Archive for Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Eephus Pitch

July 24, 2008

The ESPYs, a time for stars from every spectrum of the sporting world to don Armani suits, Oscar De La Renta dresses and sunglasses that are worth more than my vehicle.

Also a time for the New Yorks, Bostons and LAs of the sports world to rack up awards that, given the hype, could be compared to the Oscars.

Now, I have to stop right there to dispel one possible way the previous sentence - and the likelihood that big cities will always win these awards - may be interpreted to mean I am simply bitter.

Kansas University should not have won either ESPY award it was up for. If you missed all the hoopla, KU was up for two; best team and best game.

Best team went to the Boston Celtics, a very deserving selection since they not only won the championship but performed as the very best in their league all year long. The front office of the Celtics deserved this award for paying for such a group (i.e. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett) and Doc Rivers deserved it for getting them to buy into putting aside egos for the good of the whole. Ubuntu.

With best game, again, Kansas came close with the Memphis game in the NCAA championship, but the overtime period was never close so, although it came down to the wire in regulation, that final extra quarter was - to a non-Kansas fan - pretty anticlimactic.

Also consider the magnitude of the Super Bowl, not only in American households but worldwide. It's the ultimate championship game in sports, the game with the highest viewership and ticket costs.

And all that does count when voting for the best game, and given that the ESPYs are entirely based on fan voting, it's understandable.

But the biggest upset, that was the selection that I found most erroneous.

The Giants won their award for, again, the Super Bowl. More deserving were the Fresno State Bulldogs, for their upset over Georgia in the College World Series, and Appalachian State for its upset over Michigan in college football.

Both were a David vs. Goliath type of scenario. Also, the magnitude of the Super Bowl has nothing to do with the best upset. The best upset in the biggest game, okay, the Giants deserve, but the award was only best upset.

Again, I understand why the fans voted as they did, but that doesn't make it right. And so it goes with these awards. They aren't always going to be the most deserving selection. Similarly with another fan-voting award, title town is going to probably be New York, LA, Boston or Chicago. They have the biggest populace of fans.

But unlike the Titletown award, are the ESPYs necessary?

The one redeeming quality of the ESPYs, and the biggest reason to watch them, aside from seeing big stars get cracked on by other big stars (if that's entertainment), is that the ESPYs bring to light the stories in sports that you may not see otherwise.

Not everyone saw what happened in the Central Washington versus Western Oregon Softball game that won best moment in sports.

If you missed it, two Central Washington players carried a Western Oregon player around the bases after she hit a home run but blew out her knee coming around first. Teammates can't help a player around the bases, so in this case the opponent did. Central Washington lost the game, and the conference title to Western Oregon, but it was the ultimate act of sportsmanship in the past year.

Other things are recognized that carry greater meaning, like what is represented by the Arthur Ashe Courage Award which honors individuals for personal courage or charitable works done outside a sports arena. The 2008 award went to Tommie Smith and John Carlos for standing up to the idea that they were equal in athletic competition but not in everyday life during the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Jim Valvano, a former University of North Carolina State coach who died of cancer but started the Jimmy V Foundation that benefits cancer research is another story that is called to mind by the ESPYs. It's even the charity foundation the ESPY Awards benefits.

It's a given that fan voting won't always result in the most deserving award selections, but the ESPYs are the only place in sports where athletes from all sports can gather and recognize more important, symbolic occurrences.

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