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Thoughts on Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, Pre-Fight

Posted by Chris Bowen on May 2, 2015

mayweather-pacmanLet’s talk about the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight. Or more specifically, the recent history of pointing out that Mayweather is, inarguably, a terrible human being and that being a cause for boycotting the fight.

Not wanting to be a part of the ridiculous hype – and more ridiculous cost ($100! Plus some of the “licensing” companies that license the fight to bars are gouging prices) – of this excessive clusterfuck is somewhat noble. I personally have never really agreed with the notion that someone we don’t like politically should have their business destroyed, but this isn’t about politics; Floyd Mayweather gets away with beating women *constantly* specifically because he’s also very good at beating men who are trying to hit him back. Saying “screw you” to that is the least anyone can do.

But I have to ask: did you boycott boxing after Tyson was convicted of rape? Or do you boycott any of the other fights involving people who are, by and large, career criminals? Boxing brings in more criminals, charlatans and other mooks than any other sport *combined*. It’s essentially a lotto ticket for those that have no other chance, and a consistently good source of income for those who don’t fight but instead abuse their fighters (the poverty rate for even top-class prize fighters is *INSANE*). You frequently hear boxers referred to as, for example, a “young” 35. That’s code, as Bill Simmons pointed out yesterday, for “he spent a few years in jail”. There are very few good people in boxing, and many of the best fighters with the best fights ever are/were horrible, terrible human beings. Even Manny, who is being investigated for tax evasion, is no saint.

This fight, and Floyd’s past, are getting attention because of the sheer size and scope of the fight. Precious few people have pointed out Mayweather’s horrible baggage in the past (two of those, Rachel Nichols and Michelle Beadle, have just been denied press passes by the Mayweather camp). But the fight is $100 and the licensing costs are absurd specifically because people are *clamoring* to watch and will pay those prices. It sucks, and frankly I think even the power brokers in boxing know that this is the last, best chance at a massive payday as MMA takes over the gladiator spectacle, but don’t pretend that this sport was ever clean. This isn’t Ray Rice in the NFL; this is an entire sport of people who make Ray Rice look like a saint.

Bear in mind this comes from someone who grew up boxing. One key point in that: the gloves that fighters wear aren’t there for protection. They’re there to shorten fights, due to the increase in knock-outs from blunt force (the entire face takes the blow), to encourage fighters to throw to the face more, and to bring more fans in from the spectacle of a guy getting rag-dolled, which never really happened in bare-knuckle fights. They were never a safety concern, they were a capitalistic concern. That, in itself, should be just as much cause to leave boxing altogether as the fact that one of its many terrible human beings happens to be terrible to women.

Oh, the fight? Right. I think Mayweather wins enough rounds to win a split decision. That’s all he has to do. This is a bad matchup for Pacquiao, who relies on knockout power he doesn’t have anymore and who has a five inch reach disadvantage. So Mayweather can duck, duck, absorb shots with his shoulder, and keep hitting Pacquiao enough to score points.

And with that, and the crowd’s inevitable disappointment, boxing’s big fight era will very likely draw to a close. The management is too self-absorbed to let the truly good fights happen, and frankly, the public is waking up to just what a sham the sport is in terms of its disposing of fighters and its outright corruption. Even the WWE is less corrupt; at least there, you know everything’s scripted.

But then again, we’ve tolled the death bell for boxing before, and ultimately, aren’t my comments a major reason why it persists? Here I am, stating why boxing is terrible, then showing my knowledge of the sport and its mechanics to give an educated guess as to how a fight will go. Even with all of the above stated and understood, I still can’t just ignore it.

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The Bus Attempts To Preview The NHL’s Insane First Round Of Playoffs

Posted by Chris Bowen on April 15, 2015

yxrm83O7There’s nothing quite like the NHL playoffs. Baseball’s are at the end of a marathon and by the time they come, it’s turning cold and most everyone just wants to go home. Basketball is fun, but centered around too many superstars. Football is also great at playoff time, but it doesn’t take on the same cultural significance that hockey does to certain parts of the US and Canada. It’s one thing hearing a football stadium go nuts, but it’s another altogether to see 16,000 people in an enclosed arena going nuts while wearing all-white.

The best thing to say about the NHL playoffs is that they’re so awesome that even the NHL can’t screw them up.

To the NHL’s credit, they did their best to bring about a sense of rivalry with the move back to a divisional format, and this year’s playoffs comes with some ready-made hatred, particularly with the Canadian teams. This is a secondary subplot to the fact that the setups themselves are goofy when considering preseason predictions; both the defending champion Kings and defending President’s Trophy winning Bruins are out of the playoffs entirely. The first round is looking to be good; here, I’ll break them down and try to guess how they’ll play out.*

* – It’s important to note that I have *NO IDEA* what’s going to happen. This is going to be the equivalent of a monkey playing darts. The season was goofy, we have two teams carried in solely on the backs of their mediocre goaltenders getting white hot, and of the sixteen teams in the playoffs, there are about seven or eight legitimate contenders, of which five come from the same division. This season was bat shit. DO NOT make bets based on these predictions, because I have almost zero confidence on most of them.


