Observing Friday the 13th During a Pandemic

Today is Friday, August 13, 2021.

For some people this means nothing more than the fact that yesterday was the 12th and tomorrow is the 14th.

For the superstitious among us today means all of the things above in addition to it being an unlucky day all the way around.

I first explored the Friday the 13th phenomena during the before times of 2015. Partly because I was feeling too lazy to come up with a new topic, and partly because it is still relevant today, I figured I would give Friday the 13th another look.

Consider this the surviving Friday the 13th during a global pandemic edition.

While one could argue that the fear of Friday the 13th has about as much scientific backing as people claiming that masks actually cause disease, the simple fact is that Friday the 13th is just a day like any other day.

Each year has at least one Friday the 13th but there can be as many as three in a 365-day span.

For many people a black cat crossing their paths is a sign of bad luck. Were that cat to cross their path on Friday the 13th they might think that it was even worse luck.
Photo R. Anderson

In 2015 when I first wrote about the topic, Friday the 13th occurred in February, March, and November. In 2017 through 2020 there were two Friday the 13ths per year.

In 2021 and 2022, much like the Highlander, there can be only one.

From a strictly scientific perspective Friday the 13th occurs in any month that begins on a Sunday. Simple as that.

Of course, these days it seems nothing is ever really as simple as just following the science for some people.

Hollywood definitely loves to roll out the scary movies on autumnal Friday the 13ths for maximum marketing impact so one would certainly be forgiven if they were unable to purge their memories of thinking that Friday the 13th is something straight outta Tinsel Town and the scary movie craze.

While many may think that the Friday the 13th craze started with a certain movie character named Freddy, the roots of Friday the 13th actually run much deeper than late 20th Century cinema.

According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th did not occur until 1913, however, the components that ultimately converged to form it are much older and involve first looking at the two parts that make up Friday the 13th.

Folklore historian Donald Dossey contends that the unlucky nature of the number “13” originated with a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party in Valhalla.

The trickster god Loki, who was not invited, arrived as the 13th guest, and arranged for Höðr to shoot Balder with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, which it turns out was the only substance that could kill him. I guess one could say that Höðr kissed him deadly under the mistletoe.

I certainly hope that the myth about Loki bringing 13 back did not spoil any plot lines for the Disney+ series Loki’s Holiday episode next season. As a side note, it really is only a matter of time before a “Baby Yoda” and Loki crossover project takes place.

So, if we trace the unluckiness of the 13th back to Norse gods, and accept the position that in the 19th Century Friday was “Execution Day in America” based on it being the only day of the week that all executions took place, one could see how the convergence of a Friday on the 13th could be consider doubly unlucky.

Of course, the value and mysticism associated with Friday the 13th is strictly a product of the imagination of humans. In particular, American humans since the United States is the only country that appears to celebrate Friday the 13th.

Or, put in Willy Wonka speak when it comes to Friday the 13th, “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”

Friday and the number 13 were considered unlucky by some on their own, so it was only logical that both occurring at the same time would be even unluckier.

In fact, fear of Friday the 13th even has a name; friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named in English and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen).

Talk about a great word to roll out on the old Scrabble board.

Now that we know when it was first originated, as well as the scientific name for it, we might as well take a deeper look at why it is that some people ascribe such attention to Friday the 13th.

Personally, I have never feared Friday the 13th and am among the people who consider it just another day. Now, were yesterday Friday the 13th I may have considered it unlucky after cutting a piece of my toe with nail clippers.

Although he could be moody and liked to bite my nose to wake me up each morning, my dearly departed black cat, Lucky, was mostly a sweetheart and was certainly nothing to be superstitious of on Friday the 13th or any other day for that matter.
Photo R. Anderson

However, yesterday was Friday the 12th and just a slip of the clippers versus a cosmically unlucky day causing me to draw my own blood.

I will not alter my activities today, nor will I think that today is any unluckier than any other day.

Certainly, one could argue that we are all living in some sort of extended Friday the 13th unlucky paradigm brought about by the destruction of natural habitat and rising global temperatures that is creating new viruses that are pouring through the global population like an avalanche coming down the mountain, but that is both a column for another day, and a case for Mulder and Scully.

While there are other days to write about havoc humankind unleashes on the planet as a whole, the arrival of Friday the 13th made me think about sports and the superstitious rituals that many players seem to follow.

During my years covering sports at all levels, I have seen more than my share of superstitions play out among the people I have interacted with.

There are players who will eat the same pregame meal because they feel that to eat anything else would risk certain disaster on the field.

Hitters on a hot streak in baseball are notorious for continuing whatever “routine” it is that they feel is behind their streak since they feel any deviation will likely mean the end to the streak.

The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front.

The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball is not the only sport with superstitions. Across all level of sports there are athletes who have a lucky shirt, or other article of clothing that they cannot go onto the field of battle without.

The tradition of “playoff beards” can be considered another sport superstition that athletes employ.

The link between superstitions and sports can start at a very early age.

Back in high school I did a feature article on the goalie of my school’s woman’s soccer team, who attributed her on-field success to a lucky argyle sock that she wore during every game.

Granted it was not a pair of socks but one single sock that took over when her “magic shoes” fell ill.

Throughout my career I have been around many other superstitious athletes, and I am sure I will meet many more. To date though a single “lucky” Argyle sock has been the most memorable superstition I have encountered.

On this Friday the 13th beware of those around you who are extra cautious of their surroundings and if you find yourself short one Argyle sock in the wash, I have a pretty good idea where it might have run off to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to see if I can find a black cat while walking under a ladder and holding a broken mirror while stepping on all of the sidewalk cracks I can find.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Way Back Wednesday: Remembering that time COVID-19 Lead MLB to Cancel the Field of Dreams Game as Cases Among Players Continue to Rise

Editor’s Note: As part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature, today we travel back one year and one week ago to August 3, 2020 when Major League Baseball (MLB) cancelled the highly touted Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa, near the set of the 1989 movie of the same name as the game.

Fast forward to 2021, and the St. Louis Cardinals have been replaced by the New York Yankees as the team facing the Chicago White Sox among the corn stalks. But to be fair, MLB had always wanted the Yankees to be involved in the game but had only added the Cardinals back when they switched to a regional schedule for the 2020 baseball season.

Of course, the change in White Sox opponent is really the only thing that has changed between last year when the game was cancelled, and this year when it will be held. COVID-19 cases are still raging like a California wildfire across the country, but apparently people have grown tired of listening to science and decided just to play ball while banning mandates on masks to protect children and others in society.

