Cheaters and Liars.

Two huge (and overwhelmingly negative) stories are rumbling through the sports media landscape this week. And it seems like the two names connected to these stories, all by themselves, are enough to spark a significant reaction in your guts – Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o.

Two heroes. Two men who battled health and heartache (respectively), emerging victorious.

Two liars.

AP Photo.

I wrote about Lance Armstrong back in August, when he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from cycling. Yesterday, the IOC stripped Armstrong of the Olympic bronze medal he won in 2000. Tonight, OWN airs part one of two Oprah Winfrey/Armstrong interviews, in which Armstrong allegedly admits to doping and implicates others in the deep maze of his scandal.

Manti Te’o’s story is still emerging, and it feels just as fishy as Armstrong’s did back in August. Time will certainly tell, because the spotlight on this one is shining brightly. Each layer that’s peeled back from this story feels a little bit ickier.

 

ESPN.com at 6 PM ET on 1/17

The nation seems to be collectively cringing as more details emerge about a story they came to know so well this season – the story of a girlfriend dying of leukemia, the pain and heartbreak channeled into Te’o’s breakout performances and his finishing #2 in the Heisman race. A story that was never true at all.

Yesterday, Deadspin broke the story about Te’o’s girlfriend having never existed. Notre Dame followed up with a statement, and Te’o released his own, both asserting that Te’o was the victim of an elaborate hoax. But stories from currently-anonymous teammates alleging that Te’o played along with the story knowing full well this woman was not his girlfriend are starting to find their way to the public.

I have to ask (and sample from Paula Cole) again. Where have all the cowboys gone? 

 

 

Falling back into things.

It’s officially (feeling like) fall, and I am officially needing to update this thing (see what I did with the post title..). Baseball is revving up, football is BACK, and pumpkin beer tastings are right around the corner. HOW EXCITED ARE YOU?

I’m tickled.

mmmyes.

The Pumpkin Brew Review will be back starting October 1. I’m diving deeper into the pumpkin beer world, being EVEN MORE critical of the seasonal beverage for your reading/tasting pleasure, and I’ll be updating twice as many times as last season. This is serious.

batter up.

The long road that is a baseball season is nearly at its end for the 2012 season. Can Washington and Cincinnati continue their domination? And which of those is the NL’s best? Is this the year Texas finally goes all the way? Can gutsy Oakland or surprising Baltimore make the run to the end? SO MANY QUESTIONS. And soon, so many answers. I’m going to break down the Wild Card and playoff match-ups and stick with baseball until the bitter and/or glorious end.

just… crazy so far.

Wow. All I can say is wow. The replacement refs are terrible, upsets are happening all over the place, Arizona is 3-0 and New Orleans is 0-3. What is going on this season?! I’ll be paying closer attention (and writing about it) regarding what’s to come.

I know there hasn’t been much to take in at DITS lately, but that is about to change. DO NOT REMOVE THAT BOOKMARK!

Heroes.

Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and has been banned from cycling.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released a statement on the matter Friday (8/24). Here is an excerpt:

Nobody wins when an athlete decides to cheat with dangerous performance enhancing drugs, but clean athletes at every level expect those of us here on their behalf, to pursue the truth to ensure the win-at-all-cost culture does not permanently overtake fair, honest competition.

Granted, there is a battle ensuing between the USADA and the International Cycling Union over who has the authority to strip the cyclist of his wins, but the fact that this debacle has gotten this far is completely sad. And wildly incriminating.

All I can say is wow. Where have all the cowboys gone (Paula Cole once asked)?

 

 

Boom.

They did it. And they did it well (beating second place Russia by over five points and third place Romania by over seven). Congratulations to Team USA’s women’s gymnastics team on winning team gold (for the first time since 1996)! Magnificent Seven then, Fab Five now. So many kinds of awesome.

My mom wrote this to me this morning –  “They didn’t choke, they don’t look like little emaciated underfed girls, and they really stepped up when the pressure was on.  I can’t believe the hard tricks that they all do now……watching them last night brought back lots of gym memories.”

Couldn’t agree more with all of it. BOOM!

Snubbed.

Jordyn Wieber.

USA Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber was royally snubbed on Sunday (7/29). Though she finished with the fourth-best score of all competitors, she will not be competing for all-around gold on Thursday. Wieber, the 2011 World All-Around Champion, was one of only four female gymnasts to score 60 points or above. But she failed to qualify for the individual all-around finals.

Confused? Pissed off? Understandable.