Fans who like pretty numbers on the scoreboard might be a little bit disappointed in this series if things hold up the way they have in the season. On one side is Carey Price, who is almost surely going to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s overall MVP, let alone the Vezina. On the other is Andrew Hammond, the “Hamburglar” who got lit up in the minors, got called up to the NHL because Ottawa was literally running out of goaltenders, and then instantly became Ken Dryden in single-handedly carrying the Senators to the playoffs. Assuming he doesn’t become a pumpkin, the scoring will be low. Even better, these teams hate each other, and the last time they played, the series became a tire fire.

Ultimately, the Canadiens have a little bit too much for the young, relatively untested Senators. I don’t think Hammond will revert back to what he is – yet – but this is a bad matchup for Ottawa considering their strengths are the same as Montreal’s, and Montreal is better.



The Red Wings might be the weakest team in the playoffs other than the Flames, on paper. Normally, that would carry water, but if this was about roster strength the Kings would be in the playoffs and the Jets would be home. Furthermore, the Red Wings are still the Red Wings; they keep winning, as they have for two decades.

I think this is the final nail in the Red Wings’ coffin, though. They’re just not that good, and I’m surprised they made the playoffs. Detroit’s defence is solid, but their goaltending’s spotty, and Tampa can light up anyone in the tournament.

Congratulations to 20 plus years of success, Detroit. Take your curtain call and begin your rebuild in earnest.



It’s great to see the Islanders in the playoffs for their final season at the Nassau Coliseum, reliving memories of the 80s, before most of their roster was born. 

Unfortunately, the Islanders have an atrocious penalty kill, and Washington has one of the best power plays in the league. I don’t trust Ovechkin in the playoffs because he can’t shake the additional attention, and I surely don’t trust Braydon Holtby, but I think the Caps have enough to take out the Islanders for good, ironically closing out Nassau with a home team loss. As nice as it would be for the Islanders to take on the Rangers in the playoffs, I don’t see it happening.



The Rangers are flying, having won the Presidents Trophy despite the lengthy absence of all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist; if anything, backup Cam Talbot solidified a solid contract from another team. Furthermore, they’re deep, and their younger players like JT Miller and Kevin Hayes have fit in well with established veterans like St. Louis. And the defence, while lacking in top-flight, Drew Doughty superstars, is deep from one to six, from Ryan McDonagh down to the criminally underrated Kevin Klein.

Pittsburgh has superstars, for sure, but their defence is beat up, their goaltending is inferior, and I just don’t see a lot of direction from this team. If they’re going to advance, their goaltender will have to steal some games, and Crosby is going to have to take over, something that’s really not in his DNA; he’s a facilitator, not a cheerleader. And even cheerleaders can’t do much when they’re picking the puck out of their net all the time. It won’t be a sweep, but it won’t be close.



For anyone who wasn’t alive for the last time the cit y of Winnipeg saw playoff hockey – a non-remote possibility considering it was 19 years ago – let me just say that the city goes absolutely batshit. They might not have invented the whole “dress the fans in one colour” tradition – that’s Calgary’s “C of Red” – but they’ve surely perfected it, and the Winnipeg White Out will be rocking once Game 3 hits. By the way, the team is also a blast; they can score, and if the two headed goaltending monster of Ondrej Pavelic and Michael Hutchinson can hold up, this is a very winnable series, because Anaheim has holes.

The Ducks’ first line is far superior to that of Winnipeg, for sure. But they’re not that deep, and their goaltending has been flaky all season. Josh Gibson is the goaltender of the future, but he’s been iffy all year. If there’s a major upset candidate in the West, this is it.



There’s two ways of looking at this series. The first is that neither of these teams should be here. Vancouver’s old, slow, and unsettled in goal. Calgary was considered a frontrunner in the race for Connor McDavid, and their stats indicate they should be much worse than their record indicates. Basically, they’re this year’s Avalanche.

But on the other, it’s still the Canucks vs. the Flames, in the playoffs. Neither team cares that they’re not supposed to be here, and frankly, neither do the fans. This is going to be a bloodbath. These teams hate each other, their fans hate each other, and there’s a legitimate question as to how much is going to be left in the tank of whoever wins.

Vancouver’s goaltending situation is kind of silly – in one corner is Ryan Miller from Not!2010, in the other is Eddie “I’m The Better Goaltender” Lack – but it won’t matter in this series. Calgary is simply overmatched.



