Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #121 Groundhog Day

(This will appear in my column in the Monday, August 25, 2008 edition of the Business Mirror.)

Groundhog Day
by rick olivares


Do you ever get the feeling that after every major sporting event it’s like Groundhog Day? Surely you must know of that Harold Ramis film about a man (Bill Murray) who finds himself living and repeating the same day over and over again until he reexamines his life and makes amends. Although the movie did not break box office records, it has been listed as one of America’s most culturally important films of all time and the phrase has become a popular expression for a never-ending cycle of unpleasant situations until eventual redemption.

It’s something we should be all too familiar with by now. You know… country sends team to some competition, cash prizes are promised, athletes fail to perform, officials say that we got screwed, there are calls for reorganization, people sound off the development of a grassroots program and training abroad, and others on the opposite spectrum say that we shouldn’t nitpick and instead laud our athletes for their efforts.

It’s like a news wheel only it’s every other year. It’s like that watching Jerry Maguire only it’s a never-ending journey. It’s frustrating because I think we could be better than that.

I did keep tabs on how our athletes fared but was enthralled by the Redeem Team, Lauren Jackson, Michael Phelps, the Argentinean football team, questions about citizenship and age, and the gymnastic and volleyball events. So when it was official that we were going home empty handed, I felt bad for a moment then focused on the bronze medal Women’s Basketball match between Russia and China. I was disaffected by willful separation.

A quick glance at how our neighbors fared in the medal tally (as of Sunday morning) illustrates how we’ve been left behind:

Indonesia 1 gold, 1 silver, and 3 bronzes.
Thailand 2 golds and 2 silvers.
Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam have a silver each.

Of the four, it is Vietnam that spends much less on their sports program yet they managed to bring home at least one medal. As for us, I wouldn’t even begin to know what the solution is since I am only an outsider looking in. But from what I can tell and see, you have the same people running the show year in and out from the National Sports Associations to the National Leadership and they have no accountability.

Maybe we are deluding ourselves. Maybe we aren’t good enough and should instead concentrate on other things. Sure we bettered local or regional records but a lot of other athletes shattered world records in devastating fashion.

And what’s the solution – to invite Natalie Coughlin to swim for us? To bring in more Fil-foreigners to play for us. Great! While we’re at it, maybe we should ask the Fil-foreigners to run the NSA’s after all, even the dinosaurs in place aren’t doing a good job.

The naturalization issue is a joke and the IOC should seriously look into that. If Becky Hammon is Russian and Chris Kaman German then I’m the heir of an Arch Duke of Spain. If it’s a legalized way of improving one’s athletic standings then I think we should look into it but for long-term commitments rather than one-and-done deals. Yet we should only do so with a solid grassroots program in place.

There’s a cultural difference between us and other nations since sports figures so prominently in their lives. It’s in their blood, their literature, and their national consciousness. As early as their primary schooling years, some know nothing but to train and compete for they have embraced sports as their life.

There’s a bright side however on how sports is perceived here in the country. More and more people are getting involved on various levels. Yet still, outside basketball and boxing, most aren’t even worth a career.

Many question the preponderance towards basketball even if we’ve sent souped-up squads we’re still on the sidelines. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned from how America addressed the debacle of 1988 in Olympic Men’s Basketball and see how we can apply it to everything else.

There was a change in the way the American team was formed. The days of amateurs were obviously over and FIBA President Boris Stankovic thought that the competition – including the Olympics -- should be the best versus the best. And once that barrier fell down (they had to wait for the NBA to say yes since they were initially against it) the formation of the team organization had to change. The best American basketball minds were brought in and they all agreed that there would be no need for tryouts. After all, everyone knew what the NBA’s best players could do. The task instead lay in choosing the team. If an All-Star Game is already controversial for some deserving ones being left out, then how much more for a 12-man roster for the Olympics?

The choices entailed two things: a commitment to flag and country and choosing players who can play multiple positions. The problem of the 1988 squad was they only had one shooter in Hersey Hawkins and once he went down with an injury, opponents threw fierce zone defenses that negated the American’s natural athletic talent and the game became one of outside shooting. The evolution of the hoop player with his myriad of skills allowed them to play inside and outside and the NBA had a bevy of them to choose from.

As for the coach, he should have not only pro basketball experience but must have spent considerable time in college ball. Of course, the results and aftermath of the Dream Team have been recounted countless times in various media.

I wonder at times if the teams that we send are truly representative of the best we have to offer. Many do not compete because the lure of more money in professional competition and to play for national pride is debatable and questionable. Some are victims of politics while others are below everyone’s radar. I don’t know everything for I’m just an outside guy looking in. But one thing is clear, things have to truly change or else, well… it’s Groundhog Day.

Towards the end of the film Groundhog Day, Murray’s character, Phil Connors wakes up one day to find out that the world has finally turned on its axis and it’s no longer February 2 – the day that repeats itself time and again until he’s learned his lessons in life. With subdued glee, he pulls close actress Andie MacDowell’s character, Rita, who he’s been trying to court for the longest time and asks, “Do you know what today is?”

“No, what?”

“Today is tomorrow. It happened.”

Right. And it’s high time we got there.

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