Mickelson and Caster Semenya lead the summer of sensational sport debates
Anyone who thought the NBA Finals were rigged for ratings was wrong considering the four-game sweep by the Golden State Warriors this month. LeBron’s gigantic mural is still prominent in downtown Cleveland — at least for a while as the city anticipates the King’s quick exodus to L.A. (Lakers) or Boston (Celtics) unless No. 23 mercifully extends his contract with the Cavaliers for another season or two.
The dominant summer sport story is supposed to be the 2018 World Cup being played in Russia. The most interesting story of the tournament thus far may be Burger King’s whopper of a mistake in advertising a ton of cash and lifetime supply of the famous burger for any Russian woman who gets pregnant from a player competing in the FIFA World Cup.
It’s still hard to swallow the fact that Panama, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iceland, and Tunisia are competing in Russia for the World Cup, while Team USA is licking their wounds back home. Granted, Saudi’s sport federation paid several Spanish teams for their players and Tunisia has competed in the World Cup four times prior, but it still doesn’t seem right that Team USA is on the sidelines. Incidentally, Tunisia is also hosting the 2018 African Sambo Championships this summer. Who knows, maybe Dancing with the Stars will make a live network appearance.
There are plenty of other relatively interesting sport stories brewing this summer. Intel, for example, is offering $10,000 to for ideas using artificial intelligence to enhance the 2020 Tokyo Olympic experience for athletes and fan. The World Arm-wrestling Federation, meanwhile, is lobbying for inclusion in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris. There are also some fascinating sports vying for future inclusion in the Olympics and the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta (Indonesia) is providing an international forum for Bridge, Kabaddi, Sepak Takraw, Jet Skiing, Paragliding, Pencak Silat, Washu, and Esports. The IOC is intentionally targeting a younger market with its choices of new sports and events for Tokyo 2020 which will feature 3-on-3 basketball, skateboarding, sport climbing, BMX freestyle cycling, and surfing. Esports may be a front-runner for the next round of sport additions in future Games.
Of course, professional sports continue to keep fans tuned to live events. Thankfully, the NBA and NHL draft shows are over without much fanfare compared to the NFL draft, but the cutest summer story has to be the adorable toddler who stole the show by insisting he had to throw the ceremonious first pitch all the way from the mound at the Cincinnati Reds game on a Friday night. Oh, and what about the brand-new NHL Golden Knights team almost winning the Stanley Cup in its inaugural season? Its insane to think any franchise can come that close to a championship in its very first year. Surely leagues are considering safeguards to avoid a repeat of the Knight’s improbable run.
The summer of 2018 has included a few interesting debates as well. Here are views on four current sport debates including Mickelson’s US Open extra putt that shouldn’t have been; whether Donald should have permitted a few Eagles to soar into the White House; legalized sport betting in Ohio; and the boundaries of gender testing for selected Olympic events.
1) Should Phil Mickelson be excused or chastised for deliberately hitting his moving ball that raced across the green after an errant putt during the U.S. Open?
The debate can lead to a discussion on consequential ethical decision-making, bending vs. breaking the rules, the degree of sensationalized public scrutiny for high profile athletes, golf-game etiquette, and the impossible pin placements on some of the greens at the Shinnecock Hills’ course. Mickelson knew what he was doing and counted his two-stroke penalty, so let the man alone. He received the same penalty as the duffer golfing playing for fun at Clinton Heights or the leader at an LPGA event if they committed the same infraction. It’s a penalty, a plain penalty. Too bad it was on national television, but that shouldn’t matter either.
2) Should Donald Trump be excused or chastised for un-inviting the NFL Super Bowl Championship Philadelphia Eagles to the traditional White House visit?
After all, the Eagles even awarded a championship ring to Carol Cullen, an employee whose position was eliminated several years ago after decades of service in an office job that experienced 7 coaching changes. Trump’s decision to rescind the White House invitation created a small political storm fueled by the league’s new ruling that players must respectfully stand during the national anthem or remain in the locker room. For whatever reason after the league’s announcement, only a handful of Eagles players were willing to make the trip to Washington DC, so the president pulled the plug on the entire visit. In retrospect, not one player on the Eagles team took a knee when the anthem was played during the entire season. Still, it was a boorish move on both parties to let ginormous egos dictate whether it’s okay to sit out a White House visit or to cancel a time-honored American tradition.
3) Should Ohio follow suit with Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey to support legalized sport betting?
The Supreme court’s recent decision to repeal a 1992 federal mandate paved the way for legal sport betting in individual states which has plenty of advantages (good tax benefits) and disadvantages (higher attendance at Gamblers Anonymous meetings). Even legal opposition by the NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA, and NCAA didn’t have an effect on the outcome of the Supreme Court decision. The day is coming when fans can sit in their seats at a professional MLB game and bet on whether the next pitch is a strike or whether the coin flip at an NFL pre-season game will be heads or tails. Most countries in Europe already endorse legal online betting in much the same manner that recreational marijuana is legal across many parts of the region. In America, there is a surging presence of politicians ready to capitalize on the tax benefits of legalized sport gambling in much the same way individual states are dealing with legalized marijuana. Yes, there are pros and cons, but the Supreme Court made it clear that each state can decide what is best for their particular borders. So far, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and Rhode Island are on deck to become the next states hoping to reap the benefits of legal sport gambling. Ohio is on the short list of the next wave of states contemplating the move. There should be no doubt that Ohio should boldly move forward and embrace the inevitable as opposed to being one of the last states to take advantage of legalized sport betting. It’s better to be a relative front runner than a laggard.
4) Should an international sport federation set limits on the level of testosterone that a female can have in her body to compete in a women’s event?
A sex chromatin test more commonly known as the buccal smear (e.g. swabbing the inside of a cheek with a Q-tip) was used to determine the gender of Olympic athletes back in 1968 when a number of East German males masqueraded as females in many events. At least a handful of Olympians since have been disqualified or stripped of a medal for failing a gender test. This summer, the International Association for Athletics Federation (IAAF) is being challenged in the Court of Arbitration for Sports by South African gold medalist Caster Semenya who claims the organization’s new ruling over testosterone limits for mid-distanced female runners is unfair. The new IAAF mandate requires a female with high testosterone levels to compete in a men’s division or take medically-unnecessary androgen-suppressive drugs to reduce their hormones to a level acceptable to compete in the women’s competition.
The controversy is tremendous given the implications for inner-sex and transgender individuals or those like Castor beset with hyperandrogenism (elevated testosterone levels). It has been a controversy for a very long time and yet it doesn’t seem right that an organization can bar a biological female from competing because of her natural testosterone levels. Certainly, there needs to be a means to distinguish a man from a woman for competition that is classified according to gender. The IAAF singling out mid-distance sports seems biased. Bill Nye the Science Guy needs to weigh in on measures that can be imposed confidentially across all sports with gender divisions and not just track and field mid-distance races. Otherwise, why haven’t other sports used the same threshold to bar women from competing in a female division? It is utterly ridiculous!
Stay tuned next month for more fascinating sport stories and to start reading about the Olympians coming to town for Elite Sport & Culture Week in October. Youth in grades K-6 should visit the YMCA and library this summer to earn a sport bag, water bottle, and picture with an Olympian at the Festival of Champions October 23. For more information on the Olympians and events October 20-25, access www.tiffin.edu/elite
Bonnie Tiell is a professor of sports management at Tiffin University