Wait, this is the 1 v. 4 matchup!? These are two of the best teams in the NHL! Holy crap, the Central was brutal.

This is basically St. Louis’s punishment for not winning the Western Conference outright. Minnesota has been a completely and totally different team since acquiring Devan Dubnyk, who would be getting more attention if he had a fast food related nickname of his own. Dubnyk went from likely being exiled to Europe after being let go by the three different teams – two of whom were the 2nd and 3rd worst in the entire league – to potentially playing on a Cup contender. As for the Blues, they have an incredibly deep roster and solid goaltending. Now, it’s time to make them realize it; goaltending controversies have marked the past few seasons in St. Louis, when the answer should be clear-cut (hint: the answer is “ride Brian Elliott until he drops”).

Because of the uncertainty in net – one bad goal could see Jake Allen in net – I have to give the edge to Minnesota.



Have I mentioned that the Central division is unreal? Because man alive.

Nashville was another team, not unlike Calgary, that was predicted to be near the bottom of the standings when the season started. But unlike the Flames, who have largely been opportunistic and lucky, the Predators have actually been good. They got the 2nd seed in the best division in hockey despite a below par season from Pekka Rinne, and are solid first to last.

But they’re not the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are basically the Spurs of the NHL at this point, where the season is secondary to the playoffs, knowing they can turn it on. They’re stocked, they’re stronger than Nashville, Corey Crawford is tremendously underrated even with a ring, and they should be able to handle Nashville.


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The Bus’s 2015 Major League Baseball Preview

Posted by Chris Bowen on April 8, 2015

1280px-Major_League_Baseball.svgMy Facebook page (which you should all like because it’s awesome and you all love me very much) is yelling at me because I haven’t updated in 11 days. Facebook cares not that I was in the middle of moving apartments and bring 35 years worth of crap with me in the process. Noooooooo! Sure, you’re in the middle of moving into a new condo with the love of your life, whatever, pay attention to meeeee!

Alright, Facebook. I will provide you with something I can crap out in my sleep: my thoughts on the upcoming 2015 MLB Season. An asterisk next to a team indicates a projected Wild Card pick.


1. Baltimore Orioles
2. Toronto Blue Jays *
3. Boston Red Sox
4. New York Yankees
5. Tampa Bay Rays

I don’t think Baltimore losing Nelson Cruz is going to hurt too much. He’s a strong hitter, but they have others, and his output is likely to be replaced just by Chris Davis coming back to form not that his medication is approved. I think the division will be close between them, the Blue Jays and the Red Sox. No one can pitch, but Baltimore’s pitching is somewhat less shitty than Boston’s and Toronto’s (Boston’s ace is Clay Buchholz, and he is, for lack of a better term, spineless). Taking up the rear are the Yankees, who will be good for back page fodder if nothing else, and the Rays, who will almost surely trade Longoria and are looking at heading back into another swoon. I almost guarantee this team will find a way to move within five years, and will finish last because of Joe Girardi’s brilliance.


1. Cleveland Indians
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Minnesota Twins

I’m not quite as high on the Indians as Sports Illustrated is – they picked the Indians to win the whole damn thing – but they’ll be good. They’ll beat out the vastly improved White Sox. I’m not buying Detroit this year; they’re old, they’re injured, and Miggy Cabrera can’t do it all himself. The Royals were a wonderful story last year, but I don’t think they can keep it up; a lot had to go right for them last year. Minnesota is going to be terrible, but that’s by design at this point. Enjoy the Torii Hunter retirement tour, and buy your Byron Buxton jerseys now.


1. Seattle Mariners
2. Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim*
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Texas Rangers
5. Houston Astros

As a Mariners fan, I am positively giddy for this upcoming season. A good rotation, a decent offence, no weaknesses, Seattle’s finally going back to the postseason. The Nelson Cruz signing will be ugly at the end of that contract, but it works for now. 2nd and 3rd will be close, but in the end, the Angels have Mike Trout and the A’s don’t. Both Texas and Houston will be bad, but at least the Astros have light at the end of their tunnel; in three years, everything we’re saying about the Nationals, we’re going to say about the Astros. Texas is in trouble, with injury, age and contract issues abound, but at least there’s help on the farm. No matter what, this looks to be the most exciting division in either league.


1. Washington Nationals
2. Miami Marlins *
3. New York Mets
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Philadelphia Phillies

Words are being thrown around to describe Washington – words such as “prohibitive favourite” and “162 game victory lap” – that will make anything short of a sweep in the World Series into an upset on par with Kentucky Basketball losing their chance at 40-0. The rest of the division is bad enough to make them at least winning the East a foregone conclusion. Miami has talent, as painful as that is to admit, as well as the best hitter in baseball and one of the best young pitchers. No one else in this division projects to be .500. The Mets will come close, but the Braves (who are already selling off players) and the Phillies will be atrocious; Philly looks to be the worst team in the majors.


