so lose out in ratings when you compete with more unified sports. So, then, trying to build a new alternative sport that could be integrated is not all that great an idea, but trying to change the existing one by taking out skill elements in order to integrate is not that great either. I’m not sure what the solution is here, but one thing that we can do right now is stop pushing women’s sports to be men’s sports, and for women to stop treating men’s sports as the major leagues, as we saw Hayley Wickenheiser, Michelle Wie, and others who strive to compete in the men’s league and get accolades for doing it. They should instead be treated as essentially traitors, people who are trying to play a different game (and generally not doing that well at it) not as people who are making it to the big time.

Simply changing the rules to integrate women isn’t going to convince people to value different athletic traits and abilities or new ways that the games might develop if women were integrated. Too many people will simply see it as artificially lowering the playing field because they value power and sheer strength over balance, flexibility, finesse, or skill.

So even if we could find a great way to integrate sports, there’s probably a lot of work to do at retraining our brains and societal expectations to appreciate new things. We have to choose as a society to care about other sports and other skills.

Well, let’s see. Darts and poker are, in fact, relatively big draws now. Women’s gymnastics focuses on all four of the things she promotes and is far more popular than men’s gymnastics, which focus on power and sheer strength. And many sports focus on both sheer power and finesse and skill (hockey and soccer being the best examples). So I don’t see that as being the problem. I see it as being the case that power and sheer strength in a lot of sports does mean greater success and better play, and so attempts to reduce that are rightfully seen as taking away from the sport. At this point, I think all I can suggest to Olivia is that she try to invent a new sport that focuses on what she wants focused on and see how it does. At the very least, then we’d know what she means by a sport that does that and, perhaps, what criteria for “popular” she’s aiming for.

Essentially, right now in order for women’s sports to succeed and take off they have to become something more than an inferior version of the men’s sport. Rolling women into the men’s sport is not in any way going to help with this. What will help with this is acknowledging the differences and maybe deliberately biasing the women’s game towards enhancing those differences and making them really stand out. If this is done, maybe more women’s sports can achieve the lofty heights of gymnastics when compared to the men’s version of the sport. And, as I’ve said on multiple occasions, those might well be the sports that I’ll decide to watch.

Guilty Pleasures

January 8, 2015

I think all of us have some kind of guilty pleasure when it comes to what we watch on TV (if we watch TV), from reality shows to soap operas to, well, whatever. Essentially, there are shows that we watch that we wonder why in the world we watch them, and are kinda embarrassed to admit to others that we watch them.

For me, right now, I guess my guilty pleasures are … poker and darts. I did sometimes watch poker when I had cable before, mostly when there was nothing else on, and found myself wondering why I watched it at all, or why I was having such a hard time changing the channel. But this time around, I find myself actually seeing that poker is on and deciding to watch it directly, potentially even if there might be something else on. That being said, I’m not alone, as the ratings for poker on ESPN used to be higher than that of hockey.

But what I’m finding most amazing is darts. Not the ratings, necessarily, but the reception it gets in Great Britain, where it plays/broadcasts from. It’s really big business. The matches, from what I’ve been seeing, move from venue to venue … and are packed. And they don’t look like tiny clubs either; they may not be stadiums, but they certainly hold a good number of people. And there’s a lot of trappings involved in darts, too. They have intro walks, intro music, nicknames, cheerleaders, and all sorts of other things. The World Championships had a 250,000 pound top prize. It’s amazing that a sport like darts can get that much attention.

As sports, the poker that you generally see is the game that, in my opinion, requires the least skill: Texas Hold ‘Em. But it’s all about reading players, knowing the percentages of your hand, what draws you have, and what hands your opponent could have based on that hand, and how likely they are to call a bluff or bluff themselves. So there is some strategy there that makes it interesting.

As for darts, it’s a fairly interesting high-scoring sport, because you have to be the first to get to 0 from (usually) 501 … and you have to get there exactly. Which means that you do want to get as high a score on each set of throws as you can … but also want to set up easier finishes, since you have to end on a double or a bullseye to win, so it involves sometimes taking lower scores that leave you with a more even remainder.

I’m not sure how long this will last, as my interest in poker is already flagging a bit (I only really pay attention now when interesting players are on) and I think that the same will happen soon to darts. And then it will be on to the next guilty pleasure …


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