The 2010 Sportsman of the Year Debate… Kobe by Default

December 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless, and Optimist Prime.

Well, 2010 was special year for sports fans!

Several very long-standing championship droughts ended, as the New Orleans Saints (43 year drought), Chicago Blackhawks (49 year drought), and the San Francisco Giants (56 year drought) each won championships in their respective leagues.

For those of us with a deep sense of national pride in our sports teams, the Men’s U.S. Hockey and Soccer teams treated us all to some of the most exciting and dramatic athletic performances of the year in the Winter Olympics and World Cup, respectively.

Speaking of soccer, 2010 will always be a special sports year to me as my alma mater, The University of Akron, won their first ever National Championship by claiming the College Cup in very exciting fashion over the Louisville Cardinals.

The year also had its share of goats.

LeBron James’ “Decision” proved to be a PR nightmare, Rex Ryan apparently has a foot “thing,” and we learned about everything from travel destinations to bathroom habits thanks to the incessant media bombardment of “Tiger Watch” and “Favre Watch.”

Like I said, 2010 was a special year.

But even with those spectacular performances and storylines, the task of naming a Sportsman of the Year is tricky. You see, despite the exciting performances that we were all treated to as fans, no one really separated themselves from the pack in terms of individual performances.

Sure, there are some obvious default options to look to. Drew Brees certainly became the face of the NFL in 2010 after leading the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl championship. Here’s the problem – I credit Sean Payton, not Drew Brees, with winning that game. While Brees had a remarkable season leading up to that Super Bowl, it is important to note that performance came in 2009, not 2010. So far this year Brees has played well, but Tom Brady and Michael Vick (along with several others) have been far more impressive.

Being quarterback of the championship NFL team is not enough on its own to earn the “Sportsman of the Year” crown.

Moving on to baseball, several pitchers tried to make cases for themselves. In the post-season, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Tim Lincecum all pitched to historic levels. Halladay’s post-season no-hitter was the greatest individual performance, but Lee’s and Lincecum’s pitching had far more significant value for their teams.

All three pitched exceptionally well, but once again none separated themselves enough from the others to claim the title.

In golf, Phil Mickelson’s emotional victory at the Masters was the perfect start to the 2010 season, but Lefty proved unable to do anything more as the season played out. After winning his third Green Jacket, Mickelson could do no better than taking one more second place finish, and only six top-ten finishes on the year.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Jimmie Johnson’s accomplishments in NASCAR this year, having won his FIFTH consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. He has become nothing less than a one-man dynasty, and is right now the single most dominant person in sports. The only reason I am hesitant in recognizing Johnson any further is that I am forced to now question the quality of his competition. With all due respect to his accomplishments, are his championships the result of Johnson being that good, or is it that the rest of the field is that bad?

By default, we are forced to look to the NBA to find our Sportsman of the year.

In the NBA, names like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony dominated headlines. Free agency in 2010 was undeniably the biggest sports story of the year, overshadowing even the NBA Finals. But it is Kobe Bryant who should be recognized as the Sportsman of 2010.

This year, Bryant quietly led the Los Angeles Lakers to a second consecutive NBA Championship. I never thought I would use the words “Kobe Bryant” and “quietly” in the same sentence, but in a year where it seemed that LeBron James was the ONLY person being talked about in the NBA, Bryant proved definitively that his Lakers, not LeBron’s Cavaliers (or now the Miami Heat) were the absolute best in the game. He led the Lakers to a Western Conference-leading 57 wins, and unofficially resolved the “Kobe versus LeBron” debate. This year brought Bryant the fifth title in his career, and the 17th in the history of the Lakers’ franchise.

Bryant’s stability and leadership (I really can’t believe I am writing this…) carried the Lakers into the post-season and through the Finals. When all the world was enamored with the courtship of LeBron James, Bryant busied himself with winning a championship.

Through nothing but his phenomenal talent, Kobe Bryant continues to keep the Lakers as the team to beat in the NBA. No matter how great the Miami super-team may hope to be, they are still playing in Kobe’s league.

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The Is NASCAR A Sport Debate… Competition Makes NASCAR a Sport

September 14, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime.

I must admit I was a late bloomer to the SPORT of NASCAR. I didn’t really start watching NASCAR till about 15 years ago, and I really didn’t take off with it until Dale Earnhardt, Sr. won his first and only Daytona 500 in 1998. I used to think, “This is so stupid. All they do is ride around in circles. Why would someone pay to watch this?” But then I took a closer look and realized how fascinating NASCAR was and that it really is a sport.

