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Is The Juice Worth The Squeeze?

If you were a professional athlete and could get away with using performance-enhancing drugs, would you do it? I would like to say I wouldn’t, but these days I’m not so sure anymore.

Courtesy of NBC Sports

Courtesy of NBC Sports

Lance Armstrong is the latest disgraced athlete to admit to using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during his illustrious cycling career. The news was expected after the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) 1000-page report which was released last year. According to the report, “hotel rooms were transformed into blood banks as riders were given late-night transfusions, doctors were paid off and competitors were warned about tests in advance.” Armstrong was later stripped of his 7 Tour de France medals, given a life-ban from racing and basically forced out of his Livestrong cancer foundation. He now faces a number of lawsuits and legal issues from years of denied doping and legal action that he took against people and organizations that accused him of cheating. Based on the current legal cases, he is going to be liable for substantial amount, but for someone worth $125 million, he should be alright.

So is using PEDs worth it?

Armstrong had less than a 50% chance of survival when his testicular cancer spread to his lungs and brain. He wasn’t supposed to live, let alone compete in the grueling world of professional cycling. His entire life was cycling, and soon his passion and livelihood would be gone. Would you not be tempted to dope? Cycling was far from being a clean sport when Armstrong made his comeback. While many other competitors were disqualified for for testing positive, you have to assume at the time, many more got away with it.

Courtesy of PA Images

Courtesy of PA Images

So Armstrong went back to cycling and had legendary success. He won the hardest and most prestigious cycling race 7 times. Not once or twice, but 7 times. Maybe he could have got away with it had he kept it to 2 or 3, but that’s a different story. He built a multi-million dollar brand and started an extremely well-known and successful charitable organization. If he didn’t use anything, would he have had the some success? Of course not. Hate him or love him for what he did on a bike, Armstrong founded a charity organization that is responsible for raising nearly $500 million for cancer. They have worked with over 550 organizations worldwide fighting cancer and helping cancer survivors. Along with the financial support, Livestrong has provided a priceless amount of exposure and publicity to the battle against cancer.

I can never condone someone for blatantly cheating. Then to follow that by fighting for years and years, trying to prove his innocence, while losing friends and support, and then to finally confess to Oprah. But before Armstrong is vilified for what he did, cheating in a sport that was riddled with cheaters, ask yourself, what would you have done? Remember that this started before the use of steroids was general knowledge in baseball. Before the public wanted all of our sports clean. Why wouldn’t you take PEDs? Because it’s unethical, sure, but the rest of the competitive field is using them. They destroy your body, not much of a concern for someone who just came back from cancer, and is the only life he knows. I’m not saying what he did was right, but I can see myself being tempted as well.

Courtesy of the AP

Courtesy of the AP

But why confess now of all times? It could do with him being past his statute of limitations for perjury when he denied using illegal performance enhancers under oath, but that was past back in 2010. I believe he’s confessing to avoid the same fate of Pete Rose. Rose was an all-time great baseball player, banned for life for gambling on baseball games. Rose denied for years and years until eventually coming clean 14 years later, after he had been forgotten. Armstrong is now on the path of redemption. He faces a difficult task because unlike athletes, like Michael Vick, who won support by continuing to play his sport well, Armstrong is retired from pro cycling. He can’t show the world that he can do it without the drugs. He doesn’t have the same problem as Rose because his name still has so much public pull. It has been said that he is working with the USADA to point out other athletes that have been doping, and that’s a start.

No matter how much he is able to help clean up sports, he will never get back his championships and titles. But at the end of the day, he used drugs in a drug filled sport and came out a $100 millionaire and an international icon. Wouldn’t you do the same?

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How The West Was Won?

A power-shift is taking place in Major League Baseball.

This hasn’t happened overnight. The Texas Rangers have been a title contender for a number of years now, but other teams are starting to join them. And they’re taking a page out of their free-spending East Coast rivals book.

