Equal Opportunity Ass-Kicking

                Place two grown men in a cage. Now set a timer. Finally, have them commit assault and battery on one another until one of three things happens:  time runs out, one man cries uncle, or one man loses all cognitive functionality and collapses in a bloody, crumpled heap. Sounds like something that could raise a little controversy, doesn’t it? Now swap out those men with a pair of women.

                The UFC has done exactly this. The largest mixed martial arts promotion company in the world is debuting its first female matches in UFC 157: Rousey vs Carmouche on Saturday night. And while the company has met its fair share of criticism in the past (Senator Mccaine once compared MMA to human cockfighting), the introduction of women into their iconic octagonal ring has kicked up an entirely new kind of stink. A gender roles kind of stink.

                Boys play with action figures. Girls play with dolls. Boys play cops and robbers. Girls play house. Gender roles are so engrained in our culture many don’t even realize that they exist. And more importantly, they don’t realize the absurdity of their existence. Remind me again: who is it who decided guys wear ties and girls wear dresses?

So it follows that some would be more incensed by female MMA than its more common male counterpart. Women don’t fight. Men fight to protect women. It’s so deeply embedded in our collective psyche that extirpation will likely be a long time in coming. So I say let the ladies fight if that’s what they want to do. Maybe Rousey and Carmouche can remind America that Baby doesn’t always need Swayze. Sometimes Baby is perfectly well-equipped to armbar and superman punch her way out of the corner all by herself. 

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R.I.P. N.F.L.

Bernard Pollard, safety for the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens team, recently foretold the coming demise of the NFL. He claimed that if the current trend of NFL rule changes was allowed to continue, the game would cease to exist in “another 20, 30 years”. Pollard certainly isn’t prescient. And his moniker “Patriot Killer” which he earned by laying low a number of New England players including Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski throughout his career, doesn’t earn him an overabundance of credibility as a critic of rule changes promoting player safety. However, with all that being said, Pollard’s statement is far from absurd and probably hits closer to the mark than most NFL enthusiasts would care to admit. The NFL could very well be on borrowed time, and the reason might be that football is the closest thing the United States has to a nationally-embraced “blood sport”.

Of course football isn’t literally a blood sport, but it’s close. NFL players aren’t gladiators and the Louisiana Superdome isn’t the Roman Coliseum but the violent spectacle taking place every Sunday throughout the NFL season is creating a growing cause for concern nonetheless. The NFL averaged 5.4 concussions per week in 2009, 7.6 in 2010, 8.4 in 2011, and the concussion numbers aren’t expected to plateau any time in the near future. Combine this with the string of recent suicides by retired NFL players, and you’ve got a recipe for gridiron disaster. As scientists continue to discover the alarming long-term repercussions of repeated concussive trauma to the brains of professional athletes, the growing prevalence of the head injury will only bring greater scrutiny on the NFL. In fact the concussion issue has already garnered enough attention to warrant a PBS and ESPN collaborative special report on the topic scheduled for release in Fall 2013. And if Frontline is on the case, you know the issue is deadly serious.

So football may not literally be a blood sport. But if retired players continue to suffer from long term mental health problems like those that allegedly resulted in Junior Seau’s suicide, concussions may make football the first indirect blood sport in history. It’s an epithet that won’t read all that differently on the NFL’s tombstone. 

PR Panacea – Rehabilitation of your Image or your Money Back

PR Rehabilitation step 1: Don’t just talk the talk

PR Rehabilitation step 2: Destroy your Ivory Tower

The year was 2010 in the year of our lord, and King James was in a PR tailspin. His court was in disarray, his kingdom in rebellion, and the Jester probably even stole his thorny crown. Now, three years, one ring, and one incredibly exuberant hug and subsequent midcourt frolic later, all indications suggest that the King has officially regained his throne.

