April 12, 2013 10:58 am
Sports aren’t exactly known for being inclusive to gay people. But on Thursday the N.H.L. announced a partnership with the You Can Play Project, a group aimed to up the acceptance of LGBT players and fans.
The National Hockey League says it’s always been committed to the LGBT community. Their press release, announcing the partnership, writes that the move “formalizes and advances their long-standing commitment to make the N.H.L. the most inclusive professional sports league in the world.” The players of the N.H.L. support the partnership, they say, and are ready to help the sports world move beyond discrimination against gay people.
In fact, the You Can Play project was founded in a large part because of a gay hockey player. The son of Brian Burke, one time general manager of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the U.S. Olympic hockey team, came out in 2009. He was tragically killed in a car accident the next year, and his death spurred the formation of You Can Play to further Burke’s memory.
The N.H.L. isn’t the only place with a policy against discrimination against gay people. But policy and practice are often two different things. Robbie Rogers, former U.S. National Soccer team member and professional player in England, came out of the closet this year to much discussion. Many have wondered whether he will continue playing. It would make him the first openly gay athlete to play in a major American team sport. Many athletes have come out after their careers. Kwame Harris, an offensive tackle who played in the N.F.L. for six seasons didn’t come out until after he retired. The same goes for former running back David Kopay, one of the first American professional athletes to come out at all.
Players stay in the closet during their careers for a lot of reasons. Sports are still grappling with not just homophobic players, but coaches and owners as well. Last year, when a Ravens player spoke in favor of gay marriage, a Maryland politician sent a note to the team’s owner chastising him for allowing the player to speak up, promoting this now notorious response from Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. But even the N.F.L. is making moves that at least indicate willingness to try. Here’s the New York Times:
In the N.F.L., the league’s security department would monitor public reaction, looking for potential threats from fans in the event a player comes out. Troy Vincent, a former player who is now the league’s executive charged with player engagement, and Anna Isaacson, the league’s community relations director, have been designated to cull ideas from gay advocacy groups and to build relationships with the groups that the N.F.L. might then use to help them address players.
Wade Davis, a former N.F.L. player who’s now out of the closet is on You Can Play’s advisory board spoke recently about some of the challenges of gaining LGBT acceptance in the locker room, beyond the common homophobia the resides in the United States. Many athletes are quite religious and find it difficult to reconcile their beliefs with their potentially open teammate. Other players, however, just have one question. “Can someone help us win?” asked Robert K. Kraft of the New England Patriots. If they can, he told the New York Times, they should play. End of story.
For their part, the N.H.L. hopes to focus on that mentality, one that points out that gay players are not any different on the ice (or field) than straight ones. That has been You Can Play’s philosophy all along, that gay or straight, if you can play, you can play.
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April 3, 2013 4:00 pm
The slow-down of minor injuries aside, former Rookie of the Year and multiple-time Most Valuable Player award-winning basketball player LeBron James “belongs in the company of some of the greatest players in the history of the game.” Playing for the NBA’s Miami Heat, James is a scoring, rebounding, assisting machine.
But while James’ individual prowess may garner him a lot of attention, new research suggests that, as a small forward, the flash of his accomplishments may be outweighed by the more subtle roles played by others on the court when it comes to what really matters—winning basketball games.
Analyzing 16 play-off basketball games from the 2010 season, the “researchers graphed player positions and ball movement among players, as well as shots taken,” says Arizona State University. “Then, they used that data to find out whether network metrics can measure team decisions in a useful way. The study involved more than 1,000 ball movements and 100 ball sequences.”
According to Inside Science, the team found that players that control the ball, like the point guard, are disproportionately important. And the center, the big guys that hang out down by the net, play a less flashy but highly effectient role. According to the scientists, “in the context of the 2010 play-offs, the values of clustering (connectedness across players) and network entropy (unpredictability of ball movement) had the most consistent association with team advancement.”
More than just a guide for the subtleties of what to watch for in this weekend’s March Madness games, the research could help understand how people work in groups, turning the theories of network dynamics on human behavior.
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March 27, 2013 10:02 am
Jay Horwitz can’t stop accidentally butt dialing his players. The director of media relations for the Mets calls people by accident sometimes several times a day – from current players, to team executives to coaches. The Wall Street Journal‘s Brian Costa puts it this way:
Horwitz, 67, may be the Cal Ripken Jr. of public-relations men, hardly ever taking a day off. But he is the Barry Bonds of butt dialers, putting up staggering numbers and shattering all records. By now, his career butt dials number in the thousands.
Horwitz has worked for Major League Baseball since 1980, and as a media relations man his job is to have lots of phone numbers. Which means that there are more than 1,000 people in his phone—all of them potential victims. And it appears as though each one of those numbers has an equal chance of getting a mysterious, 4 a.m. ring. “It’s so strange because there is no rhyme or reason to who gets called,” outfielder Mike Baxter told the Wall Street Journal. Horwitz even calls people, by accident, during games. Ike Davis got a call from Horwitz at 8:10 p.m. one night—while Davis was playing. “I’m like, why would he call me at that time? I’m at first base. He sees me at first base,” he told the WSJ.
