Tag Archives: Luis Suarez

The Impact of First Impressions in Sports

One night last week, I was in the car with my Dad and we had the radio on, listening to some guys call-in show on the New York ESPN radio affiliate. The first couple of hours we had to listen to this guy talk about his New York Jets, and I was performing my usual routine of making snide comments between his points to make my Dad laugh. Eventually, for the last thirty minutes, he got to talking about the New York Giants, who, as you probably know, my family has had season tickets with for 50 years (that’s not even an exaggeration: my Grandfather’s first year as a season ticket holder was in 1963, back when the Giants played in Yankee Stadium). The host stated his belief that the main obstacle standing between the Giants and a playoff appearance was the running backs, and asked his callers a simple question: “Do you think that Andre Brown and David Wilson would be good enough to carry the load for the Giants for an entire season?”

Just so we’re clear, my answer to that question is a resounding YES, but I have doubts about the offensive line. But that’s not the reason why I bring this up. The callers all started calling in and talking about how they thought Wilson was an explosive running back, but the main concern is his fumbling problem. The host, after hearing around five callers bring up David Wilson’s “fumbling problem,” asked one of the callers how many fumbles he thought David Wilson had last season. I immediately yelled out “ONE” while listening in the car, fully aware of his stats from the previous season. The caller thought about it for five seconds, and then said “seven to ten.” The answer? One.

That begged me to ask myself the question: Why do Giants fans believe that David Wilson has a fumbling problem? After thinking about it for a minute, the answer is really simple: the only fumble that he’s lost all season took place on his debut against the Dallas Cowboys, and it left a lasting impression on the minds of Giants fans. The fumble turned the tide of the game (which the Giants lost), and has not been forgotten since. He got 70 carries last season, averaged 5 yards per carry, scored 7 TDs and returned kickoffs better than any Giant I’ve ever seen (except maybe Ron Dixon), but has been unable to shake off that label that he can’t hold on to the ball.

Flash forward to last weekend, as I’m up early watching Liverpool-Stoke City in the opening English Premier League match of the season. Liverpool are 1-0 up in the closing minutes of the game, when Daniel Agger conceded a very stupid penalty, putting his arm up in the box when he had no need to and making contact with the ball. Jonathan Walters stepped up to take the penalty for Stoke City, facing the newly-bought Belgian keeper Simon Mignolet, who was making his competitive debut for Liverpool. Walters shot it to the Mignolet’s right hand side… and Simon saved it! The ball was loose, Kenwyne Jones ran up and fired another shot at the net, which Mignolet also saved, as it scrambled out for a corner, with the Anfield faithful going absolutely ballistic. The players all jumped on Mignolet to congratulate/thank him, before he pushed them off and made them get in position as Stoke were trying to take the corner quickly. Liverpool held on for a 1-0 win, and Mignolet made a really tremendous first impression on the Liverpool fans watching, not only in the ground, but on TV sets all over the world.

Online afterward, I noticed that many, many fans were praising Mignolet for his penalty save, and seemingly were willing to forget all of the rage they felt after the club loaned out Pepe Reina (remember him?!) in order for Mignolet to start. I remembered how David Wilson’s fumble in his first game forever imprinted negative thoughts on the minds of Giants fans, and really do wonder how Mignolet’s crucial penalty save on his debut will be felt by fans in the long term. This also made me ask myself a deeper question: how much stock do we, as sports fans, put on a first impression we get from a player? In addition, how much should we get out of our first impressions of a player?

I’ve been watching sports for as long as I can remember. I’ve honestly lost count on the number of games I’ve attended, and to remember every debut I’ve seen both in person and on TV would be rather ridiculous. But there are some first impressions I’ve gotten from watching games that do stand out in my mind.

I remember watching Hideki Matsui’s Yankee Stadium debut back on Opening Day in 2003, when he hit a Grand Slam against Minnesota into right field. He ended up being a mainstay in the Yankee lineup for around seven years. On the contrary, I remember Kazuo Matsui’s MLB debut (not related to the aforementioned Hideki), where he hit the first pitch he’d ever seen out of the park in Atlanta. Kazuo ended up hitting .256 as a Met over the next two years before he was traded to Colorado, never truly living up to the hype the Mets had set for him, and that he had set for himself with that first pitch homer.

And with that, we find one of the factors that goes into a first impression: the hype beforehand. In American sports, when a player is selected as a first round pick, there is a certain amount of hype that goes with that player. He’s tabbed as a future starter, an impact player, someone who can improve the team in the short term and be the answer to a problem for the long term. David Wilson was a first round pick, and that’s another reason why his first impression was so damning. The Giants felt confident enough to select him in the opening round as a replacement for Brandon Jacobs, the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing TDs.