1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Pittsburgh Pirates*
3. Chicago Cubs

4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Milwaukee Brewers

I want to put the Pirates at the top here, but the Cardinals are too good. Pittsburgh’s pitching isn’t as good as St. Louis’s, and the Cardinals have no discernible weaknesses. I think the division goes down to the wire, with the loser hosting the Wild Card game. The Cubs are going to be a fun team to watch, but they’re a year away from seriously contending for a wild card spot. I think the Reds hold off just long enough to prevent them from going into full rebuild mode because their stars are really good, which is better than I can say about the Brewers, who aren’t good and won’t be getting good any time soon; they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.


1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. San Diego Padres
4. Colorado Rockies
5. Arizona Diamondbacks

The Dodgers will win this division almost by default; the Giants might be the defending world champions, but losing Sandoval really hurts a team that already don’t have much power in a spacious ballpark. That doesn’t mean I like the Dodgers, mind; Yasiel Puig will be fun to watch if only to see how the normally staid baseball world reacts to his antics, but they have the look of a 100 win team that folds in the NLDS to me. I think the Giants could make the Wild Card if the Marlins didn’t play so many games in the putrid NL East. The Padres made so many changes that I don’t know what to make of them; they have the smell of a .500 team, but I wouldn’t be surprised no matter what. They could finish in the wild card, they could lose 100 games. Both the Rockies and the Diamondbacks will be very, very bad, but at least Arizona will be entertaining to watch for people who like crooked numbers.


The playoffs themselves are a crapshoot, as the 116 win 2001 Mariners found out. Predicting how they’ll play out in April could be accomplished just as easily with a dart board and a trained monkey. Just for giggles, I’ll predict how the playoffs would play out if everything above happened, though it should be noted my official playoff predictions are the same now as they will be in October, when we know who makes it: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

AL WILD CARD: Angels (H) over Blue Jays
NL WILD CARD: Pirates (H) over Marlins

ALDS: Mariners over Indians, Blue Jays over Orioles
NLDS: Nationals over Pirates, Cardinals over Dodgers

ALCS: Mariners over Blue Jays
NLCS: Nationals over Cardinals

WORLD SERIES: Nationals 4, Mariners 1. Welcome to your first World Series, Seattle! Unfortunately, Washington has a Cy Young candidate as their fifth pitcher (Doug Fister). Seattle doesn’t have the bats for that lineup.

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Richie Incognito And The Male Disease

Posted by Chris Bowen on November 11, 2013

incognitoI forget the guy’s name, but I’ll never forget the time my home town of Seymour effectively beat a kid to Florida.

The Seymour High School football team1, in my freshman year of 19952, got in a lot of trouble because the parent of one kid reported the hazing that her son – someone I knew, but wasn’t very good friends with – went through and wanted answers. What kind of hazing? How about softball-sized welts on his back from being whipped, while tied up, by weightlifting belts that reportedly were made wet to make them hurt more. Basically, imagine being hit by the leather part of a championship wrestling belt after it’s been sitting in water for an hour and you have an idea. That’s the kind of thing a plantation owner would do to a belligerent slave.

However, this woman and her family made one key mistake: they didn’t get anyone else on board. Other people who took that barbaric abuse didn’t back him up, and other players, upper classmen, called him out. Things only got worse from there, as the entire school, and eventually the entire town of Seymour turned against him and his family. I don’t remember specifics, but he got abused far more, and far worse, as time went on. Eventually, the family moved to Florida, and though I don’t know them personally, it’s patently obvious that they moved because their son was being abused to the point of cruelty, not just by the jocks who turned on him, but by a town that abandoned the snitch, the heretic, and the one who could have hurt the season of a team two years off a conference championship. I mean, God Damnit, we have to beat Torrington! We have to beat Torrington!!!

When I think of the barbarity of what Richie Incognito is guilty of, I think back to that 15 year old kid who was abandoned by adults because he was deemed soft by the kangaroo court of a small town who takes its football way too seriously.