As noted many times, Field of Dreams is one of my favorite movies. I often quote it as well as Bull Durham, but struggled to find words from either movie to try to make sense of the senseless acts being committed in the name of trying to stay on brand while Rome burns. What I finally came up with is that many people seem determined to “go the distance” to appease a twice impeached one term president even if it means killing people in the process by tying the hands of people actually trying to be helpful and save lives.

We will delve more into the Field of Dreams game in future writings, until then, please enjoy this column from August 3, 2020 to see how little has changed between now and then aside from the fact that hundreds of thousands of people who were alive when this column was first written are now dead thanks to COVID-19 and the actions, or inactions of certain public officials.

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It turns out that if you build it in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic, they won’t come.

Such is the case for the highly touted Major League Baseball (MLB) game between the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals that was scheduled to be played August 13 in Dyersville, Iowa amongst the cornfields made famous by the movie Field of Dreams.

On Monday word spread that the game was canceled amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19.

Announced last year, the game was to feature the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees “having a catch” on a specially constructed, 8,000-seat Ballpark near the movie’s iconic diamond. The Cardinals replaced the Yankees on the program after MLB opted for a regionally based schedule.

The cancellation comes as the St. Louis Cardinals became the latest team to get put in time out after multiple players and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

For comparison, the National Hockey League (NHL) reported Monday that zero players, or other personal inside their two bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton have tested positive for COVID-19.

First announced last year, the “Field of Dreams” game was originally set to feature the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees “having a catch” at a specially constructed, 8,000-seat Ballpark near the movie’s iconic diamond. The Cardinals replaced the Yankees on the program after MLB opted for a regionally based schedule. On Monday word spread that the game was canceled amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19 within the ranks of MLB.
Photo R. Anderson

Bubbles work, but MLB owners burst the bubble approach by demanding that they be free to move about the country, or at least move about regionally, to play ball in their Ballparks.

It is no secret why MLB wanted to be bubble free. Houston Astros owner Jim Crane was brutally honest when he said he wanted as many fans as possible in the Ballpark buying t-shirts and concessions in order to recoup some lost revenue. As I noted at the time, that was one of the most tone-deaf statements I ever heard an MLB owner make.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise from coast to coast, and within MLB dugouts. As a result, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred warned over the weekend that the season could be shut down if players do not do better containing the spread of COVID-19.

During an interview with ESPN Manfred stated, “the players need to be better. But I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”

Manfred made those remarks, as 20% of the league was sidelined in an attempt to combat two separate coronavirus outbreaks.

The “I am not a quitter,” and it isn’t my fault, remarks reminded me of a couple of other people who were faced with making tough decisions as the reality of a situation bigger than themselves crashed in upon them.

On August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned from office by uttering in part, “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.”

Putting the interests of America ahead of his desire to finish his term, Nixon became the only U.S. president to resign from office.

Rob Manfred could learn a lot from Richard Nixon in how to, as the late Kenny Rogers would say, “know when to fold them.” No, I am not saying that Manfred should resign, although I have seen rumblings from others thinking that he should.

It is time for MLB to resign themselves to the fact that the 2020 season is a lost cause. MLB tried to have a season. No one can take that away from them. Walking away now, and canceling the season before it gets worse is the honorable thing to do.

Instead of making a graceful exit, and doing a proverbial flyover in Marine One, Manfred seems determined to follow the example of another Republican president by using the blame and deflect game as he puts lives and careers at risk to seemingly serve his own self interests of proving that he isn’t a quitter and we would have had a season if not for those meddling kids being kids in the middles of a pandemic.

Yes, some players are leaving their hotel rooms when they travel and are potentially getting exposed to the virus. But they are just as easily exposed during the constant travel from ballpark to ballpark.

For Manfred’s apparent role model for taking zero responsibility, consider the actions of the 45th President of the United States who has blamed nearly everyone under the sun for making him look bad with the spread of COVID-19.

For MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s apparent role model for taking zero responsibility, consider the actions of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, shown in Lego form, who has blamed nearly everyone under the sun for making him look bad with the spread of COVID-19, while seeming to take zero responsibility for trying to contain a virus that has killed over 156,000 Americans. Manfred, is blaming players instead of taking ownership of a failed plan to avoid a bubble approach to returning to action and it may cost him the season he fought so hard to have.
Photo R. Anderson

Yes, Mr. President over 156,000 Americans willingly died of COVID-19 just to make you look bad. That is some next level narcissism for someone to believe that.

Instead, over 156,000 Americans died in part due to a lack of centralized leadership and messaging coming out of the White House. Oh yeah, and the rush to reopen everything when we hadn’t flattened the curve didn’t help either.

In lieu of a national plan, we get attacks on doctors and the media who are both engaged in trying to get the truth out and help save lives as they try to fill the leadership void. We also get attacks on governors for not managing the one of 50 different ways the United States is attacking COVID-19.

Like the effort to combat COVID-19, MLB is also suffering from a lack of leadership and messaging. If MLB was playing games in a bubble, I would give them way more leeway to try to get the situation under control. But they aren’t, and it isn’t.

Perhaps showing that players are not really buying into a belief that MLB has their best interests at heart, more and more players are opting out of the 2020 MLB season.

I cannot blame the players for deciding that the risks to their health are not worth playing ball in the current COID-19 climate.

It is time for MLB to ease the players pain and try again next year. The National Football League and College Football also need to take notice and realize that sports outside of a bubble don’t work.

MLB let greed guide them over science. If the NFL and NCAA play football in the fall it will be an equally greedy endeavor.

I have said it before, and it bears saying again, how on earth did we let ourselves get here? We really have no one to blame but ourselves. Thankfully we can also all be part of the solution.

It is time to corral COIVD-19 and not try to return sports and other areas of live to normal while over 1,000 people a day are dying. These aren’t normal times, but they could be if everyone would just commit to wearing a mask and keeping their distance.

The change in White Sox opponent back to the New York Yankees is really the only thing that has changed between 2020 when the game was cancelled, and 2021 when it will be held. COVID-19 cases are still raging like a California wildfire across the country, but apparently people have grown tired of listening to science and decided just to play ball while banning mandates on masks to protect children and others in society.
Photo R. Anderson

Such simple things to do, yet thanks to political lines being drawn, and a leadership vacuum, we are all left to fend for ourselves and hope for the best.

There is an empty Ballpark nestled among Iowa cornfields ready for baseball to return there in 2021, it is time for the 30 MLB Ballparks to do the same.