Wieber is not in contention for all-around gold Thursday because, of the three competitors that finished above her in the standings, two happen to be from the USA (Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas). And an Olympic rule limits each participating country to two finalists.

Maybe she was doomed before her first salute – only four reigning world champs have ever followed up with Olympic gold. Maybe she deserved the scores she received – she notably bobbled on beam and floor. But this was an epic disappointment for a gymnast who has literally worked her entire life for this.

I hurt for her, and I’m incensed that this rule is so limiting, penalizing countries with depth on their squads. The fact is, Wieber is not alone in her rule-based snubbing. The top 24 gymnasts in the Sunday qualifier were eligible to move on to the coveted all-around, but if a gymnast made the cut but ended up third on her own team, she was out of luck. This list notably includes Anastasia Grishina (Russia), as well as Jennifer Pinches (Great Britain), and Yao Jinnan (China). Here’s the complete list (with Q next to those who made the cut. Notice the missing Q’s next to the names in the true Top 24):

This is disgraceful to the sport of gymnastics and to the Olympic Games. The Olympics are supposed to be the greatest stage for sport there is. But when one of the best gymnasts in the world is denied a chance to compete for individual all-around gold while athletes who scored between five and six points (not tenths, points) less move on, something is terribly wrong.

After the men’s team faltered in their chance for team gold Monday, the American women will take their turn Tuesday. My gut tells me that Jordyn Wieber will come out on fire, ready to show the world that she is the reigning AA champ for a reason.

Notes on a Scandal.

I have stayed silent (online) as everything connected to Penn State was coming to a head. I am still grappling with all that I feel. But I want, no need to say something. The problem is that I have so many things and groups I’d like to address – from the former and current Penn State leaders I am disappointed in and ashamed of, to the angry mob wanting only blood from Penn State instead of support for the victims, to my friends and family.

In light of the sanctions that were leveled against Penn State this morning, Monday, July 23, 2012 by NCAA officials – specifically NCAA President Mark Emmert – I want to first address the sanctions on a critical level, something befitting my sports journalism degree.

In an unprecedented power move, Emmert dropped the proverbial hammer on Penn State, including scholarship losses, a multiyear ban in postseason competition, a $60 million fine (which will thankfully go to foundations to help child sexual assault/abuse victims), and the nullification of all wins between 1998 and 2011.

Sources say the sanctions came almost solely from Emmert, who appealed to the NCAA Board of Directors to provide him power status that does not currently exist for an NCAA president.

Let me be clear – Emmert based his sanctions on emotion and public uproar, as well as his personal interpretations of the findings in the Freeh Report (Freeh’s investigation was set in motion by Penn State, not the NCAA). Emmert did not call for an NCAA investigation, there were no hearings before the Committee on Infractions or letters of inquiry, there was no discourse between the NCAA and Penn State to allow for a formal response. Most importantly, the criminal cases are ongoing, evidence is still being uncovered – but Emmert did not want to wait.

From Dan Wetzel on Yahoo Sports, “this isn’t how the Association has conducted business in decades. Toes were stepped on.”

“The man with a Ph.D in public administration just went pseudo dictator in a move right out of the playbook of Roger Goodell or Bud Selig.”

To expand on the Goodell thought, it should be noted that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell operates as the leader of a private business. Therefore he can pull those power moves. The NCAA is what you could call (and what SI.com’s Andy Staples does call) a “representative democracy”. That is, the members, consisting mainly of public universities, make the rules.

With today’s ruling and the complete lack of due process, it is no longer clear whether the NCAA is a representative democracy. To quote Staples again, “not if its executive branch has decided that the best way to punish an abuse of absolute power is by granting more absolute power.”

Stewart Mandel writes today on SI.com about the implications of the NCAA’s actions.

“Children were raped. Lives were destroyed. High-level administrators stood back and enabled the crimes. A once-revered coach betrayed his followers.

But the legacy of the Penn State scandal will no longer be Jerry Sandusky’s heinous crimes or the courageous victims who stood up to him. Thanks to a brazen power play and a carefully orchestrated p.r. extravaganza, this human tragedy will take a backseat over the next four years (or longer) to a more trivial narrative: Whether Penn State football can recover from crippling NCAA sanctions.

“Justice has been served, assuming your idea of justice for rape victims is to deprive a school of its next four Outback Bowl invitations.