”This is the male disease. It’s called, being full of shit!”
– George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops

The saddest part of the Richie Incognito abuse of Jonathan Martin isn’t that it pissed off a bunch of small town yokels who aren’t even blue collar enough to be called “hicks” and brought on predictably spastic responses. It’s actually been the response of people who report on, and are involved with, professional sports for their profession. Grown men who can no longer ignore the increasing cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy – C.T.E., or the degenerative brain condition that effectively killed everyone from Dave Duerson (NFL) to Bob Probert (NHL) – and the pain and despair players have after their playing days due to their inability to cope with post-athletic life, and who know these players directly, talk to them, are in the locker rooms, and have celebrated a game that slowly and depressingly has killed its athletes for decades to the point where the NFL had to give a bunch of them a lot of blood money to make them go away. Some guy named J.R. Gamble made a point that the NFL “doesn’t need anymore bad publicity” while calling Martin “soft”. In fact, Martin’s “softness” is at the crux of the whole reaction. Miami’s locker room has picked a side, and it was entirely behind the man who called his teammate a “half nigger piece of shit”. Laughably, players are even saying that the white Incognito is more black than the half-black Martin – that’s a whole other issue about just what “black” is, onto itself – because of his perceived sensativity, Stanford education, and his upper middle class upbringing. It brings back memories of old Chris Rock skits.

Some former players – with Mike Golic leading the charge – have said that instead of leaving the team and telling people about the voice messages and the payments for lunches, Martin should have just punched Incognito in the mouth. Because that’s what I want in my locker room, the threat of serious injury from two men over 300 lbs. having a fistfight because one threatened to harm the other’s mother. Honestly, the whole practice is a little barbaric, especially when it’s coming from Miami’s General Manager, Jeff Ireland, the same person who once asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. The implication is simple: if you, as a paid professional athlete, are not willing to punch another athlete to write some banal wrong, then you’re worthless, or “soft”. And here I thought we had evolved past being apes.

The poor fuck. The poor, stupid fuck.

Another sad commentary: I’m just as guilty as Richie Incognito. Maybe not to his degree, but I am far from being a pure advocate for a healthy work environment.

Really, it started in the military, or as I know it, the first time since 5th grade that I started to lose fist fights. “Clear the shop” was the universal sign that it was going to go down, and everyone would dutifully leave the room, mainly so there would be no witnesses. There were a LOT of fights, usually over something ridiculously petty; I can’t even remember the cause of most do my fights.

But when I think back, I remember how skeptically I would view people – even people in my work centre – who threatened that barbaric method of conflict resolution, because damnit, this system works for us! No one else gets what we go through, or how we do things! We address disagreements by bashing who we disagree with, because that’s how it’s done here, and if you don’t believe in that, you’re probably a sissy, or a fag! And those are bad, because they always have been!

Kind of sounds like “The Code” you hear all of these meathead players and jock sniffing writers refer to, doesn’t it?

Even now, thinking back, I can’t imagine my workcentre having the “kinder, gentler” rules that society would normally dictate on us. The same people who reversed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, fought against the cover-up attempts regarding Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, and who fought for justice regarding Abu Ghraib – all great things – I would view with outright revulsion and disdain were they to do that in my work environment in the Navy, despite the knowledge that that work environment has made my civilian adjustment that much harder. I routinely get myself into hot water because I handle civilian situations – in all of my various careers – the way I would in the military short of punching someone, and yet, I still would not change a thing from my early 20s. I would not change handling situations, and being handled, in a very bad way that human beings do not act like, because I look back later and say it worked, somehow.

In short: I advocate the very practice that I am now condemning.

The poor fuck. The poor, stupid fuck.

What else is notable about what I just stated about my Neanderthalic work environment, bred from a notable athletic career and carried through in the “service” of my country, is that it doesn’t work. I say that I would resist efforts to change it, but that’s only because it’s what I know; my own environment is viewed with 20/20 vision through rose-tinted glasses, but empirical evidence suggests that I am completely and totally wrong. My own career in leadership suggests that I’m wrong; the times I have handled situations with a deft, sensitive touch – or, dare I say it, a civilian touch – it has largely turned out well. Any time I have forgotten that I left the military ten years ago, and competitive locker rooms before my service time, it’s usually led to problems. I’ve also never hazed anyone in my life. Here’s how I’ve handled newcomers, in my work career and my hockey career, especially as a referee supervisor: I’ve shook their hands, welcomed them in, and made them feel comfortable, because we all have a common job. Simply put, I don’t have time to put Icy Hot on someone’s balls; we have real work to do.

That’s why I don’t take seriously the dinosaurs and star-struck writers who talk about How Things Are Done In The National Football League. These people, simply put, don’t know any better, and even if they did at one point, their minds have been made mush by a sport that routinely sends its players to the morgue early, if they’re lucky; ask the family of Kasandra Perkins about that. I’m happy that Mike Golic and his brothers have made a very good living off of football, sending their children to very good colleges while still being lucid into their 50s, but Mike Golic has sounded like the worst kind of ex-athlete this past week: like one who doesn’t know when to let go, and lets the past grip everything about him. What worked for him in the 80s works now, because fuck evolution. Oh, another ex-player committed suicide, how sad. Now, how will Pittsburgh’s line hold up against the San Francisco pass rush!?