In the modern age, YouTube has helped fans come up with first impressions without even seeing a player come on the pitch for their side yet. The problem with YouTube, however, is that the video creators can really edit any film enough to make you think that someone is a star if they have enough footage. Milan Jovanovic looked like a star on YouTube, as did Christian Poulsen—neither one lasted more than a season at Liverpool. College football fans remember all too well about Sam McGuffie’s YouTube video, which was 10 minutes of him running around and jumping over high school players like he was in a video game on cheat mode, only to discover that his athleticism didn’t transfer to the college level when he played at Michigan under Rich Rodriguez (McGuffie is currently in training camp with the Oakland Raiders, but I highly doubt he’ll make the team after the preseason is over).

While I remembered Luis Suarez making a splash onto the scene in South Africa in 2010 with his handball against Ghana, I’d honestly forgotten about him until Liverpool started chasing him six months later during the January 2011 window. I remembered watching his YouTube compilations, in addition to his not-so-endearing highlights, such as the handball in South Africa and his celebrating after Asamoah Gyan missed, his diving, and his biting of PSV player Otman Bakkal on the shoulder. I put all of the negative stuff to the side and focused on the fact that he was a good striker who could answer a problem that Liverpool needed to address, and really didn’t think too much about the fact that he was clearly a troubled player.

From this, we do find the answer to the first question: “What do we get out of a first impression as sports fans?” The answer? Whatever we’re willing to get out of it. Honestly, if you don’t try to get much out of watching something, you won’t, and if you are trying to get something out of it, you will. It’s a ridiculously simple answer, but it is true. The only real exception is when something so extraordinary happens that you can’t help but ignore it, such as when Suarez cheats on Global TV in a World Cup Quarterfinal. If you were a cynic, you’d say he was a cheat, but you could also view it as somebody willing to do whatever it takes to win. As sports fans, we’re willing and able to take any sporting moment, view it in a vacuum, and assign it to whatever agenda we’re pushing, even if it’s just a call-in to ESPN radio.

Follow Greg Visone on Twitter @njny

Things Overshadowed By The Olympics

The Olympics end next Sunday, and by now, we’ve all had enough Gymnastics, Water Polo, Archery, Swimming, and Darts to hold us over for the next four years. The only marquee events left are the Basketball and Soccer Finals, and the 100 meter mens race. The Summer Games have taken up all of NBC’s programming across five networks, and a considerable amount of SportsCenter time (it’s a shame that they can only devote 8 minutes to talking about Tim Tebow being a backup quarterback instead of the usual 12). Looking back on the past week and a half, I’ve realized that many things in my life have taken a back seat to watching 24 hours of Olympic coverage. Things like:

Showering. I’m home all day watching NBC, and see no reason to leave my house. Why bother to be groom and primp for people I’m not going to see? (Interesting side-note: I attended a panel discussion featuring ESPN executive John Walsh last semester. He said that NBC outbid other networks for the Olympic contract by billions. ESPN’s reason for not ponying up $4.38 billion for the rights? It’s a lot of money to devote for only two weeks of content. Makes sense.)

Baseball. I’m not a huge baseball guy like I used to be, but exactly zero fucks were given about the Trade Deadline (even though my Yankees hotly pursued a needed starting pitcher) or all of the VERY tight pennant races raging.

Work. I don’t have a summer job or internship. Instead, this website, it’s YouTube channel, and my other website have been my “jobs.” I’m self-employed and living off Google AdSense pennies. Content across the Justin Block family of networks has slowed recently, because the Olympics are the perfect procrastination tool. I think, “Oh I’ll write that article after this soccer match is over.” Then another match comes on. Then another event comes on. And another. And another. And because NBC tape delays all the good events, I watch their replays of the live streams from earlier because NBC’s tape delay coverage gives the event new life. With all of the added graphics and commentary, I was able to relive Phelps’s last race last night with the same Olympics-level joy. Before I knew it, it was midnight and no work had gotten done, thanks to 12 hours of Olympics watching. For people who work in an office all day at a computer, I’m sure NBC’s online streams of every event has killed productivity.

Diet. Because I don’t leave my house, I haven’t been able to make trips to the grocery store. I’m currently on my last bit of canned and frozen foods. Marie Callender, Abraham Stouffer, and Mr. Trader Joe have prevented starvation. Domino’s delivery deserves a shout-out as well.

NFL training camp. My Packers are apparently ready to start Charles Woodson at safety, and their first pre-season game is this Thursday. I learned all of this information three seconds ago after a quick Google search. Thanks to SportsCenter though, I’m an expert on Jets and Broncos training camps. Those two teams who have no training camp stories but ESPN is hell-bent on talking Tim Tebow starting into existence.

Fantasy Football. The NFL kicks off in a month and I don’t have my fantasy shit together. Aside from Arian Foster and Ray Rice I don’t know who else is a sure-thing at running back. Help!