“And so, Emmert made sure his organization responded accordingly — even if that meant revoking the traditional due process afforded every other school that’s ever been punished by the NCAA; invoking a nebulous, generalized bylaw about promoting integrity that could easily apply to hundreds of lawbreaking players, coaches and staffers across the country every year; and creating a precedent for dictatorial-like intervention that must now be considered every time a scandal of any proportion arises in college athletics.

Perhaps this truly is a turning point in the history of the NCAA. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era where Batman Emmert flies in and saves the day every time the forces of athletic evil make a mockery of academic virtues.

He better. Otherwise, this will instead prove to be a crowning moment in NCAA hypocrisy.

“‘We don’t see this opening a Pandora’s box at all,’ said Emmert. ‘This was a very distinct and very unique set of circumstances.’

That’s easy to say now. Nothing in the history of NCAA scandals has come close to the level of allowing a serial pedophile free reign to a school’s football facility, and basic faith in humanity makes us inclined to believe that it will never happen again.

But there will undoubtedly be another high-profile college scandal, involving yet another unthinkable scenario, whether it’s three months from now or three years from now. And the precedent has now been set. Will Emmert send that program back to the stone ages, too? Or was this a one-time-only, made-for-TV display of power?

Monday’s one truly punitive action against one of the figures implicated in the Freeh Report was vacating Penn State’s victories from 1998-2011, thus stripping Paterno of 111 wins and demoting him from the sport’s alltime leader to 12th place. It seems fair and just, but here again, the NCAA seemingly rewrote its rulebook on the fly. Traditionally victories are vacated when schools are found to have used ineligible players. Nothing of the sort happened here.

But of course, that didn’t fit Emmert’s message.”

SB Nation adds this – “And please — please — don’t think the public zeal for specifically hurting Nittany Lion football does anything to change the perception that football is more important than everything else. Otherwise, why aren’t the prospect of jail time and/or ruined careers for all living, responsible parties to this debacle, the pending loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in civil litigation and the looming specter of punishment from the Feds not enough?

So what will these punishments accomplish? Yeah, let’s talk about that…

Giving Emmert the power to unilaterally punish Penn State is a step toward making investigations irrelevant. And I mean that in the most frightening, totalitarian sense possible. If the semblance of due process can be thrown out to conveniently hammer a cash cow program — and cripple its surrounding community and its non-revenue sports with a hefty fine — what might happen to a player on the wrong side of Emmert and the NCAA’s agenda?”

I am sure I lost many of those who belong to the angry, bloodthirsty mob, but anyone who truly cares about NCAA athletics should consider this situation critically.

On the other side of all of this is of course, my purely emotional response.

To the leaders of Penn State:

I am gravely disappointed by your leadership and its continuing to fail its community – turning blind eyes on the horrors being committed by Jerry Sandusky then, and not standing up to support all of those who were not involved with what happened now. You and your peers (especially those still sitting on the Board of Directors) are at fault, and yet the entire Penn State community will suffer (for many years) on your behalf. I am glad that at least the $60 million fine will go toward foundations to support/prevent victims of child sexual abuse, because that is at least connected to the real victims in this whole mess (those victims that so many have seem to have forgotten).

Mr. Erickson, in your official statement today you write that “the NCAA ruling holds the University accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the University community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.

It is important to know we are entering a new chapter at Penn State and making necessary changes. We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial, and collaborative.”

I understand fully well that we are entering a new chapter at Penn State. What I do not understand is why the University has not stood up for those who were and are not responsible, instead of lumping us in with your lot. You call for a culture wherein people aren’t afraid to speak up, so please explain the disconnect. With a sweeping hand, you include all of us in something terrible because that is easier for you. Not making sure Sandusky was immediately held responsible for his heinous acts was (somehow) easier for you. I don’t see any evolution, and this is something I am truly distraught over as an alumnus.

I support the acceptance of the sanctions, as there is really no other course of action for Penn State. Those men can never get back what was stolen from them. End of story. But I implore you as leaders to be better. As time inevitably moves forward, strive to earn the trust of your community, and more importantly, your fellow man. At the very, very least, you owe that to every single one of the victims. Where you and your predecessors failed out of weakness, you must never do so again. We expect so much more from our leaders. As we should.

And finally, to my friends:

I woke up this morning knowing what was coming. I wore a Penn State shirt to work. I will continue to be proud of the student body, alumni, and the fact that in that small town, I met the best people I have ever known (all of you). I am proud of who we became there, are now, and will continue to be…what we all stand for, how we handle ourselves at work and in our communities (always striving to be the absolute best), and how we are extremely passionate about what we believe in.