I’m not seeing a whole lot of deep thinking about this, or at least some self-awareness, and that’s distressing, because here’s what I really think: the people who can’t even look past the fact that Richie Incognito Was Just Toughening That Stanford Educated Pussy Up, and Jonathan Martin Is a Crybaby And A Coward Who Violated The Code, are cowards. Weak willed, weak minded followers who would do anything to be accepted by men they deemed stronger than they were at the time, and demand that same acquiescence from those behind them. In a way, these men are just jock sniffers themselves, too battered by a system they’re afraid of throwing them overboard to question anything happening around them, desperate for validation; validation from their fathers, validation from their coaches, from their teammates, and from the crowds at their games. So long as the music doesn’t stop, they smile their empty grins, and keep bashing people, friend and foe alike.

Now, please tell me again that Jonathan Martin is the coward here.

The poor fucks.

The poor, stupid fucks.

1 – It should be noted that Seymour has fallen on hard times, mainly because apparently, all of their good players were from Oxford, who eventually got their own high school.

2 – If my antipathy towards Seymour High athletics sounds like it comes from someone who went to another school and made his athletic bones outside of high school, you’re right; I went to Emmett O’Brien. And petty high school squabbles are so CUTE! Have fun arguing over Seymour v. Naugatuck, guys. I’ll be doing playoff college hockey in March.

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Breaking Down Bad: The Subtle Changes of the Ageing Athlete

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 14, 2013

I’ve been involved in competitive athletics for my entire life. Be it hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer, boxing or even rugby, I’ve been athletic in some way, shape or form. I even spent my senior year as a male cheerleader1. This has been routine for me; I’m far from being a fitness warrior, but despite my weight – a shade under 260 these days, and fluctuating between 225 and 235 before getting injured recently – I have the ability to move quickly, gain speed, and have the endurance to referee multiple hockey games at a high level, one after another. Basically, at 260, I look like I’m 220, move like I’m 210, and would not look out of place on a small college’s defensive line.

However, I fear that those days are coming to an end. Not necessarily because I’m heavy – though that certainly doesn’t help my case – but just because of the creeping presence of Father Time. In athletic terms, I’m getting old, and the adjustment to that new reality is gradual enough to the point where I am constantly surprised at how the things that came easy for me in the past are coming harder now.

Since I hit adulthood, I have known my body pretty well. Not just the “stats” – how much can I lift, how far and fast can I run, what are my times in skating drills – but how my body reacts to and recovers from a serious workout. It’s hard to quantify into words, but it’s a give and take; I know generally how my body’s going to react to so much stimuli, depending on how much I’d been giving it prior. The less I’ve done for, say, a week, the more I’m going to feel it the next day after I give it a good rutting.

The only problem with that is that as I hit my mid-30s, the old rules don’t work anymore. I first noticed changes last hockey season. My feet were heavier, even if my overall weight wasn’t. My speed was down. I wasn’t getting from point A to point B as quickly. Sure, I *felt* like I was, but I felt like I had to sprint more to get to point B than I had in the past. As for agility issues such as getting out of a tight spot, forget it; there was a delay between my brain telling my body to move and my body finally getting around to it; the best athletic parallel would be to a baseball player’s bat speed slowing down, forcing him to anticipate pitches more. Needless to say, I got caught on my front foot, so to speak, more often than I was comfortable with last year. It became especially notable on a basketball court, where holes that I was used to hitting were closing a lot faster than I was used to. Are kids – I mostly play with and against teenagers or college students – getting faster, or is it me? I’ve always been big, but last year was the first one where I noticed it.

Furthermore, recovery was a problem. After a long weekend of games, I would go home baked, and would be almost useless the next day as well. I’m used to being tired, but not drop-dead exhausted. My energy reserves weren’t what they were. The obvious answer to many people is simply to drop weight, but even that takes more work than it did even a few years ago. With almost no changes to my diet except dropping soda, I was able to drop 30 pounds years ago by simply adding some cardio to my workout. Now, I can do all the cardio I want, and I might drop 5 pounds in a month, tops. Serious changes will have to happen to my diet – my entire lifestyle – in order to facilitate what are ultimately diminishing results.

Then, I hurt my ankle. First, I sprained the right one; then, I did something to the left one while favouring the right. The resulting pain from both cost me a week’s worth of work and essentially a month off of most physical activity. Immediately, I gained almost 20 pounds, just to start. Then, the rehabilitation started, and it was brutal. I don’t stretch as well as I used to, for one, and when I started getting more into cardio-based workouts, I wasn’t getting stronger, as quickly, as before, and my ability to move, while easy to come back from before, was now seriously hampered.