Other television endeavors. I have yet to start Breaking Bad, and I need to catch-up on three missed years of The Office and House. I still, however, frequent Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Newsroom. Clearly my television judgement has been impaired thanks to the 30th Olympiad. Oh, and I haven’t even begun to anticipate HBO’s Hard Knocks either.

Chelsea’s John Terry. Shortly after a court found him not-guilty of racial abuse, England’s Football Association has charged him with the same thing. He’ll likely be convicted by the FA, because their legal burden of the “balance of probabilities” is significantly less than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” of a court. England’s former captain, and the current captain of London’s biggest club and the reigning champions of Europe is about to be deemed a racist, but the entire court case and FA charge has been totally swept under the rug thanks to the London Olympics. Andy Carroll’s failed transfer from Liverpool to West Ham caused more of a stir than Terry’s racism.

Great Britain’s Xenophobia. Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, competing for Uruguay, was booed throughout the Olympics for reasons stemming from his own racism charge last season. British fans even booed during Uruguay’s national anthem. (Short run-down of why they were booing: In a match against Manchester United, Suarez called United defender Patrice Evra a “negrito.” In South America, “negrito” is actually a term of endearment. Patrice Evra himself said he didn’t think Suarez was racist. The FA and their “balance of probabilities” handed Suarez an eight match ban anyway, because even referring to another player’s skin is enough for a charge. In their next match, Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand in the customary pre-game team handshake—a poor decision on Suarez’s part.) Meanwhile, John Terry continues to be cheered when he wears an England shirt and isn’t jeered across England when he plays for Chelsea. This is an Olympics story, but it got little attention because it was overshadowed by the larger Olympics at hand. It was a black-eye that wasn’t, but for myself and other sensible fans, this was the low-light of the Olympics.

Click to enlarge. Proof that England’s media has been less than fair about the whole situation.

Shark Week. Shark Week promo and reruns of past Shark Week shows have been nonexistent in my life. Shark Week actually starts the day the Olympics end, but who’s going to remember? This is a legitimate problem.

Rick Ross. His hotly anticipated 5th solo album was released last week, but I’ve only had time to take a few cursory listens. I have, however, taken the time to remove Rick Ross from “Sixteen” so it’s just Andre 3000’s verse. Thank you Garageband cut tools.

My Amazon seller account. I’ve been flipping old books and DVDs for a few dollars on the Amazon marketplace, but I haven’t kept up with my recent orders. I’m late shipping out seven different items. RIP to my Feedback Rating.

Bills. Actually, let me call the NYU Bursar Office now so I can figure out how to pay my $28,595 first semester bill. I should have Sallie-Mae conferenced in too. This USA-Turkey women’s Volleyball match is about to end anyway.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Why the John Terry Racism Episode is FAr from over…

Over the weekend, Chelsea Defender John Terry walked out of Westminster magistrates court a free man after chief magistrate Howard Riddle found him not guilty of a “racially aggravated public order offence.” In other words, the judge said that he could not conclusively prove that when JT said the words “fucking black cunt” to Queens Park Rangers Defender Anton Ferdinand, that he was not repeating them back to him sarcastically in response to Anton thinking he heard the words.

In the aftermath of the verdict yesterday, I watched Sky Sports News for quite a while. After the first hour, the way they reported the story made it seem as though the case was over and that John Terry was an innocent man. People on my Twitter timeline, the majority of which are Liverpool fans, thought that the case was over and that John Terry, despite the video evidence, was gonna get away with yet another heinous act.

I’m writing this piece to tell you this: Contrary to popular belief, the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand racism case is not over. The fat lady isn’t singing yet. Quite frankly, she hasn’t even started warming up.

I wasn’t bothered by the not guilty verdict. Having followed the trial, I fully expected him to be found not guilty, because there was no sufficient proof beyond a reasonable doubt that John Terry wasn’t telling the truth as far as his testimony was concerned. Besides, if he was found guilty, the punishment would’ve been in the area of a £2.5k fine—peanuts for a man making £150,000-a-week in wages. Regardless of the verdict, one thing was certain in my mind: John Terry would be charged by The FA after the criminal trial ended. There, he would have to fight against the dreaded legal burden known as “balance of probabilities,” (a burden of proof that’s much, much, much less than a “reasonable doubt,” as Luis Suarez can attest to) and face much greater punishments in the region of a six-match ban and a five-figure fine.

In the first hour of their coverage of the verdict, Sky Sports News interviewed a former FA executive and Anton Ferdinand’s lawyer. Both of them said that the matter was far from over and that the FA now would launch their own investigation to try to figure out what had happened, much like they did in the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra case. The FA even released a statement on their website, where they stated that their own investigation was now underway. For some reason, SSN didn’t show those two interviews again for the rest of the day, nor did they mention the FA statement. Instead, it was back to singing the praises of Brave John Terry, the wrongly defamed former England Captain who can do no wrong.