Of course, if we fail to get a handle on COVID-19, there may not be any baseball next year either. Much like He-Man of the Masters of the Universe franchise, we have the power. We don’t even need to hold a magic sword aloft as we recite a mantra. We just need to wear a mask, socially distance, avoid crowds, wash our hands and act as one nation.

It isn’t rocket science, but it is scientifically proven to work. If we fail, we have no one but ourselves to blame.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some bubble hockey to watch.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Starliners and COVID and Olympics, Oh My

Today’s column was originally supposed to be about either a successful, or unsuccessful launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule.

For those unfamiliar with the Starliner, it is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) which serves to shuttle astronauts back and forth between earth and low earth orbit.

The other player in the CCP game, SpX, has already flown an uncrewed, and three crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS), with a fourth crewed mission slated for September.

To date, Boeing has attempted one uncrewed mission, which did not really check all of the intended boxes.

After failing to stick the crucial steps of getting into the right orbit and making it to the ISS back in 2019, Boeing was set to make a second attempt to show that they have the right stuff in terms of flying a capsule that can perform as it is commanded. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Starliner is still very much on the ground in Florida and I was forced to find a new topic to write about.
Photo R. Anderson

After failing to stick the crucial steps of getting into the right orbit, and making it to the ISS and back in 2019, Boeing was set to make a second attempt to show that they have the right stuff in terms of flying a capsule that can perform as it is commanded.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Starliner is still very much on the ground in Florida with no real plan for when it will try to launch again atop a United Space Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket.

The fact that Boeing has yet to “light this candle” shows that failure to launch is more than just the title of a Matthew McConaughey movie, which led me to the need to come up with a Plan B column.

As someone who grew up near the Space Coast of Florida, I know that launch slips are a common occurrence. Space travel is hard. From weather, to tight launch windows, there are myriad things that can cause a launch to slip even without mis-configured hardware.

So, in hindsight I should have known better then to put all of my column eggs in the “Boeing will launch before Friday” basket.

I should have known better. Shame on me for believing.

Of course, the obvious fallback column topic would be to write about the meteoric rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, while focusing specifically on states that are spelled “Texas” and “Florida.”

Those two states have governors who have issued mandates banning mandates on things like mask wearing and generally acting like adults in the middle of a health crisis despite having a third of all new COVID-19 cases popping up within their borders.

In the typical “oh look at that shiny thing over there” playbook the governors of Florida and Texas would have you believe that the rise in cases is due to illegal immigrants and not lax guidelines and low vaccination rates among the citizens of those states.

To be clear, illegal immigrants are not responsible for all of the COVID-19 cases in Florida and Texas, but they make a convenient foil for the reality avoiding governors to point to.

In the area around the Gigaplex, the County Judge recently raised the COVID-19 threat level to the highest level on the map while urging all unvaccinated people to either get vaccinated, or stay home.

Of course, thanks to the aforementioned mandate outlawing mandates, the County Judge and other local officials are unable to decree that people wear masks, or do any of the other common sense steps that science says can stop the spread of a disease.

Hospitals in both Florida and Texas are running out of room to treat patients. In some cases, patients are being flown hundreds of miles away to get treatment since the local hospitals are full.

No, I am not going to write about those two governors and people like them who choose to stick their heads in the sand, or play the fiddle while proverbial Rome burns around them.

I am also not going to write about the closing ceremonies of the Pandemic Games in Tokyo. While some athletes achieved great feats in medal winning performances, one could argue that the greatest feat that the athletes should focus on is getting out of Tokyo without catching COVID-19.

By insisting on going through with the games in the middle of a pandemic the International Olympic Committee (IOC) showed their true motivations while making it clear that the show will go on no matter what.

Something tells me that when the Summer Olympic games return to Los Angeles in 2028 the IOC would be perfectly content to hold the games in the middle of a wild fire, earthquake, or for that matter even a sharknado in order to make sure they still made a profit.
Photo R. Anderson

Something tells me that when the Summer Olympic games return to Los Angeles in 2028 the IOC would be perfectly content to hold the games in the middle of a wild fire, earthquake or for that matter even a Sharknado.

After all, they need to make their millions of dollars at all costs.

To be clear, this is not a column about rockets stuck on the ground due to erroneous valve positions, or governors putting their citizens at undue risk as a result of questionable policy positions aimed at appeasing a very small minority of voters, or athletes competing in a world ravaged by a highly contagious variant to a disease that the world has battled for 18 months.

There will be other days to write about those things and more.

No, today’s column is all about Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

I have several Mr. Rogers themed t-shirts in my wardrobe. However, my favorite by far is this mashup of the X-Files and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Photo R. Anderson

When I was growing up, I loved watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on my local PBS station. I can still remember many of the episodes, and have been known to hum a song or two from the show from time to time.

One of my favorite parts of the show was when the Neighborhood Trolley traveled to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, to visit Purple Panda, King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat and the rest of the puppets and live action characters that inhabited the wondrous land of dreams and endless possibilities.

As much as I wished I could stay in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, there was always that moment when the trolley would reappear and someone would say, “Oh hi, Trolley. Is it time to go back to reality now?”

Unfortunately, too many people seem stuck in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe unable, or unwilling to face the current realities of the world.

One of Mr. Rogers’ more famous quotes that seems as fitting today as the day he said it is, “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

The news is indeed failed with scary and sometimes unbelievable things. Thankfully there are still helpers trying to make it right. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of agents of destruction and mayhem tying the hands of the helpers.

Of course, there is a Mr. Rogers quote addressing that as well.

“Did you ever hear loud, scary sounds on television? Well, some television programs are loud and scary, with people shooting and hitting other people. You know, you can do something about that. When you see scary television, you can turn it off. And when you do turn it off, that will show that you’re the strongest of them all. It takes a very strong person to be able to turn off scary TV. Mmm-hmm. That’s one of the ways you’ll be able to tell that you’re really growing.”

Throughout his life, Fred Roger aka Mr. Rogers offered advice and comfort to children of all ages. One of his more famous quotes that seems as fitting today as the day he said it is, “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Photo R. Anderson

While I am sure Mr. Rogers was not directly addressing partisan divides and anti-science talking heads when he said these words, they sure seem to fit, and the principle applies.

Don’t give oxygen to the nonsense. Instead, follow actual facts over politicized fiction and mandates that make it harder for schools to protect children.

When you see someone on television, or the internet, spewing lies and conspiracies, turn them off.

Were he still alive today, one has to wonder what Mr. Rogers would think of the world of COVID-19 deniers enacting mandates that make it harder for schools to protect children and corrupt Olympic officials taking a virus be damned approach to protecting their profits.