ARODThe perennial powerhouses in New York and Boston are struggling and fighting amongst themselves. The Yankees had the largest payroll by over $22 million, and bombed out of the playoffs. They have an aging lineup with the majority of the team in their 30’s, with a few in their 40’s. Things aren’t going to get better anytime soon, as their biggest contracts are still locked up for years, and most of those players are at the tail-end of their careers. Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are all coming back from surgery, and due to make over $50 million dollars combined. Those three players nearly cover the entire Oakland Athletics team payroll.

bobbyvThe Red Sox aren’t in any better shape with their third manager in as many years. Additionally, they traded away fan favorite Kevin Youkilis, after former manager Bobby Valentine questioned his commitment to the team. They started 2012 with a splash acquiring free agents Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. But Crawford’s terrible early season form, followed by injuries lead to him to be labeled a bust and a villain to the Red Sox faithful. Not soon after the Red Sox had a fire sale, and shipped Gonzalez, Crawford and Josh Becket to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This wasn’t a bad move for the Sox because it allowed them to clear over $250 million dollars off their books. However, these are steps for rebuilding and are taking the Sox out of contention next season.

Where the Yankees and Red Sox have taken a step back, the Los Angeles Angles and Dodgers are picking up the slack.

The Los Angeles Angels introduce their newly acquired players Pujols and Wilson in AnaheimThe Angels made headlines last year by signing Albert Pujols to a 10 year contract worth $240 million. They reinforced their starting rotation by signing Texas Rangers all-star pitcher C.J. Wilson. The Angels followed this with a mid-season pick up of former Cy Young winner Zach Greinke. Pujols had an off-year by his standards, and the Angels disappointed by not even reaching the playoffs. They did lose some big name pitchers in the off-season, like Greinke to the Dodgers, and Dan Haren to the Washington Nationals. However, they reloaded in a big way by adding former MVP Josh Hamilton. Hamilton has had injury problems over the years, but there is no denying his ability when he’s healthy on the field. Over the past three seasons, he has hit 25+ home runs, nearly 100 RBI’s, with a batting average of .285, and that’s while missing a number of games. Hamilton’s numbers should improve as he is protected in a line-up that includes: former MVP Albert Pujols, MVP runner-up Mike Trout, and Home Run Derby participant Mark Trumbo. He shouldn’t have the same adjusting period as Pujols, who moved from the National League to the American League, because he is staying in the AL West division. The Angels still need some help in the bullpen. The recently signed Joe Blanton and Sean Burnett should help, but some more moves could be on the horizon to help improve the 18th best earned run average (ERA) in the MLB. With the past two years signings, the Angels have shot up the payroll list and are estimated to fork out more than $175 million dollars next year.

The noise the Angels made seems like whispers compared to the uproar the Dodgers made.

Courtesy of The LA Times

Courtesy of The LA Times

In the beginning of last year the Dodgers were a mess. Their owner was going through a messy divorce, which led the MLB to take over operations for the club. However, owner Frank McCourt pulled off the sale, or robbery, of the century. He was able to sell the team, on the verge of bankruptcy, for not $1, but $2 billion dollars, to a group that included Irvin “Magic” Johnson. After the sale, the new ownership wanted to make some waves. They raided the Red Sox for Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett. They added high-profile shortstop Hanley Ramirez from the always giving Florida Marlins. They bolstered their bullpen, by signing Greinke and Korean lefty Hyun-jin Ryu. The spending spree was skyrocketed by a television deal, which rivals that of their east coast counterparts. The Dodgers payroll at the beginning of 2012’s season was $114 million, and has now gone up to $207.9 million in 2013. Don’t be surprised if they add a few more names to their already impressive roster.

Money doesn’t always equal championships. The Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buffalo Sabres all had the highest payrolls in their respective sports in 2012. Yet none of them won a championship. So while nothing is guaranteed for the Angels or Dodgers, one thing is evident, the West Coast is establishing itself as the new power in baseball.

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Football: Tough Sport Or Just Poor Man’s Rugby?

Football is not for the weak or easily intimidated.