The former FA Executive and Anton Ferdinand’s lawyer are correct: this matter is far from over. The FA will launch an investigation and, should they simply look at the court evidence, or even the televised footage of the game, will find that there is enough substance to Anton Ferdinand’s statement to charge John Terry with misconduct, having violated Rule E3.

Rule E3, under the sub-heading “General Behavior”, holds the following language in its first point:

“A participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.”

As you could see in the TV coverage, John Terry did indeed say “fucking black cunt” to Anton Ferdinand. He used those indecent words. Regardless of whether or not he meant what he said, he did say them. That alone merits an FA Charge for the former England Captain.

The sub-heading’s next point specifically covers the use of racial abuse:

In the event of any breach of Rule E 3(1) including a reference to any one or more of a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability (an “aggravating factor”), a Regulatory Commission shall consider the imposition of an increased sanction, taking into account the following entry points:

For a first offence, a sanction that is double that which the Regulatory Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.

For a second offence, a sanction that is treble that which the Regulatory Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.

Any further such offence(s) shall give rise to consideration of a permanent suspension.

As mentioned above, John Terry did indeed say to Anton Ferdinand “fucking black cunt”. That is a reference to Anton Ferdinand’s race. Regardless of whether not there was intent, John Terry’s actions violated rule E3. He has admitted to saying those words in court. As a result, he should be expecting an FA charge.

In spite of this, however, I’ve received quite a few replies from people on Twitter saying that if the FA charged John Terry, they would be undermining the English Judicial System. I don’t believe this to be true, because of the lowered burden of proof The FA would require for a conviction to be handed out, they would be able to charge Terry and prosecute him under their own jurisdiction in a court independent of the English Justice System.

If you don’t understand that, I’ll give you an example: OJ Simpson, Hall of Fame half-back for the Buffalo Bills of the NFL, was infamously charged with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. In the criminal trial, OJ Simpson was found not guilty of the murder, thus escaping criminal punishment. OJ, however, was found to be liable for damages in the civil trial. The jury in the civil trial only needed to determine that there was a preponderance of evidence on either side to reach a verdict. That civil trial did not undermine the American Justice system because it took place in a separate court and required a much lower burden of proof to find OJ guilty.

If charged by The FA, the burden of proof John Terry would have to fight against is “balance of probabilities,” a ridiculously low standard which makes it so that if one side is found to be more credible than the other, even by a marginal amount, the court will find in their favor. That was the burden of proof that Suarez had to face when Evra accused him. He was found guilty under “balance of probabilities,” forever branded a racist, in spite of the fact that The FA and Patrice Evra have said that they don’t believe Suarez to be a racist.

I personally believe that the burden of proof in that sort of case is far too low, because it can irreparably harm the reputation of someone with what would be considered a lack of evidence in a criminal court. That being said, Suarez did admit to referring to the color of Patrice Evra’s skin. It is because he admitted to referring to the color of Evra’s skin that he was found guilty of misconduct, thus violating rule E3. The FA acted within their guidelines and ruled as they saw fit. By those guidelines, they got it right.

I no longer argue the Suarez ruling. I’ve accepted it and, while I still have problems with how it was handled, I’ve have moved past it. The one thing I would like, however, is consistency from The FA in the application of their rules. Now is the time to hold John Terry to the same standards and charge him with misconduct, as he has clearly violated the same rules as Suarez. They would not be undermining the English Justice system because they would be holding him to a lower burden of proof than the criminal court.

To top it all off, if they do not charge John Terry for directing the words “fucking black cunt” at a player on the field at one of their own top-flight matches, an act which was caught on camera and broadcast live around the world, they can no longer act as the moral compass of the football world when it comes to racism and bigotry, something which they have taken great pride in over the last decade. Remember the BBC Panorama special about racism and antisemitism at Polish and Ukrainian football matches occurring regularly? If Terry doesn’t get charged, the country would have no right to show that and act as though they’re on a higher moral pedestal than the rest of the world.

If Terry isn’t charged, it allows Liverpool fans such as myself and Justin to scream of a double standard as Luis Suarez, a Uruguayan international with a black grandfather, has been found guilty of violating rule E3; yet John Terry, an England international who has slept with his teammate’s girlfriend, verbally abused Americans at a pub in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and been stripped of the England Captaincy TWICE, has been allowed to walk free. What does that say to the rest of the world, as well as black players in the game today? It certainly doesn’t come as positive that’s for sure.

To quote Will Smith, “I ain’t heard no fat lady!” I hope you haven’t heard one either.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny