What’s a sports column without strong feelings now and then?
• No athlete should have to stand for the American National Anthem (or any anthem played before a sporting event). Such freedom of expression is part of this country’s foundation. That said, when an athlete chooses to make a point by ignoring this custom, he or she has earned questions, criticism, and from some corners, ridicule. Those reactions, of course, are part of a protester’s intention, for what they reveal about the larger population. Care must be taken in choosing when and how to protest a custom like standing for the anthem, the objective being (presumably) positive change and not merely back-and-forth among sports columnists and such. Once you’ve taken a knee during the anthem, what do you want to happen — what must you see? — before you stand again?
That said, we’ve arrived at a moment — thanks in part to Colin Kaepernick — where we should be able to intelligently discuss when and how “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be played. I’m of a mind the song should be played at significant events, but not necessarily every last pro (or college) baseball, basketball, and football game. The World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, Final Four, college bowl games ... these are events of a scale that merit a standing acknowledgment of our country’s freedoms, best symbolized by our flag and our national anthem. When the anthem is played on a Wednesday night in August at a Double-A baseball stadium with 600 people in the stands, is that saluting our country or making the anthem the equivalent of turning the lights on?
• College football needs to reduce its regular season to 10 games. If you were tracking AAC scores on the night of September 24th, you followed Houston’s 64-3 thrashing of Texas State, UCF’s 53-14 mauling of FIU, and the Memphis Tigers’ 77-3 destruction of a team once known as the Bowling Green Falcons. Every September, such scores are posted around each weekend’s thrillers — and yes, there are early-season thrillers between teams of similar collective talent.
But if we’re going to take seriously the health hazards of football, 77-3 “contests” must be eliminated. They are no longer interesting in the second quarter, yet large young men are forced to collide with one another for two more hours.
Let’s start with the elimination of games between FBS and FCS programs. (Sorry North Dakota State. Keep winning those national titles.) Every team will play eight conference games (no more), and thus have two non-conference tilts to schedule for cross-regional affairs like USC-Notre Dame or intrastate (non-conference) rivalries like Florida-Florida State. And that will be enough. Heck, with 10 regular season games (two bye weeks for every program), perhaps we can give some thought to an eight-team playoff.
• Athletes’ use of a name’s suffix on their uniforms has gotten out of hand. You’ve seen “Griffin III” on Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III’s jersey. Or “Beckham Jr.” above the number 13 on Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s back. Someone named Carl Edwards Jr. pitches out of the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs. On the back of his jersey: “Edwards Jr.”
These are all misrepresentations. The Browns quarterback is Robert Griffin III (not “Griffin III”). The Cubs pitcher is Carl Edwards Jr. A suffix is applied to a person’s name when he (typically a boy) shares the given name of his father. Technically, every human being who shares a surname with his (or her) father is “Surname Jr.” So almost every jersey in professional sports could have “Jr.” or “III” applied ... incorrectly.
The two most famous Juniors in baseball history — Ken Griffey and Cal Ripken — did not wear “Jr.” on their jerseys. And Junior Griffey was briefly a TEAMMATE of his father’s. If they didn’t add the superfluous suffix, no athlete should. I share this particular strong feeling as Frank Murtaugh III. I’m grateful for having been named for my paternal grandfather and my dad. But I’d be slighting my long-departed great-grandfather to suggest I’m merely “Murtaugh III.”