Mr. Rogers famously testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communication on May 1, 1969, to defend public television from budget cuts. Something tells me that if he were alive today Mr. Rogers would be testifying to Congress and anyone else who would listen about the need to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.

I, and millions of other people, learned a lot from Mr. Rogers. For that I am truly grateful. Unfortunately, too many others stayed in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and became puppets performing for an audience of one.

I guess today’s column was about rockets, ill-conceived mandates putting children at risk, and international conglomerates putting profit over people after all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the sudden urge to change into a red knit cardigan sweater.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Return of Masks as COVID Cases Rise Shows it is Déjà vu all Over Again

In the words of the late, great, Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again” as once more COVID-19 cases are on the rise and baseball games and other aspects of life are being rescheduled or cancelled.

The July 28, 2021 game between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies was postponed less than two hours before first pitch “to allow for continued testing and contact tracing involving members of the Nationals organization,” according to a statement by Major League Baseball.

The July 28, 2021 game between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies was postponed less than two hours before first pitch “to allow for continued testing and contact tracing involving members of the Nationals organization,” according to a statement by Major League Baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

The latest outbreak marks the third time this season that the Nationals have had to place multiple players on the COVID list.

The Nats began the season with nine players and four coaches impacted by an outbreak on the team plane.

Then in May, starting pitcher Erick Fedde tested positive and reliever Tanner Rainey was forced to quarantine for being a close contact.

In response to rising cases of the Delta COVID-19 variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued revised guidance for a return to wearing masks indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals after an internal document showed that the variant is far more infectious than previously thought.

Additionally, on July 29, 2021 President Joe Biden mandated that all federal employees and contractors either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing as a condition of their employment.

Yes, Yogi, indeed it is déjà vu all over again as cases rise and some people still refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated.

To quote another Yogism, “you can observe a lot by watching.” And watching the number of cases climbing, one can observe that instead of saying mission accomplished and getting on with our lives as they were in the before times, we are heading backwards in the battle to rid our shores of COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

To quote another Yogism, “you can observe a lot by watching.”

Watching the number of cases climbing, one can observe that instead of saying mission accomplished and getting on with our lives as they were in the before times, we are heading backwards in the battle to rid our shores of COVID-19.

In many ways the return of a world where mask mandates and potential shutdowns are being talked about boils down to the fact that more people did not get vaccinated back in May when vaccines were plentiful and the Delta variant was barely gaining strength.

In hindsight, lifting mask guidance in May and trusting that the unvaccinated would continue to wear masks was a lesson in foolishness since many in the anti-mask and anti-vaccine crowd will never wear a mask even if their lives and the lives of their children depended on it. Which it does, but more on that in a bit.

But instead of looking back at the mistakes of May, one must look at the present and decide how to move forward with the current conditions.

I get that people can have concerns about getting vaccinated and understand that some people require more data before they are willing to let someone stick a needle in their arm.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could likely put a lot of minds at ease by lifting the Emergency Use Authorization of the COVID-19 vaccines and stating that they are safe and effective for every day use and fully vetted and approved.

Educational outreach is critical to reaching the unvaccinated and showing them that the risks of dying from COVID-19 far outweigh any potential side effects from a vaccine.

But while people are parsing through the data to achieve a comfort level to get the vaccine, they should be wearing a mask at the very least to protect those around them from getting sick.

The politics of being anti-mask and anti-vaccine is another thing I don’t understand. While many politicians are touting the need to get educated on masks and vaccines, too many others are having their “let them eat cake moments.”

Instead of being at the forefront of encouraging their constituents to mask up and vax up, several politicians seem willing to let people die from a largely preventable disease just so they can score political points among a small minority of the country as part of a pandemic of stupidity.

I am all for adults having the freedom to educate themselves on the vaccines, but I am not for putting children at risk in the process. Currently all children under 12-years-old are not eligible to get vaccinated.

Those too young to get vaccinated must rely on those who are old enough to provide a bubble of protection around them to keep them healthy until a vaccine is approved for their age group.

That is the thing I do not understand, many people are so anti-mask and anti-vaccine that they are willing to risk their own children getting sick, or dying, just to make a point and to stay “on brand.”

In 1985 musician Sting told his band mates of the Police to not stand so close to him as he ventured off on a solo career. His first solo album, Dream of the Blue Turtles featured a track called Russians. While the song was written in response to Cold War tensions between the then U.S.S.R and the United States, one can see parallels in the lyrics to the current standoff of related to the vaccinated and unvaccinated in the battle against COVID-19.

Children’s hospitals are filling up with patients who are too young to get vaccinated and became infected through contact with someone who most likely was old enough to get vaccinated but didn’t.

In 1985, musician Sting told his band mates of the Police to not stand so close to him as he ventured off on a solo career.

His first solo album, Dream of the Blue Turtles featured a song called Russians.  While the song, Russians, was written in response to Cold War tensions between the then U.S.S.R and the United States, one can see parallels in the lyrics to the current standoff related to the vaccinated and unvaccinated in the battle against COVID-19.

Russians opens with the lines, “In Europe and America there’s a growing feeling of hysteria. Conditioned to respond to all the threats. In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.”

Fast forward to 2021 and one could say that the rhetorical speeches of some governors who are anti-mask mandates in school are fueling the rising tensions.

Turn on the local news in many southern states and one is likely to see angry parents berating local school districts who are trying to keep their kids safe by telling them to mask up.

Unfortunately, those anti-mask, anti-vaccine parents have governors willing to back them in their anti-science rants.

In keeping with our Russians theme other lyrics state, “I don’t subscribe to this point of view. It’d be such an ignorant thing to do. If the Russians (or in our case unvaccinated) love their children too.”

Masks and vaccines have become so politicized that people are talking past each other instead of to each other.

Going back to the Russians well once more, “There is no monopoly on common sense. On either side of the political fence. We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.”

As noted many times over the past year and a half, COVID-19 does not care if you are a democrat or a republican. It does not care if you think it is “Fake News” or just a flu.

People are still getting sick, and even if they don’t die, many will have long term health effects.

Having to cancel, and/or postpone baseball games, or other sporting events due to COVID-19 is one thing.

Being willing to risk that a child may never get to play sports at all due to long haul COVID because their lungs got trashed when they were at a summer camp full of unvaccinated counselors is another thing.

But what might save us, me and you is if the unvaccinated love their children too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to dust off some Sting CDs and party like it is 1985.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Closely Guarded Secret Revealed as Cleveland MLB Team Gets New Name

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) there are Guardians of the Galaxy battling aliens near and far.