For all his media savviness, Horwitz admits that he has a butt-dialing problem. He’s on Twitter and has thirty years of experience building the Mets media presence. And yet he doesn’t seem to know how to stop the calls that stretch beyond countries, beyond contracts and beyond the realm of reasonability. In fact, some players refuse to pick up the phone when he calls, unless he sends them a text message saying that he’s calling intentionally.
Of course, there are all sorts of ways to prevent butt-dialing people, but one has to assume that someone has pointed them out to Horwitz at this point. T-Mobile advertised a phone simply on the single point that it flips closed, to avoid this exact problem.
But Horwitz can take solace in the fact that he is not the most dangerous of all butt dialers. Butt-dialing a former Met might be embarrassing, but at least it doesn’t result in police showing up at your house. Unintentional calls are a huge issue for 911 dispatchers. In King County, Washington, something like 30 percent of wireless 911 calls were made by accident in 2003, for instance. Thankfully, at least as far as he knows, Horwitz has never accidentally dispatched emergency services to first base, even if the Mets might need them.
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March 25, 2013 9:05 am
On Friday, Costa Rica lost to the United States 1-0 in one of the final games of World Cup qualifying. They’re not just unhappy that they lost – they’re unhappy that the game was finished at all. It was snowing so hard that they had to use a bright yellow ball to even see what was going on. Officials had to shovel along the lines periodically. And now, Costa Rica is filing an official protest against FIFA, claiming the game should never have been continued.
It’s hard to explain just how snowy the game was. So here are some pictures that Deadspin pulled from the television coverage of the game:
Here are some screen shots from International Football News:
Players say the game was nearly impossible to play. Costa Rican midfielder told Reuters that “honestly, it was robbery, a disgrace, I’ve never played a game in these conditions. You couldn’t see the ball … if we had played without snow, we would have won, I am sure.” Another midfielder, Michael Barrantes, said “You couldn’t see the lines. You couldn’t see the ball. You couldn’t play.”
Jorge Luis Pinto, the coach for Costa Rica, asked the officials to stop the game ten minutes into the second half. Apparently, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann argued against it, and the game resumed. Afterwards, Pinto had this to say:
“I asked them to stop. They should suspend the ref,” Pinto said. “It was an embarrassment. It was an insult to Costa Rica and people coming in here.”
But the U.S. Soccer Federation doesn’t see it that way. Their president, Sunil Gulati, told reporters:
“Frankly, (stopping) would not have been to the advantage of either of the two teams, since they both play on Tuesday. Obviously you worry about the safety of players and being able to see the ball. The referee and the match commissioner made the decision that the game could continue and I think it was the right decision.”
At Deadspin, Greg Howard says that there should be no rematch:
But, here’s the thing. In spite of all the horror, Costa Rica finished the game. They finished the game.
The conditions they’re decrying were equally bad for both teams. Not as bad as this, but still bad. On another day, Costa Rica could’ve drawn or even bested an undermanned USMNT side that was missing eight players to injury, and whose locker room was in a state of chaos. Would Pinto have complained then?
The U.S. claims it had no ill intention inviting the Central American team up to Denver for a game. The U.S. plays in Mexico City next and wanted to get a game in at altitude before then. Costa Rican fans aren’t so sure. The coaches for Costa Rica had 24 hours after the game to file an official protest, but the soonest FIFA will decide on anything regarding the game is some time this week.
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March 22, 2013 3:03 pm
In offices around the country, hopeful sports fans are wagering on who will win of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Physicists are no exception. In a lab at the University of Maryland, five groups of physicists filled in the brackets to make their predictions, NBC News reports. Except instead of sports knowledge, they used quantum physics to make their bets.
This isn’t the first time the lab has engaged in such scientific tomfoolery. Last year, a graduate student in the lab sparked upon the idea and nearly won the money pot.
Normally, the team investigates quantum interactions between submicroscopic objects, using ions from the metallic element ytterbium. NBC explains how that has anything to do with making sports predictions:
When used to assist in picking basketball games, the team uses a phenomenon called superposition. They coax the ytterbium ion to act a bit like a coin. In the same way that flipping a fair coin yields a random result of heads or tails, superposition allows the physicists to prepare the ion to have a 50-50 chance of ending up in state A or state B. It’s possible that, based on the way a coin is flipped, the result isn’t always truly random. But by using quantum phenomena, in which the location or state of an object is based on probability, the result is truly random.
But there’s one problem with this method, NBC points out. Unlike coins or ion states, basketball teams are not equally likely to win a game. Quantum physics is just as likely to suggest picking a team suffering from a losing streak this season as one predicted to dominate.
The physicists might be able to simulate this. Clark said they could weight the ion’s choice by creating an “unequal superposition,” which would allow them to create a probability unequal to 50-50. In this way, they might be able to account for the type of basketball knowledge Bergen referred to, and reduce the odds of the ion producing a perfect bracket.
Of course, even knowledgable basketball fans aren’t great at predicting the results of March Madness, so wagering bets on a weighted ion’s predictions may be the surest way to cash in on the tradition.
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