If all of these symptoms hit me at once, I think I’d have an easier time adjusting, but this has come on gradually. I’ve always said in the past “I’m not as ______ as I used to be” – fast, strong, agile – but it isn’t until recently when I looked around and noticed that this was a trend and not a blip. Of course, it’s natural for this to happen; in some sports, I would be well washed up even as a professional by now. Tennis players are usually done or getting there by the time they hit 33 – Roger Federer, probably the greatest tennis player I’ve ever seen2, is on the downswing of his career at 32 – and most soccer players are winding down at this age as well. Football players that aren’t kickers or quarterbacks are almost surely finished at this age. Basketball players start to trend downward by the time they hit 30; at 33, they’re usually well into their downswing. None of this softens the blow, mind you; you never know Father Time is near you until he taps you on the shoulder and says hello.

If one could apply the five stages of grief to my realization of my athletic mortality, I would just be getting past depression and into acceptance. During the season, I denied that I was slowing down; I just need to sleep more, do this, eat that, etc. Then I got angry (“why am I having struggles keeping up!?”), and bargained my way around it (“maybe if I try this instead, or take that pill in the morning…”). The depression’s the worst; the fear that the peak of a very real, and very severe, part of life has passed and it’s all downhill from here. The fear that though we’re slowing down now, that’s going to continue, against everything we do to slow down that process, until we become too old to reasonably perform at whatever it is we’re doing. Imagine doing something for your entire life, and then losing that thing, years before you even hit what people would consider “old age”; that’s what we go through as we hit the latter half of our life, and the mere thought of it is daunting, let alone actually experiencing it.

In the meantime, all I can do is keep working. Keep trying to eat better. Keep trying to beat times from my younger days that will become farther and farther from my reach as if they were being washed out on low tide. As my body continues to show the effects of wear, tear and youthful mistakes, I’ll need to not only learn, but accept that the journey will have to become more of a joy than the destination ever was.

1 – Don’t laugh. I had more fun doing cheerleading than I’ve had in any other “real” sport.

2 – Sorry, Sampras.

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The Price Of Misguided Bravery

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 7, 2013

It’s amazing the things that will stem from a joke.

A friend from work linked me to a piece about former Patriots star Teddy Bruschi performing Rush hist. Bruschi – who I don’t care for since his whole post-career path has been to talk bad about other players on the radio – singing Rush hits is so screwed up that my next joke was as easy as it was kind of cruel: “CTE is a cruel mistress”1; a bit of a cruel joke considering the effects it has on people, but maybe a bit more authentic coming from someone who has suffered ten recorded – recorded concussions, and who knows how many more that weren’t documented. It was his next statement that got my attention: “Bruschi has a stroke, and played damn near the next day”.

For some reason, apropos of nothing we had been talking about, a light bulb went on in my head. It illuminated, like a neon Eat At Joe’s sign, something that I hadn’t said in the past, and will come across as hypocritical for those who know me best:

What a fucking idiot.

As noted above, this is a curious statement from me. I did not receive ten recorded concussions by accident. A lifetime of athletics and a few timely accidents while in the Navy were enough for me, and on a couple of occasions – particularly one incident in 2004 – I came away much worse for wear, suffering from Post Concussion Syndrome, a fate I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

However, it’s not the concussions so much as it is the reaction to them. Each and every time I was able to, I either got up and finished what I was doing or attempted to. When I fell 30′ off an aircraft carrier onto a small boat so hard that I cracked a bulletproof windshield, I went on watch the very next morning. Every time except 2004 that I’ve received a concussion, I’ve finished the game, or slogged through it; the last one, I finished the tournament, the only exceptions being times when medical personnel have stepped in and intervened. Ultimately, I’ve always come back too quick, or never left a game or job when I should have, and this is notwithstanding other times I’ve had serious injuries, including a badly sprained ankles – plural – that had me trying to walk around work despite the fact that I literally could not walk. And I work a desk job.

Why would I go against my own body so many times? Blame machismo, or the fear of looking weak. That fear – of being fundamentally inferior to people around you who might or might not be tougher, and working through more, and destroying your usefulness as a human being by simply being more – has driven people to do desperate things for millennia. Ultimately, no one cares if you’re injured; dispose of the weak. All that matters is performance.

Any doubts as to this are quickly shuttered when hearing a fan talk about a famous athlete who’s injured. “What? I have to get up every morning and go to work, get that asshole on the field!” Oftentimes, being called soft is one of the worst insults you can give someone, weather in athletics or outside of it. So we do whatever we can to avoid that. Take Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins for example, who was almost legally dead by the time game 6 ended. For those who didn’t click through, he had, by the end of game 6, cracked ribs, a separated shoulder, and a PUNCTURED LUNG. He needed two nerve blocks to get through it… and yet, during the last shift of the season, the last minute and a half, the most important shift the Bruins have had in any of our lifetimes, he was trying to get the tying goal.