Deservedly or not, Lebron James garnered the revilement of an entire nation of basketball fans in the 2010-2011 season. This swiftly becomes evident after only ten minutes of sifting through the fossil record of blogs and news articles from the year of his Cleveland departure. In hindsight the sheer magnitude and breadth of this fan sentiment is both startling and to some extent, highly irrational. However, retrospective analysis can only lead us to attribute the near universal loathing exhibited toward James to be a direct result of a single perceived character trait: overwhelming arrogance. And, the most egregious sin of all, it was an arrogance unsubstantiated by championships, the conventional measurement of career success in the NBA.

If falls from grace were featured in Olympic gymnastics, Lebron would have received tens across the board from any panel of judges. Any slight misstep along the way could have prevented him from hitting rock bottom in the public eye. If he hadn’t conducted The Decision with such an absurd level of grandeur and self-importance, or if he hadn’t publically promised the city of Miami a near infinite number of championships (okay, the final tally was 8), he likely could have refrained from becoming public enemy number one.

Now, number 6 has stuck an equally remarkable comeback with this simple two-step process. First he backed up his bombastic proclamations. During the 2011-2012 NBA season Lebron James became league MVP. The Miami Heat then proceeded to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder to win the NBA finals behind an MVP performance from James, and magically success transformed James’ arrogance into confidence. PRR step 1 – complete.

Fast-forward to January 26, 2013. Miami Heat fan Michael Drysch sinks a half-court shot to win 75,000 dollars. Obviously Drysch is excited, but his excitement pales in comparison with the level of elation and glee expressed by NBA superstar Lebron James as he bear hugs Drysch to the floor. Suddenly, James is no longer a villain. He’s just a kid who loves basketball, and if you watch the video, listening closely over the commentary and Lebron’s laughter, you can hear the faint sound of an Ivory tower crumbling. Who would have figured? All it takes for a King to regain his throne is to remove his crown and spend two minutes walking amongst his people. PRR step 2- complete.

One Nation, Under Football, with Liberty and Nacho Dip for All

February 3, 2013 is a wildly important date for NFL players and fans alike. It’s the Super Bowl, the Holy Grail for any professional pigskin player. It’s the criteria for determining the success of a player’s career. Like it or not, the algorithm for legacy is pretty straightforward. It pretty much boils down to counting the rings on a guy’s hands when he’s finally forced to hang up his cleats and start filming wrangler ads while riding around on a tractor for the rest of eternity (or whatever players who aren’t Brett Favre do with their retirement). Likewise, for passionate NFL fans the Super Bowl means validation. It means vindication. It means ultimate bragging rights with no shelf life. But here’s the kicker: the Super Bowl isn’t just a pivotal date for NFL players and fans. It’s a pivotal date for the United States of America.

Hyperbole? Perhaps, but allow me to explain. The United States is an increasingly divided country. Politically, economically, culturally, socially: it often seems as if the rifts grow wider and wider with each passing year. Blame the polarizing effects of our two-party system. Blame the avarice and duplicity of corporate elites. Blame the thousands of television channels made available by cable providers or the depersonalizing vastness of the internet and social media. Point fingers in whatever direction you please. The truth remains that the common ground beneath the feet of Americans is shrinking more rapidly than the passing lane of a receiver covered by Ed Reed.

Super Bowl Sunday is one of the only days every year when nearly every American citizen is on the same page. Last year’s Super Bowl boasted an average audience of 111.3 million people. During the electrifying fourth quarter conclusion, that number hiked up to 117.7 million viewers. Not only are these numbers staggering, they’re record breaking. The 2012 Super Bowl was watched by more people than any other television program in the nation’s history.

No matter your race, gender, age, socio-economic status, or level of interest in the sport of football, chances are you’ll watch, discuss, or consume alcohol in close proximity to the Super Bowl, or a Super Bowl party, in the very near future. Relish it, because no matter how trivial or grand-scheme-of-things meaningless the Super Bowl may be, it’s one of the few opportunities you’ll have in 2013 to live in a U.S. of A. where the U is actually carrying its weight.