According to its website, NASCAR is number one spectator sport. It has more of the top 20 highest-attended sporting events in the U.S. NASCAR races are broadcast in more than 150 countries and in 20 languages. NASCAR fans are the most brand loyal in all of sports, and, as a result, more Fortune 500 companies participate in NASCAR than any other sport. The governing body sanctions over 1,200 races across 30 states, Canada, and Mexico. Obviously, there is some “competition” going on in this sport. In fact, the dictionary specifically defines “sport” as “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.” That is the perfect definition for NASCAR, and it most certainly describes NASCAR drivers.

There’s definitely much more to NASCAR than getting into a car, putting the seat belt on, and seeing who can go around a two-mile oval the fastest. It’s not like going to your neighborhood go-kart track where all you have to do is push your foot down on the gas and hope you get one of the good cars, which I never seem to get. There are other things to consider, like tire wear, fuel mileage, drafting and horsepower in a motor. Countless tests are run to test the productivity of these factors. It’s not like everyone just shows up on the weekend to race. A crew of often hundreds work together to achieve one goal, and that’s to take the checkered flag before anyone else.

NASCAR is often called a “redneck” sport due to its deep Southern roots, and perhaps that’s a fair assessment due to its heritage. But it’s become a thinking man’s sport. Besides, four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson is hardly a redneck. He was born and raised in California. In fact, Bleacher Fan labeled him the athlete of the year in 2009.

These drivers are athletes also, and they are in some kind of shape. It’s one thing to drive down the interstate in your family mini-van going 75 mph for three hours. That’s probably no big deal to you, right? Try going upwards of 200 mph with a fireproof jumpsuit, a helmet locked on your head, and your body squeezed into a race car that has very little wiggle room. The drivers love it and it’s obviously not too intolerable or they wouldn’t be doing it. But they actually do go through workout regiments to make it through the season. They also do this knowing one wrong move on the track could cause an accident, or even worse.

In NASCAR, the drivers compete in the regular season to gain position for the Chase for the Cup, which begins this Sunday in Loudon, New Hampshire. Ten drivers will compete in a ten-race format in order to win the Sprint Cup. If it’s a competition, then surely it’s a sport, right? In fact, the Chase format, through all of its tweaks, has been successful enough that the PGA Tour adopted a similar model for golf when it developed the FedEx Cup.

The easy answer is to say NASCAR is NOT a sport. But if you break it down, it really is a full-throttle competition in all aspects.

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The Best Athlete of 2009 Debate – Sports’ Newest Legendary Dynasty

December 30, 2009

Read the arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer about which athlete they believe was best in 2009.

If I told you that a person in 2009 became the first in the history of a MAJOR United States sport to win a sport’s championship for a fourth CONSECUTIVE year, would you call that an impressive feat? I would!

Before we discuss the athlete that managed the feat in 2009, allow me to put into context for you the magnitude of that accomplishment, to win four consecutive championships. In professional sports, only the New York Yankees have managed the feat in Major League Baseball (once in the 1930’s and again in the 1950’s). In the NBA, the great Boston Celtics of the 1960’s were the only team to pull off the feat, and no team in the history of the NFL has ever accomplished it. In college athletics, only the great UCLA basketball dynasty of the 1970’s pulled off a run of at least four consecutive national championships in basketball. We have to go all the way back to the 1800’s (you read correctly, I said 1800’s) to find a college football team that accomplished the feat, when Yale pulled it off in the 1880’s.

With a history like that, it cannot be denied that winning four consecutive championships propels someone to the ranks of ‘legend,’ joining one of sports’ most prestigious and elite fraternities.

It should also be noted that this accomplishment does not come from an obscure sport where competition is minimal and public interest is almost non-existent. Instead, the athlete who accomplished this task did so in a sport that has been rated as the fourth most popular sport in the United States, placing it AHEAD of the NBA, the NHL, NCAA basketball, Golf, Boxing, and Soccer. In fact, only the NFL, MLB, and NCAA football (the undisputed kings of American sports) rank higher in popularity.

To recap, in 2009, there was an athlete who earned an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship in one of America’s most popular sports, putting him in the same class as the 1960’s Boston Celtics, 1970’s UCLA Bruins, and New York Yankees teams (which included guys like Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig in the 1930’s), and Mickey Mantle in the 1950’s.