His opposite, also in Boston, is Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has been injured a bit lately, and even Dr. James Andrews is suggesting that his issues aren’t 100% physical. Due to this, the pitcher with the sub-2.00 ERA is being subjected to calls that he needs to be weeded out by the local blowhards on the radio, blowhards who say he doesn’t “fight”.

When I was younger, I would have called Bergeron a hero and Buchholz a sissy. I’m not so sure anymore.

Buchholz is basically being slammed for not pitching through pain – with a quirky motion that requires every part of his body to be working in concert, mind you – in the months of July and August. He’s actually said it’s not “do or die”, so it’s not a big deal, which doesn’t fly in Boston. And yet, isn’t Boston the last place the late Junior Seau played? That same Junior Seau who was so jacked up by concussions throughout his career with the Chargers and Patriots that he shot himself in the heart to preserve his brain? Seau was tough. Seau showed “fight”. And Seau, like Dave Duerson, Bob Probert and Chris Benoit behind them, are all dead, early, as a result of that toughness.

Answer me this, Bruins fans: is that what you want for Patrice Bergeron? Do you care if his injuries that he plays through now – and he’s had a few concussions already – come back to him in his 50s?

I’m glad that there’s finally pushback against this Neanderthal’s mindset. Writing for Yahoo!, Nick Cotsonika asked if Bergeron went too far in playing, and if the Bruins went too far in letting him on the ice, a viewpoint that is starting to see traction. While the usual jock sniffers in the Boston media were praying to the Bergeron altar, I was too chastened by the damaging effects of the “warrior” mentality – an utterly laughable idea for anyone who isn’t actually in a war where lives are at stake – to really think of Bergeron and his caretakers as anything other than fools and buffoons.

Yet having said all of that, the conditioning is very hard to eliminate. When I think back at all the times I either did myself harm, or could have, by hanging in there, including the time I finished that tournament on a concussion, when I think of doing anything differently, I flinch. The mere notion of appearing weak is stomach-turning, and even with the pain I endured, and the pain I will endure later in life, I can’t imagine going back and pulling myself from that tournament, or not going back on watch after falling off of an aircraft carrier. Even now, with hindsight being 20/20, I still have enough courage to endure tremendous amounts of pain and potentially crippling injury, but not enough courage to endure the possibility of a couple of simpletons questioning some vague notion of manliness.

I already live with the consequences of so many concussions, and so many other injuries. My time as a hockey player ended at 24 with a blown out ligament in my ankle that I never got properly fixed. My head injuries are already taking a slight toll on my life in minor ways that I have a feeling are going to add up over the years. Ultimately, I’m just a lower-level college official, in no way a professional level athlete. These guys are, and though they gain adulation and worship by people paying good money to watch them, I think it’s time we start asking if the price is totally worth it.

I’d love to ask Junior Seau if it is, but…

1 – CTE is short for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is basically a degenerative condition where the brain, after suffering repeat trauma, becomes more and more damaged, causing severe behavioural changes in people suffering from it. Picture a smokers’ lungs; that’s what CTE does to the human brain.

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USA Hockey’s Rule Changes, And The Competing Cultures Of Hockey

Posted by Chris Bowen on July 8, 2013

usahockeyIt’s rule change time at USA Hockey again, which is always a tumultuous time. USA Hockey has been very progressive organization when it comes to advancing the game for both the sake of skill and safety, and those efforts have met with predictable pushback from senior people. In a few instances, I’ve been part of the pushback. I wasn’t a fan of the Advanced Developmental Model1 (ADM) when it first started, figuring it would not help the kids enough to offset for the poor chances to develop younger officials, and would not teach proper positioning. I was mistaken in that; kids learned skills in ADM that they simply can’t learn full-ice, where all most kids seem to do is chase the puck, get rid of it as soon as possible if they get it2, and watch as one or two kids who are obviously better than everyone skate down and pot breakaway goals in the top-shelf of a net being tended by a goaltender who isn’t tall enough to reach that high. The alternative – having a way to teach children the skills of the game, keep them engaged – as noted in this must read piece, USA Hockey had been losing kids as they age – and get them ready for the higher levels at something beyond skating straight and playing dump-and-chase. They also got rid of body checking at the Pee-Wee (U12) level, figuring that children were getting hurt too easily at an underdeveloped age, and due to the fact that children hit pubescence at different times, some 80lb. kids were getting crunched by 140lbs. kids, and parents were pulling their kids. I still think this is a mistake; learning how to take a hit and keep your head up is an important part of the game, and instituting that into the game at bantams just means a slightly bigger kid is probably getting hit by a 170lb. kid moving even faster. However, I hope to be proven wrong about this once there’s enough data to go off of.

This year, USA Hockey decided to double down on past changes, and it’s going to cause a rough adjustment period for everyone involved at the intermediate stages of the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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