In Low Earth Orbit (LEO) the Guardians of Space Force protect the interests of America from wayward actors.

Starting in 2022, the city of Cleveland will have Guardians of their own patrolling the diamonds of Major League Baseball.

Say hello to the Cleveland Guardians, and goodbye to the Cleveland Indians.

Move over Groot, the Cleveland Guardians are here. I suppose if a movie can have a talking tree that only says one-word, Major League Baseball can have a team with an uninspired nickname based in part on that movie.
Photo R. Anderson

In making the announcement of the new name team, owner and chairman Paul Dolan noted in a prepared statement that, “We are excited to usher in the next era of the deep history of baseball in Cleveland. Cleveland has and always will be the most important part of our identity. Therefore, we wanted a name that strongly represents the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders.”

Apparently a lot of people are believers in the resiliency and pride brought about by the word guardians.

In December 2020 former United States vice-president Mike Pence, took great pride at the direction of the former president in announcing that members of the United States Space Force would forever be known as Guardians.

With the Coast Guard being called “Coasties” despite actually having the word guard in their name, it makes sense that space forceers would be called Guardians? Asking for a friend.

Either way, the brain trust in Cleveland said, “hold my Pierogi,” and named an entire baseball team after either space soldiers, or Marvel characters. Creating not the most original idea under the sun in the process.

Somewhere I think old Harry Doyle of Major League fame would call the new name, “Just a bit outside.”

In December 2020 former United States vice-president Mike Pence, took great pride at the direction of the former president in announcing that members of the United States Space Force would forever be known as Guardians. With the Coast Guard being called “Coasties” despite actually having the word guard in their name, it makes sense that space forceers would be called Guardians? Asking for a friend. Either way, the brain trust in Cleveland said, “hold my Pierogi,” and named an entire baseball team after either space soldiers, or Marvel characters. Either way, not the most original idea under the sun.
Photo R. Anderson

The timing of the announcement on the day that the world was distracted by the opening ceremonies of the Pandemic games, I mean Summer Olympic games, also seems a bit like trying to bury the lead when the world of sport was looking the other direction.

While I am certainly not trying to tell the fine people of Cleveland what to call their baseball team, their selection seems rather flat and uninspired based on the aforementioned list of way more famous Guardians.

Cleveland had used Indians as their nickname since 1915. In 2020 the team announced that a new name was coming in response to growing complaints from Native American groups and others who felt that the name and iconography was disrespectful.

Ahead of undergoing a name change, Cleveland stopped wearing the Chief Wahoo logo on their jerseys and caps in 2019 as phase one of their rebranding effort.

While the Indians will be retired at the end of the 2021 MLB season, diehard Clevelanders and Chief Wahoo fans can take solace in the fact that the Indians will forever live on the silver screen thanks to their inclusion in the movies of the Major League franchise.

In the none theatrical world, I can support and respect the need for Cleveland to adjust their branding to be less controversial, however, their ultimate choice of new nickname seems a little lazy.

It is almost like they looked at the word Indians and thought, “you know if we drop the letters “in” we just need to find some new letters and we can keep the “dians” that our fans have grown to love over the years.

I am guessing the keep the “dians” approach for a new nickname included evaluating such words as Comedians, Meridians, Arcadians, Euclidians, Custodians, and Medians.

With all of the attention being paid to the sabermetrics and mathematical elements of baseball these days, Cleveland truly missed an opportunity by not naming the team the Euclidians after Ancient Greek mathematician, Euclid, the inventor of axiomatic geometry.

After all, if launch angle is not a product of geometric principles I don’t know what is.

A quick internet search of “Cleveland Guardians” reveals that a men’s roller hockey team already used that name proving that the search for a new name may have been even lazier then first thought. There are even similarities between the roller hockey logo and the logo for the MLB squad.

As weak as the new nickname seems, at least one can take solace in the fact that Cleveland did not follow the soccer/futbol route and call themselves the Cleveland City Baseball Club.

The move by Cleveland follows a move made by the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins to change with the times and remove offensive nicknames and logos. Washington is expected to announce their new name sometime in 2022.

Cleveland was not the only MLB team that used Native American symbolism as part of their brand but are the only one making a change. The Atlanta Braves announced last year that they had no intention of changing their team’s name, but would look into the possibility of doing away with the “Tomahawk Chop.”

With the Cleveland Indians giving way to becoming the Guardians, The Atlanta Braves are the last of the 30 MLB teams to reflect Native American themes in their branding. While pressure is likely to mount for the team to change their name, for now the Braves have stated they have no plans to change their name but may look into revising the “Tomahawk Chop” chant.
Photo R. Anderson

In the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs are also facing increased pressure to change their name.

Additionally, Jeep has been asked by the Cherokee Nation to find another name for their bestselling SUV.

In a February 25, 2021 article in the New York Times, Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, said, “The use of Cherokee names and imagery for peddling products doesn’t deepen the country’s understanding of what it means to be Cherokee, and I think it diminishes it somewhat.”

The response from the parent company of Jeep was noncommittal regarding whether a name change would be forthcoming.

It is certainly a tricky issue for both sports franchises and corporations to navigate when it comes to protecting their long-term identity while also being mindful of the fact that acceptable societal norms have shifted.

While Chief Wahoo will no longer bang the drum slowly and play the pipe lowly in the outfield of Cleveland baseball games, fans wanting to hang on to those days of wahoo past can always watch the Major League franchise to get their kicks. As a bonus, the movies feature way more winning compared to watching the actual franchise.
Photo R. Anderson

As noted many times before, I grew up as a Washington Redskins fan and never thought that I was supporting a team named after a racial slur.

To me, they were just a football team with cool colors, a catchy post touchdown song and a neat logo. But for some, that name and logo, even though it was used by some Native American communities, was offensive to others.

To be fair, someone will always be offended no matter what something is called. But when the majority of people find something offense it is time to take a closer look at whether a change needs to be made.

Cleveland made their change and while they likely launched a thousand memes by naming themselves Guardians, at least they are moving forward with a new identity.

The Washington football faithful still have to wait another year to see what rebranding effort is coming straight outta Landover, MD.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the sudden urge to listen to some of Harry Doyle’s greatest fictional calls.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

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

A Patriotic Ode to the Hot Dog

Yesterday, July 4th, the United States of America celebrated the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, and the first anniversary of the declaring independence from COVID-19 with coast-to-coast fireworks and mask-less and social distance free celebrations galore as a weary nation partied like it was 2019.

While time will tell whether declaring independence from COVID-19 was premature, one cannot argue that we are not in a better position this year than we were at the time a year ago.