With credentials like that, who could dispute this athlete’s claim to being the best of 2009? Kobe Bryant won only the fourth championship of his CAREER, where as this athlete won his fourth IN A ROW! Tiger Woods may have won the Fed Ex Cup, but he finished sixth at the Masters and U.S. Open, he failed to make the cut at The Open Championship, then he finished second after choking at the Tour Championship (not to mention this nasty little rumor I had heard about him not too long ago). Roger Federer may have set a new record for career grand slam victories, but he also lost in three different final matches, and failed to reach the finals in eight more tournaments.

Woods, Bryant, and Federer may have had impressive years, but none can match the accomplishment of Jimmie Johnson, Bleacher Fan’s 2009 Athlete of the Year.

Johnson has done something in NASCAR that no one else has EVER managed, winning his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. In 36 races this year, Johnson dominated the rest of the field with 24 top ten finishes, including SEVEN victories (no other driver in the series won more than five races all year).

Since the Jimmie Johnson Dynasty began in 2006, Johnson has won 29 different races, and had a total of 94 top ten finishes out of only 144 total races. He has been one of the most dominant drivers in the sport, having finished no worse than fourth in Sprint Cup standings since 2002, and he cemented his status as one of the greatest drivers of all time with his unprecedented performance in 2009.

No other athlete can match Jimmie Johnson’s claim, or accomplishments, this year. In fact, few athletes in HISTORY have done what Johnson did in 2009, making him the undisputed Athlete of the Year!

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The Best Athlete of 2009 Debate – Federer…You Are Just Awesome!!

December 30, 2009

Read the arguments from Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless about which athlete they believe was the best in 2009.

Arguably, maybe since the four writers at The Sports Debates were children, (well, at least Sports Geek was acting like a child then), one “Eldrick Woods” has been an annual contender for this award. Not this year, though, even before the “transgressions” became public in the past month (which I will write more about tomorrow). He did not win a major in 2009, so that eliminates him. Therefore, this ended up being a little tough for me. But, in the end I realized I was going to have to write two consecutive tennis focused arguments! Ha! That is a first in the still brief history of this website. If you have not guessed already, my selection as the athlete of the year is Roger Federer.

I know tennis is not the sexy pick as a popular sport, and it can be argued that tennis is not what it was during its prime when American stars like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were in action, and then later when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi (pre-meth and post-meth) were duking it out. But, it is irresponsible as sports fans to ignore greatness, and Roger Federer is, simply, “greatness.”

Tennis stars, much like golf stars, are measured by what they do in the grand slam tournaments, or in golf’s case, the major tournaments. As I wrote earlier, Tiger Woods gets no consideration from me because he took a goose egg at the major tournaments, and he actually choked at the PGA Championship. Yet, he still won the PGA Tour Player of the Year award for the tenth time due to the fact that he won six times in 2009 and has the led the tour in earnings (good thing, huh?). Federer, on the other hand, won Wimbledon (as highlighted on The Sports Debates yesterday) and that elusive French Open title, giving him 15 grand slams titles for his career.

Now, admittedly, he lost in the finals at the two other grand slams (the Australian Open and the U.S Open.) But it’s not like he was knocked out early in those tournaments. He lost in the finals, both times to a player who was just a better player that day. Also, it’s not like the rest of his year was terrible. He actually had a great year. He won two other tournaments, won almost $9M in prize earnings, and had an overall record of 61-12. Not too bad huh?

He also continues to have a thriving and lucrative relationship with Nike, though you might not have known that due to Nike’s relationship with other athletes. He even has his own product line with Nike.

You can make a solid argument for other athletes like Usain Bolt and Jimmie Johnson, but Roger Federer stands out in 2009. He dominated the sport of tennis, and perhaps he will begin to get the recognition and respect he deserves from casual fans. Respect that I still do not think he is getting. He has my respect, though. For today, and 2009, that’s all that counts!

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The Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR Debate – Earnhardt belongs in NASCAR

July 15, 2009

Read the debate intro and Sports Geek’s argument that Dale Jr. is not good enough to race in NASCAR.

With the struggles of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this year in NASCAR, there is bound to be talk about his credentials and whether or not he is qualified to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, obviously the premiere racing team in NASCAR. After all, he has no wins this year, while only getting one win last year. Meanwhile, his teammates (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Mark Martin) have combined to win seven races this year. Junior currently sits 21st in points after 19 races with virtually no chance of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. (For those of you who don’t know, the Chase involves the top twelve drivers in the point standings after the first 26 races.)