The National Football League had over 170 head injuries in 2011 alone.

However, being exposed to rugby, I have to say rugby has to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, game in the world.

This isn’t a post about whether you’re more of a “man” if you play one or the other. And no matter which one you play, they’re both violent and can lead to some serious injuries. This is just about a few differences.

More pads,harder hits

Courtesy of Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images

Yes, football players hit harder. Before you agree or disagree, hear me out.

Being covered from head to toe in pads allows you to use your body with reckless abandonment  The hits in football have gotten so violent and dangerous that the National Football League had to change the way the game is played. This has left a certain void in the NFL because the games aren’t as exciting as they used to be, but it should lead to less head injuries and less tragic stories linked to those injuries. Rugby players typically do not have the run up that football players do, a safety can have a 15 yard full speed sprint before he collides with another player. Rugby players generally know when they’re about to get tackled. They can prepare themselves mentally and physically. However, football players, whether their on offense or defense, get blind sided a few times a game.

The hits are harder, but they hurt less. This isn’t to say they don’t hurt or you can’t get injured in football, but rugby leaves you hurting more the next day. Next time you watch a rugby game keep an eye on players in a scrum or ruck. Players get stomped and punched and no one looks twice. And because you have the same players on the field for 80+ minutes, players tend to get more tired and can’t recharge after each dead ball, like in football. However, you won’t see as many serious injuries in rugby because they don’t wear pads. Sounds counter-intuitive, but because they don’t wear pads it forces rugby players to make more fundamentally sound tackles.

More strategy, less all rounders

Galleo Images

Courtsey of Galleo Images

Football has more strategy and more specialists, but not as many athletes. Once again, hear me out.

Every single down in football has a called play on offense, defense and special teams. There is never a time in a game where players just do their own thing like you would in the park with friends. There are audibles, changing the play right before the ball is hiked, but it isn’t a free-for-all, it’s just replacing one specific play with another specific play. There are so many different formations and schemes on offense and defense, like bringing in extra linemen to catch the defense with a smaller and less physical defense back still on the field. On the other side of the ball, gone are the days of the simple defense. Defenses consist of hybrid systems of zone and man-to-man coverages mixed in with a variety of blitzes. All of these strategies are constructed to try to catch one team out of position.

Of course rugby has strategy too. There are a number of different techniques and formations interwoven into the free-flowing game. There are situational strategies like lineouts and scrums, and techniques like dummies, switches and loops, and you have to make sure your defense is always in a strong formation. However, there is just not as much strategy or play-calling. The reason is because rugby doesn’t stop as often as football does.

Courtesy of Inside the Playbook

Courtesy of Inside the Playbook

Playing constantly for two 40 minute halves is grueling and exhausting. All 15 rugby players stay on the field the whole time, barring injury or substitution. The same players are on offense, defense and kick (special teams). Each player does have a position and a general skill set, but for the most part they can be interchangeable. In today’s football, you would be hard-pressed to find a team that has more than two players playing who can play both offense and defense. Each player has a very specific skill set, and there might be a player who plays corner back and plays a little receiver, but you will never see a quarterback on the other side of the ball. This would explain why there is such a variety of athletes on a football team. Rugby does also has a variety of sizes and weights, but you don’t see many players over 250 pounds (113 kg). In today’s NFL, a lineman would seem out-of-place if he didn’t weigh over 330+ pounds(151 kg). That is why rugby players, as a whole, are in a lot better shape.

Different, not better

There will be endless comparisons between the two sports since football does get its origins from rugby. It’s a lot like comparing baseball to cricket, the playing surface and equipment share similarities, but the actual games are completely different. So whether you strap on the pads or get ready for a scrum, just be ready for a physically intense game.

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The Enigma of Michael Vick and Tim Tebow

M. Vick

Courtesy of USA Today

Michael Vick and Tim Tebow are the same but equally opposite.

I have always been fascinated with Vick and Tebow’s stories. Sure, Vick’s is coming to a close and it has had a lot more dramatic ups and downs, but there are certain similarities I just can’t seem to shake.