The US celebrated the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, and the first anniversary of the declaring independence from COVID-19 with coast-to-coast fireworks as a weary nation partied like it was 2019.
Photo R. Anderson

In addition to fireworks, another truly American Fourth of July tradition is a celebration of gluttony in the form of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Each year competitive eaters descend upon Coney Island, New York and stuff their faces with as many hot dogs and buns as they can while the world watches with a mix of excitement and disgust on ESPN.

This year, when all of the bun crumbs settled, Joey Chestnut, the world record holder with 76 hot dogs and buns consumed, earned his 14th Mustard Belt title in 16 years.

While part of me refuses to accept Joey Chestnut as my hot dog champion ever since the questionable dealings that led to the ousting of Takeru Kobayashi in 2010, I fall well short of driving around town with a “Joey is not my Champion” flag waving from a pickup truck.

In addition to fireworks, another truly American Fourth of July tradition is a celebration of gluttony in the form of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Photo R. Anderson

For starters, all of the eligible hot dogs and buns were counted in a free and fair hot dog contest, and second, I don’t own a pickup truck or a flag.

So, while each July 4th I pour a little deli mustard out for Kobayashi, I find no need for a recount from the Cyber Buns.

But I digress, this is not a column about Chestnut and Kobayashi. This is not even a column about the ways Americans flaunt their abundance of riches on the world stage while many other nations beg for life saving vaccines that a wide swath of Americans refuse to take.

Instead, this is a column about my love of eating hot dogs at the Ballpark. Over the course of my life, I have eaten my fair share of dogs from coast to coast. I cannot wait until I return to a Ballpark to consume another cased meat treat.

It is always best to not dig too deeply inside the casing of the hot dog. While I try to eat healthier hot dogs, at some point, one has to realize that one does not eat a hot dog as part of a health and wellness plan.

Nope, hot dogs, like America at the moment, are a hot mess full of competing ideas and doctrines and various parts of animals. However,  somehow when they are combined together and boiled, fried or grilled, the various parts of the hot dog make culinary magic.

Hot dogs, like America at the moment, are a hot mess full of competing ideas and doctrines and various parts of animals, yet somehow when they are combined together and boiled, fried or grilled the various parts of the hot dog make culinary magic.
Photo R. Anderson

Perhaps if more people thought of America like a hot dog, there would be less divisions along party lines. I mean if fans of the San Francisco Giants can eat a Dodger Dog in the Ballpark of their most hated rival Los Angeles Dodgers, there really is hope for the rest of society to bond over a coney, or as some people prefer to call them a wiener.

America has been called a great melting pot but how how much tastier it becomes when that pot is filled with steamed hot dogs and buns.

Major League Eating (MLE), has sanctioned the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest since 1997, and while I will never be a member of that sanctioning body, I am nonetheless a Major League eater. At least a Major League Baseball eater.

In addition to eating hot dogs at dozens of Minor League Baseball and Spring Training Ballparks through the years, I have consumed hot dogs at seven MLB Ballparks.

My first professional Ballpark hot dog was an Esskay hot dog at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland for a Baltimore Orioles versus Philadelphia Phillies game. In hindsight, it is fitting that my Ballpark hot dog tradition would start watching a game where one of the teams came from the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

As a side note, Esskay hotdogs are so popular in Birdland that they are shipped down from Maryland to the Orioles Spring Training ballpark in Florida each year lest the Orioles fans be forced to consume a different type of hot dog.

The Dodger Dog is such a big deal in Los Angeles that Dodger Stadium features statues of a hot dog mascot.
Photo R. Anderson

My other MLB hot dogs were consumed at the home Ballparks of the Rays, Astros, Rangers, Rockies, Angels and Dodgers.

It was during trips to Dodger Stadium that I truly experienced the elevated Ballpark hot dog experience in the form of the famous, or in some circles, infamous Dodger Dog.

The Dodger Dog is such a big deal in Los Angeles that Dodger Stadium features statues of a hot dog mascot. The Dodger Dog is available steamed, grilled, or fried. And starting in 2021, a plant-based Dodger Dog was even added to the lineup.

Of course, all is not copacetic in the house that Vin Scully built as the long-time meat packing supplier of the Dodger Dog did not have their contract renewed after the 2019 season.

That means that for the first time in nearly 50 years the Dodger Dog will not taste the same. At least the Dodgers got a World Series title in 2020 to soften the blow of losing the Farmer John Dodger Dog.

Time will tell whether the new Dodger Dog rallies the faithful in the same way as its predecessor.

Los Angeles Dodgers fans consumed 2.7 million hot dogs in 2019. While I did not contribute to the 2019 numbers, I did eat my fair share of Dodger Dogs during the 2018 season. Sometimes I even ate my Dodger Dog with a fork and knife on a real plate.
Photo R. Anderson

I am not alone in my love of hot dogs. According to hot-dog.org, Americans spent more than $7.68 Billion on hot dogs and sausages in US supermarkets in 2020.

Los Angeles was tops on the hot dog and sausage consumption scale, which kind of blows SoCal’s rep of being all about avocado toast and juice cleanses.

Going back to hot-dog.org, one learns that Los Angeles residents consume about 30 million pounds of hot dogs annually. Los Angeles Dodgers fans consumed 2.7 million hot dogs in 2019. Across the major leagues, fans enjoyed 18.3 million hot dogs during the 2019 season.

My memory is a bit foggy from the nitrates to know how many of those 18.3 million hotdogs I consumed in 2019.

While I did not spend yesterday in a Ballpark, I went to the local hot dog shop and selected a New York dog, a polish sausage, a Chicago dog, and two chili cheese coneys to continue my dog on the Fourth of July tradition.
Photo R. Anderson

While I did not spend yesterday in a Ballpark, I went to the local hot dog shop and selected a New York dog, a polish sausage, a Chicago dog, and two chili cheese coneys to continue my dog on the Fourth of July tradition.

The hot dogs were tasty, but they definitely had me yearning for the Ballpark experience. I don’t know when I will see a Ballgame in person again, but I do know that when I do, a hot dog will be involved. I am hoping to visit a favorite Ballpark in September. Until then, my occasional hot dog cravings will be satisfied through drive thru windows.

During a trip to Denver’s Coors Field, I became a member of the Mile High Hot Dog Club during a game between the Rockies and Marlins. That’s a thing right?
Photo R. Anderson

I doubt the founding fathers had hot dogs and baseball diamonds in mind when they decided to break away from the British in 1776, but I am certainly glad that they did declare independence to allow such things to occur in the centuries that followed.