WE (and I use this loosely to include our comrades across the world) are what made and what continues to make Penn State great. From one of my best friends and fellow alum Pat Carr, “as a Penn Stater I know who the real victims were and are. They are not football fans having to deal with a devastated football program. Penn Staters always remember who the victims are. We are remorseful. We are embarrassed but still proud.”

It is up to us to represent our alma mater with the utmost respect, professionalism and very importantly – heart. We Are.

Love you all.

Cait

Bodies.

Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks

ESPN The Magazine‘s ‘The Body Issue’ is now available, and damn, is it fun to look at. I am of the opinion that muscles and toned physiques are incredibly attractive – on both men and women – and the bodies featured are at the absolute pinnacle in terms of training, sculpting, and goodlookingness (scientific term).

From the website: “It’s okay to stare. That’s what The Body Issue is here for. Each year, we stop to admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who’ve pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god. To … well, gawk. So go ahead; join us.”

One of the things I like most about ‘The Body Issue’ is that it features athletes that you might not ever think of seeing highlighted in this way, like NHL Center Brad Richards or NFL RB Maurice Jones-Drew, but I especially appreciate the inclusion of muscular women with REAL (beautiful) bodies, like sprinter Carmelita Jeter, USA Soccer’s Abby Wambach, or basketball player Candace Parker.  Granted, all of these people are handsome as hell so it’s not hard to oogle any of them, but here are some of my favorite profiles:

Olympic Decisions.

Qualifier coverage is ramping up with the London Olympics looming mere weeks away. In the pool, Michael Phelps is working to qualify in enough events to go for eight golds again. For track and field, hurdler Lolo Jones was able to nab an Olympic team spot last weekend despite injury concerns. These stories are certainly notable and available, but one (summer games) sport in particular seems to enrapture the world every four years – and that is gymnastics.

For a sport that so few have access to throughout most of the year (from both a viewing perspective and via direct involvement), gymnastics owns a cult-like following when the Olympics roll around. There is a crescendoing buzz surrounding the women’s trials (which begin this evening at 9 PM on NBC) – who the favorites are, who will make the cut, who can make a comeback. The drama surrounding the team selection intensifies this year in that the pool of competitors is so strong, yet for the first time, only five girls can make the team. Until 2000, the squad consisted of seven. From 2000-2008, six girls could make the cut. But now it is down to five. In a sport where consistency is strived for yet unpredictability reigns, choosing the five representatives that will attempt to bring team gold to the USA for just the second time ever (1996’s Magnificent Seven were the first and only… cue memory of Kerri Strug’s vault) is a daunting task for head coach Martha Karolyi (who will actually have four choices to make after it becomes clear who wins the individual all-around – an automatic bid).

L to R: Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber

The biggest rivalry for the all-around title will almost certainly come down to Jordyn Wieber (the reigning World Champion) and Gabby Douglas (nicknamed the “Flying Squirrel” for her unreal bar routine), two incredibly talented 16-year-olds, both of whom will likely make the squad no matter who takes top honors this weekend. With those two spots all but locked, the three girls who will make up the rest of Team USA is anyone’s guess. In the Olympics of years past (with larger squads), one or two-event specialists would often be selected. But this year, that tactic seems wasteful.

L to R: Bridget Sloan, Alicia Sacramone, Nastia Liukin

Ali Raisman, Kyla Ross, Elizabeth Price, and Sarah Finnegan are all strong candidates for the 3-4-5 spots, but they will also be competing against 2008 Beijing olympians Nastia Liukin, Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan – all trying for comebacks. Trying might be as far as that goes though – the aforementioned “strong candidates” all finished ahead of the Beijing competitors at the Visa National Championships earlier this month.

I remember hearing many years ago that enrollment in gymnastics goes up in the year that follows the Olympics. I never saw it in my gym, and I’m not sure if that statistic is even true, but I could believe it. Little girls across America watching only slightly bigger girls performing indescribable feats of athleticism on pieces of wood and leather, chalk clouds erupting from grips slapped together pre and post bar routine. The thud of 90-odd pounds of muscle slamming into a bright blue mat, stuck landing, emphatic salute. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that? I have had my share of angst when it comes to this sport, looking back at the sheer amount of time dumped into something so far off the general radar, something so unbelievably challenging. But I believe I am better for having been a part of it, and you can be damn sure I’ll be watching every second of it I can.