Vick came out of school as a once in a lifetime talent. He was lighting fast, had a massive arm and seemed to have all the right tools to win. He did have some off the field problems, but that isn’t unheard of. I mean, who wouldn’t have gotten into a little trouble when you’re treated like royalty as a kid in college. He was highly sought after when he came into the NFL, and even though he didn’t put up great numbers he was exciting and fans loved to watch him.

Then there’s Tebow. The born captain, who got his name for leading his team, a perennial powerhouse, to two championships. He was loud, strong and charismatic. You always hear about it, but he had the intangibles. The kind of things you can’t describe but make people winners. He never thought twice to stand up in front of his teammates, coaches and media and rally his troops. However, even though he had more success in college than Vick he was treated as a lost cause when he came to the NFL. Anyone who saw him during his workouts could see why. He had all the red flags you don’t want your quarterback to have, he takes too long to throw the ball and he has a serious lack of power and accuracy. But the Broncos picked him up and we know how that went.

Courtesy of AP

Courtesy of AP

Here’s what I found interesting about these two men. Being that they are both unorthodox left-handed quarterbacks that rely on their feet in different ways, Vick’s speed and Tebow’s power, they are at the same point but just at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Vick was always given praise coming into the NFL. His talents he acquired naturally and through hard work always outshone his other issues. As a young player he didn’t read defenses well, he couldn’t stand in the pocket, he didn’t lead his team. Of course he did have success winning so it didn’t matter, especially in sports. Vick’s spectacular downfall from superstar to criminal is something that can only be rivaled by Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant. I know Vick did his time and is working hard for dog related organizations and charities, but the damage has been done. Or should I say was done.

When Vick came back to the NFL people hated him. Many wanted him locked away for good for what he was involved in. However, as bad as his crimes, in sports, especially in America, as long as you win things are forgiven. There are countless stories of people screwing up, but were successful at their profession so it made up for it. America loves tragic stories, but that doesn’t compare to how much we love comeback stories. Vick took a page out of Kobe’s book. For better or worse, once he outed McNabb from the Eagles he was that electrifying player we missed and no longer the convict.

Courtesy of AP

Courtesy of AP

Of course then there’s Tebow. Who was taken by a struggling team with a journeyman quarterback and was seen as a marketing move opposed to a professional one, much like the Jets trade. After getting a chance to show what he could do, because of the fans chanting his name whenever he was near the field, he became the starter in Denver. He wasn’t as electric as Vick, but he did what was most important, he won. He didn’t play well for 3 1/2 quarters but when the game was on the line he same how got the ball in the end zone. Tebow couldn’t really throw the ball or read defenses, but the Broncos for some reason or another just seemed to click when they needed too. When the Broncos beat the Steelers in the playoffs Tebow should have been solidified as the starting quarterback for at least the next year, most other franchises would have done it, let alone a struggling one. I understand why the Broncos did what they did in signing Manning and losing Tebow, but had it been Vick instead of Tebow, I believe Manning would be playing for the 49ers .

The media craze around both of these players has been legendary, obviously for different reasons. One is the ultra-talented fallen star redemption story and the other is the prodigal leader that always gets undercut. The media have hurt and helped both of them in very different ways. Vick was sky rocketed by the media coming out of college and was equally shot down after the scandals came out. Tebow was already shot down and seen as a bust before he stepped on the field and once he started winning no one could talk about anything else. Whether you loved him or hated him Tebow was a national conversation for months. Of course as time went on, Vick was brought back to the pinnacles of high achieving sports superstars and Tebow was sent to ride the bench and occasionally trip over a lineman’s foot if he got called in to run the wildcat.

But as fate would have it, Vick has been struggling all season and Tebow has been cast aside by a joke of a New York Jets team. It would seem fitting for a veteran and experienced Vick to head to the bright lights of NY and Tebow to head back to his home state to take a group of no names to prominence. No matter how their stories unfold, these two men no matter how different they are, seem to be equally the same.

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