Otherwise, activities today might be filled with watching cricket and shouting “pip, pip” while sipping Earl Grey tea, hot.

Not that there is anything wrong with cricket or Earl Grey tea mind you, it just doesn’t have the same appeal as a cold Dr Pepper and a tube of mostly meat in a bun covered in relish and onions.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about hot dogs is making me hungry.

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

 

MLB Moving All-Star Game from Atlanta Creates Political Hot Potato

Major League Baseball (MLB) recently made the decision to move the July 13, 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia to a city to be named later.

The move was made in response to a new Georgia voting law that, depending on which side of the political fence one is on, either secures the elections in Georgia, or makes it harder for people to vote in Georgia. Critics of the new law call it a voter suppression measure and compare it to racist Jim Crow era laws. Proponents of the law note that they are just trying to make elections safer and more secure.

I will save the politics of the left versus right debate of the law for another day. I will say though that votes in Georgia for the 2020 election were counted four times and widespread voter fraud was not found. So, the new voting law might boil down to someone looking for a solution where a problem doesn’t exist, or it could scream of voter suppression and an attempt to silence a certain segment of the voting population in Georgia based on not liking the results of the last election.

Now that Major League Baseball set the ball in motion in terms of moving marquee events out of Atlanta in response to actions taken by the state legislative branch, time will tell if other events, like College Football’s Peach Bowl are moved out of Atlanta.
Photo R. Anderson

While some argue there are some good provisions in the new law, when it becomes criminal to offer someone waiting in line to vote a drink of water one has to question whether the legislation is really looking out for the welfare of the voters.

Either way, it is a political hot potato with passionate supporters on both sides that will likely ultimately be decided through litigation and perhaps a change in federal voting law. While the final fate of the voting process in Georgia is up in the air, MLB decided that in the current climate they did not want to be in Georgia for All-Star weekend.

MLB certainly has the power to decide where they want to play the All-Star Game. So, despite awarding the game to Atlanta back in 2019, MLB was completely within their rights as an organization to move the game to another city. However, much like the voting law has passionate backers and detractors, the move by MLB was also met with support by some, and condemnation by others.

Shortly after Major League Baseball announced that they were moving the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta, the Atlanta Braves made it clear to all who were listening that the decision to move the game was not made by them and that they did not agree with the move. Photo R. Anderson

Opponents of the game being moved cite that MLB caved to pressure from corporations and others in moving the game and missed an opportunity to draw attention to the very issue they are opposed to by taking their ball and going to another city.

In fact, the Atlanta Braves went on record as saying the decision to move the game was not theirs.

Wearing my cynical hat for a bit, the statement by the Braves about not making the decision to move the game sounds like an attempt by the team to distance themselves from the MLB decision in order to appease a certain subset of season ticket holders to avoid being a victim of “cancel culture.”

Had the game remained in Atlanta there likely would have been protests and other activities during All-Star Weekend that would have drawn attention to the issue of voting in Georgia and distracted from the true purpose of the All-Star weekend which is to create a bunch of for profit made for television events that give out bragging rights but not much else.

It also should be noted that had the All-Star Game been scheduled in Atlanta next year, or any other year for that matter, instead of this year it likely would not have been moved at all since the voting law would not have been as fresh in everyone’s mind. America is definitely a country of short attention spans and MLB just happened to roll the dice wrong and end up in Atlanta during a politically charged year.

So, faced with the possibly of protests, lost revenue from corporate sponsors, and the potential for players and at least one manager deciding to boycott the game, MLB did what many corporations do when faced with loud opposition from the people who write them big checks, they chose the road that they thought would best maintain their bottom line and standing within the community.

One should never underestimate the power of a sponsor threatening to withhold money when it comes to sports leagues and other entities dusting off their moral compasses, or at least fiscal compass during a variety of situations. I want to believe MLB did not let lost revenue factor into their decision but, if it walks and talks like sponsorship bucks, it usually is sponsorship driven.

Again, MLB was totally within their rights to move the game, but a case can definitely be made that keeping the game in Atlanta and using it as a platform for reform would have been a stronger statement. Lost in the debate about the game moving is the millions of dollars in local revenue that Georgia small businesses will lose since hotels, restaurants, and other establishments will no longer have the influx of people traveling to the All-Star Game.

Of course, it should be noted that we are still in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic so the idea of thousands of people traveling anywhere right now is likely keeping health officials and scientists up at night.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, Texas governor Greg Abbott declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark. When I saw that I laughed and laughed and laughed.

The governor grandstanding by refusing to throw out a pitch in front of his constituents based on something done 800 miles away in another state is a bit much. It should also be noted that Texas like many other states is trying to push through voter reform legislation which could make it harder for people to vote.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, the Texas governor declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark which replaced the open air sweat box that was Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Photo R. Anderson

So, with that context in mind one could see why the Texas governor would be so quick to side with the Georgia governor on the issue. Then again, this is the same man who often talks out of both sides of his mouth.

So, despite the Texas governor stating otherwise, perhaps his refusal to throw out the pitch in protest was really an invitation for MLB to move the All-Star Game to one of Texas’ two air-conditioned Ballparks.

While I really do not care where the All-Star Game is played this year, part of me really wants to see MLB call the governor’s bluff by offering to move the game to Texas so he has to go on record saying no to the millions of dollars in revenue that could go into the state economy.

Something tells me he will not still be vocally protesting the game leaving Georgia if those millions of dollars in revenue generated by the game come to Texas. But then again, the governor tends to change his mind faster than a Texas power plant goes dark in the middle of a freeze due to neglect.

My gut says the All-Star Game will get moved to Los Angeles, but it would definitely be interesting to see what would happen if MLB offered to come back to Texas.

The governors of Texas and Georgia are not alone in their anger towards MLB. Former President Donald Trump joined the conservative chorus of people seeking to punish MLB for its decision to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia by asking his red hat wearing faithful to boycott MLB.

Again, moving the game was totally within the foul poles of what MLB could do. By the same token, people certainly have the right to protest and/or boycott MLB for making the move.

Back when I was working on my Masters of Science in Sport Management, I studied many incidents where the worlds of sports and political protest collided. That is definitely a whole column series for another day.

While some argue that sports teams, league and athletes should just play the game and leave the politics out of it, professional and amateur athletes have long used their platforms to promote a political or social cause.

The invention and accessibility of social media platforms where athletes are less filtered through team media handlers to get their message out as created more opportunity for athletes from all sports and backgrounds to let their views be heard.

It was in part due to that chorus of athletes raising their voices in opposition to playing the All-Star Game in Atlanta which led to the game be relocated.