The question Bleacher Fan is posing is going to be a little disturbing to fans in the deep South, the heart of NASCAR country, and quite possibly the heart of Dale Earnhardt Nation (both Senior and Junior). But, fear not NASCAR fans! Junior is NOT going anywhere – and he shouldn’t be.

It’s hard to argue the fact that Junior has struggled, especially since NASCAR went to the Car of Tomorrow (COT) full time last year. One win in the past year and a half is definitely an underachievement, and I think he’d be the first one to say that.

Earlier this year, the owner of the #88 car, Rick Hendrick, decided to replace Junior’s crew chief (Junior’s cousin Tony Eury, Jr.) with Lance McGrew. When a change like that is made in the middle of the season it usually means that “the towel is being thrown in” and the organization/team is looking toward the future. That’s what I think is happening in this case… in part. Junior hasn’t placed in the top 10 in the seven races since McGrew took over, and realistically, this is not a shock. They are working on car set-ups and working on establishing a better communication system, something that was admittedly lacking with Eury, Jr. With this change, I think the 2009 season was basically conceded to the field. Yes, occasionally a change works for the better right away, but for every Jim Tracy (who has worked wonders with the Colorado Rockies since being hired in May as a replacement for Clint Hurdle), there is an A.J. Hinch (hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks to replace Bob Melvin back in May and someone who has not worked miracles).

Let’s face it. NASCAR needs Dale Earnhardt, Jr., preferably, to be successful. It’s no secret that NASCAR’s ratings are suffering and that attendance has dropped at most of the tracks. Junior is by far the most popular driver in the Cup series. Go to any race and you will see #88 flags flying everywhere and you will see thousands of fans wearing National Guard or AMP Energy paraphernalia. You might even see old #8 Budweiser souvenirs scattered amongst the throngs of fans. He’s important to NASCAR.

Give Dale some time to make adjustments. Numerous other drivers are struggling worse than he is (see Kevin Harvick, who actually is so frustrated with his performance that he wants out of his contract). While he has the target on his chest because of who his father was, he’s a proven winner in Sprint Cup and he’ll be back. He has the resources and the financial backing to make a charge!

The Danica Patrick Future Debate – Danica Should Jump To NASCAR

June 29, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan’s argument that she should stay in IRL and Sports Geek’s argument that she should move to Formula 1.

Do you know who Danica Patrick is? Of course you do! If not, you are missing out, so here’s a picture of her!

Ok, we got that out of the way!

She has become a worldwide racecar driving phenomenon ever since she started driving in the Indy Racing League in 2005 for Rahal-Letterman Racing. After racing for two years, she switched teams in 2007 and began to drive for Andretti-Green Racing. Her contract is up at the end of the 2009 season.

If you were in Danica’s shoes, what would you do? We’ll discuss it here at The Sports Debates. I’ll argue that she should jump to NASCAR, Bleacher Fan will argue for her to remain in the IRL, and Sports Geek will argue she is best served by making a move over to Formula 1.

Speculation is rampant that she will leave IRL and move to NASCAR in either the Sprint Cup Series or the Nationwide Series.

Imagine all the endorsements you could do with that much more exposure in NASCAR. Honestly, can you tell me who sponsors Patrick? This is one of the premiere drivers in her series. I can’t tell you who sponsors her. But I can tell you who sponsors Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson. I can even tell you who sponsors Joey Logano, the 19-year-old kid who won the most recent NASCAR race (at press time) in Loudon, New Hampshire. By going to NASCAR, she would have many more opportunities to broaden her appeal and thus make a little extra money. Granted, she has some endorsements, including that Go-Daddy commercial that we all love. And yes, she has a really cool website! But, she is just scratching the surface of what she could do.

Let’s examine race winnings between IRL racers and Sprint Cup Series racers. In the Sprint Cup series, with earnings not yet being tabulated for the race in New Hampshire, the 30th place driver in points, David Ragan, earned just over $1.8 million in race earnings. Wow! This is not for first place. This is not for fifth place. This isn’t even for 20th place. It’s 30th!!

In IRL, Patrick currently sits 5th in points. How much do you think she has earned? What would you guess?

How about less than $1 million? Right now, she has earned $788,305. The driver that is fifth in points in NASCAR, Carl Edwards, has won over $2.7 million.

It’s that simple. Now you tell me. What would you do?