Of course, fans are free to agree or disagree with those views. The First Amendment guarantees people the right to state their opinion, but it does not guarantee the right that everyone will agree with it.

Time will tell where the 2021 MLB All-Star Game will take place. Time will also tell whether the action by MLB to move the game out of Atlanta to solve a short-term PR situation, will have long term impacts on the game, or if it will just be one of many blips in the history of the National Pastime.

One thing that is certain is in an ever-divided country, factions will continue to form and common ground will end up being not so common.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to warm up my throwing arm. I hear the Rangers suddenly have an opening for a ceremonial first pitch.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Opening Day in Time of COVID-19 is Deja Vu All Over Again

This week marks the Opening of the 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) Season.

Normally, MLB Opening week would feature me wearing my finest Tampa Bay Rays gear as I welcome the possibly of all that is to come over the six-month plus season.

Unfortunately, thanks to the continued presence of COVID-19, in the words of the late Yogi Berra, “It is deja vu all over again” as teams are canceling games and league officials are acting like they can wish away a global health pandemic merely by declaring themselves open for business and welcoming fans and their wallets with open arms.

In a perfect world the start of the 2021 MLB season would be cause for celebration as I cheer the Tampa Bay Rays on as they defend their American League Championship Crown. Unfortunately, thanks to the continued nagging presence of COIVD-19, that level of excitement is tempered by the fact that once again baseball is being played in the middle of a global health pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Last year, the Miami Marlins became the victims of an early season COVID-19 outbreak that caused them to cancel games.

This year, that honor falls to the Washington Nationals who saw their opening series get cancelled due to COVBID-19 outbreaks in the clubhouse.

To paraphrase Alanis Morrisette, it is somewhat ironic, don’t you think, I mean a little too ironic, I really do think, that a year after Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the opening day pitch for the Nationals that they would have a COVID-19 outbreak. Didn’t they listen when Dr. Fauci told them to wear masks and social distance to avoid spreading the virus?

A year after welcoming Dr. Anthony Fauci to throw out the first pitch, the Washington Nationals are stating the 2021 MLB season on the sidelines after a COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of their opening series.
Photo R. Anderson

And therein lies the rub, while the COVID-19 situation is improving this year compared to where things stood last year thanks to vaccines and other factors, numerous health officials are continuing to caution and urge continued vigilance in fighting the virus.

Despite these ongoing warnings from health officials, many state leaders have declared the virus over and are opening things wide open.

Case in point, the Lone Star State of Texas. After the Texas governor removed all remaining restrictions on masks, venue capacity, and other measures, the Texas Rangers are set to open to full capacity for their games. Other teams are welcoming fans back at various capacity levels.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to go to the Ballpark and watch some baseball. However, I am not going to be so selfish while people are still dying from a virus that can be mitigated through mask wearing and social distancing.

With capacity restrictions in Texas lifted by the governor, the Texas Rangers seem to have declared “Mission Accomplished” against COVID-19 has they became the only MLB team to open their Ballpark to full capacity for the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

I am also not so arrogant as to think that just saying something really loudly makes it true. I mean if one could just wish away inconvenient things, I would have declared victory over my statistics class in grad school instead of struggling every week with hours of homework on formulas I will likely never use again.

As I have said many times before, the selfish desire to see live sports in person is likely allowing the virus to spread. At the very least, it is horrible optics for leagues and teams to welcome fans back when all public health officials are urging us to restrain from gatherings for just a little bit longer.

Other countries have sports, and their fans would likely love to be seeing games in person as well. But for the most part, one does not see the same type of thumbing of noses at public health policy in other countries as one sees in the United States of America.

I am sure that many people in those countries around the world find it quite peculiar that a country with “united” in its name could be so divided when it comes to caring about others before themselves.

In addition to MLB Opening Week, this is also Easter weekend. For those who believe in the biblical account of Easter, versus only following the furry egg giving rabbit side of Easter, the season is a time to remember an ultimate sacrifice made in order to save others.

It is telling therefore that a country founded in part on those beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.

It is telling that a country founded in part on beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.
Photo R. Anderson

When lock down restrictions were being rolled out in the early part of the virus response in 2020 many churches were the most vocal about feeling that their right of assembly was being taken away from them.

Years ago there was a popular bumper sticker in the pre-meme days that asked What Would Jesus Do? I am just spit balling here but I am pretty sure that Jesus would not hold large indoor gatherings of mask-less people in the middle of a pandemic.

I cringe each time I see someone who identifies as Christian on the news decrying how masks infringe on their freedoms. I also still shake my head at trying to figure out how the Second Amendment gets thrown into the discussions on masks.

Can one really call themselves a Christian and be anti-mask and ignore science and common sense? Isn’t that the same thing as trying to be a fan of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at the same time? The two beliefs are simply incompatible.

One cannot believe the Bible and be anti-mask anymore then they can cheer the Bronx Bombers while singing Sweet Caroline. One cannot follow the biblical teachings that say do unto others, while refusing to wear a mask that health officials say protects those around us.

It certainly should give people something to reflect upon during this Easter season.

Speaking of reflection, for years baseball has been called the National Pastime. As such, I get that people want to be taken out to the ballgame for a few hours of entertainment. Lord knows I would love to see the sights and sounds of a Ballpark. It has been nearly two years since I last saw a baseball game in person.

I had hoped when my plans to travel to Spring Training in 2020 were cancelled that I would make up for it in 2021 but this was not the year to do that.

If everyone does their part and gets vaccinated when their turn comes, things will return to normal. If that occurs, hopefully by 2022 I will be enjoying Spring Training baseball once more.

However, if people continue to prematurely declare “mission accomplished” and ignore the science we will continue to have virus hot spots pop up and will never truly be able to return to normal.

Easter and MLB Opening Week are both time for reflection for believers of the biblical account, as well as for those who like Bull Durham’s Annie Savoy believe in the Church of Baseball.

Whatever one believes in terms of religion, or who they follow in terms of a baseball team, when it comes to COVID-19 we should have all been one unified front against a common enemy since day one. Instead of unity over a year later we are still a house divided and made up of warring factions convinced that their beliefs are the only true beliefs.

There will come a time when historians will look back at this COVID-19 era and provide a postmortem on what went wrong and what was done right. Now is the time to do more right to send COVID-19 away for good.

If we don’t it will continue to be that pesky thing that continues to get under our skin and causes problems, kind of like that annoying drunk person who always seems to find me at the Ballpark no matter where I am sitting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball themed Easter eggs to hide.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson