Archive for June, 2014

This is not my first blog post on this topic and will likely not be my last, but the narrative has officially gone too far. It is time to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

Two posts gained broad attention in the past 24 hours and neither of them are the types of stories that Washington should be promoting or that fans should be dealing with.

The first was what appeared to be a 50-year celebration photo of the Washington Cheerleaders. In poor taste, the costumes ranged from the more common style of cheerleader uniforms we see today to dressing up in stereotypical clothing representing Native Americans. When the cheerleaders were first introduced to the team in the 1960s, the stereotypical costume was something that barely attracted any negative attention. Interestingly when considering that this was during the time of civil rights, Washington ran with the cheerleader uniforms until sometime during the 1970s. There was a fringe element that was maintained over the next couple variations, but this style of uniform would never be accepted by the public with today’s social climate. In comparison to other challenges with the team image, this falls more toward the poor taste side of the continuum compared to the outright offensive.

The second article came straight from the organization’s playbook. With pressures coming from 50 US senators and countless other groups, there was bound to eventually be a more marquee supporter outside of the Washington organization. Enter Democratic Virginia senator Chap Petersen. Leading the charge, he has developed the group Redskins Pride Caucus, aimed at defending the use of the name and images. Claiming the representations as¬†“symbol[s] of unity,” he blasted the recent climate as socialist and the attacks on the team as unjust. The article seemed to be missing one very important element…actual discussion of the name. As much as they talked about wanting to defend it, there was no defense provided for the term’s actual meaning.

Outside of these two recent posts, there are plenty of other discussions, videos, and blogs highlighting the issue. The ones that demand a change are more direct and poignant about why the name is offensive, citing definitions and historical use of the term. There is some flaws with these posts, at the same time. One of the things that Washington has been able to do relatively effectively is craft a narrative where Native American support is strong and a large majority of surveyed Native Americans have supported the continued use of the name. ESPN’s First Take took on this debate, where Stephen A. Smith discussed this challenge and how his resistance¬†to the continued use of the name was fading in light of the strong documented/reported support from Native American representatives and with consideration of the early history of the team. The team was the Boston Braves for the first year and turned into the Boston Redskins, with 4 players identifying as Native American. Because the team has maintained the Redskins name for the vast majority of their history and with Native Americans associated with the organization, there are elements of a¬†case for their name support.

But then you have to think about the definition of the word and the potential true impact of the name publicly. While many supporters of the name abhor the idea of going to the encyclopedia definition, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as American Indian (dated or offensive). The definition continues to discuss that there were three variations of the name (redskin, Red Man, and Red Indian), none of which are positive or remained neutral. The first two were originally used to distinguish the native peoples living in North America and their affinity for using face paint, but the terms eventually were used in a disparaging fashion. The final one was more of a British term but quickly turned negative in line with the other challenging terms used in the US. There are records that highlight the use of the term in treaty negotiations during the early centuries of the US and would support a more accepted use of the term, but more examples exist of the negative representation of Native Americans with Redskins¬†as a slur in printed announcements that document the hunting and killing of the population during the 19th and 20th centuries. Some references actually attributed the term to the scalping of Native Americans in the collection of bounties. Persecution and discrimination tend to be intertwined with the narrative of the term’s history.

During the history of the team, the term has more broadly been considered a racial slur but was used to distinguish between the Boston Braves baseball and football teams. When the team moved to Washington, the Redskins label followed it. Throughout the team’s early history, there are few records that highlight public attention to the term, but that started to change around the Civil Rights movement. There have been judicial battles, conflicts between students and school administrators, and discussions in the public forum over the past 40+ years. High schools and colleges have mostly moved away from the use of the name and some courts have banned¬†the use of derogatory terms, including the term Redskins. Meanwhile, Washington has refused to make the same change because of their commitment to the tradition and the blinders-crafted story of the honor and pride behind it.

So there are a few big questions that remain…

  • How many people (or what percentage of the population) of Native American heritage have to be offended for the change to occur?
  • Because the likelihood of the change will be determined by the economic impact during the social and political battle,¬†is this the only way to make change or is there a preponderance of evidence that would overrule the economic impact?
  • Would the NFL owners ever step up the way the NBA did in the Donald Sterling situation to put the issue to a vote?

I do not have the answers, but there is something else that I do believe could be a difference-maker. The news about the team over the past 2 decades has not been that great with regards to the performance. Since 1992, the team has been to the playoffs only 4 times. They have only won the division twice in that timeframe. In addition, there have been 8 different coaches, not including Jay Gruden and 21 different starting quarterbacks. In the past 10 years, the offense and defense has fallen below the league average more than above. RGIII has provided some excitement, but the overall optimism levels have diminished and are tempered until tangible proof reveals itself. Fans are loyal enough, but performance needs to improve soon before…the only narrative about the team is the name controversy.

Washington+Redskins+v+Minnesota+Vikings+9JRZzNcannIl

 

One of the possible consequences of this situation is that regardless of the performance, the team may be hammered in the media about the name from both sides. When the team played against the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, a protest of hundreds of people took place on the Thursday prior to the game. This was not the first and it certainly will not be the last. If the team does well and goes to the playoffs again, more protests like this could continue to sprout up. Many of the protestors are not of Native America heritage, but the vast majority in the protests are. If this is not enough to get attention, the team is in for more and more turmoil for its foreseeable future. Performance will take a backseat, as it has during this offseason, to the continued outrage over the stubbornness of an owner and organization.

I want to finish this post by stating that I am a huge supporter of the team (minus the name) and will continue to support them. The history and the future of this team does not need to be blanketed by a poor decision back when the¬†franchise was formed and we have an opportunity to return the conversation about the team back to football. I am almost to the point that I don’t even care if the name ends up being something off-the-wall ridiculous with no actual ties to the nation’s capital or surrounding area, as long as it abandons the continuation of racists themes.

Change the name, change the narrative. It is that simple.

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Spurs-win-NBA-title-jpgWell that was anticlimactic…

The NBA finals ended in a somewhat predictable way given the first game of the series and the similar results over in the NHL. The Spurs wrapped up Game 1 with a 15-point victory at home. LeBron was the only Heat player to score over 20 points, though Wade and Bosh were not too far behind. The bench was abysmal, with the exception of Ray Allen’s 16 points. On the other side, the Spurs only had 1 underperformer, Kawhi Leonard, while the rest of the starters had at least 13 points and Ginobili added an 16 more points. The Spurs out-rebounded Heat by 10 and had 14 more assists. The Heat also fell into foul trouble early. All of this was in addition to LeBron’s struggles with the lack of air-conditioning and early exit from exhaustion. That early exit had little to do with the actual end result of the game, as the Spurs really just surprised and outplayed the Heat at almost every aspect of the game.

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at San Antonio SpursMoving forward, the rest of the games were mostly dominated by the Spurs, with the exception of close Heat win in Game 2. Specifically for the only Heat win, the 2-point victory came at the hands of LeBron’s 35 points and solid performances from Lewis, Bosh, and Wade. They were better with rebounding but still struggled breaking the defense and finding assist opportunities. The Spurs were a little more muted in this game, with the best performances coming from Duncan with 18, Ginobili with 19, and Parker with 21 points. Neither of the benches were that strong and the other starters were also a little weak.

dm_140616_nba_legler_lebron_futureThe rest of the games were essentially blowouts. While LeBron was still averaging about 28 PPG throughout the playoffs, his supporting cast was failing him. Wade was still a contributor but could not provide defense to save his life. Bosh was also involved but faded in and out. The reliance on the 3-point shot is still a bit of a mystery when considering that he was playing the PF-C spot and provided little rebounding and defensive support. Ray Allen seemed to still have some pep left off the bench but could not do enough to make up for the starter inconsistencies and he could not serve as a regular starter. Lewis disappeared in Games 4 and 5, but was able to help a little with the points through most of the other games. The point guard position has to be the biggest focus for the off-season. Wade cannot slide to that position anymore with his lack of the mobility he once showed off. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are not accurate and not the answer when playing against the best of the NBA. If the Heat want to return to and compete for another championship, they will need to find a point guard who can actually pick up assists and score from the arc when open. No bench meant no chance to win.

duncanfiveAs bad as the Heat were in comparison to their previous playoff series, the Spurs were really just that good. Duncan’s potentially final season was capped off with him being able to consistently be a top scorer without needing to move, jump, or seemingly try. Parker is just as fast as earlier in his career and was able to score at will throughout the series. Ginobili seemed to be able to score without issue from the arc and greatly boost the teams bench performance. Besides the big three, Kawhi Leonard has risen as a possible future star for the team. While his MVP status may have been a little hasty, his performances in the final three games was almost as impactful as LeBron’s for keeping the Heat in any contention. The rest of the bench was able to contribute just the right elements to help the blowout wins happen. Patty Mills likely is¬†the future at the point and Danny Green has a chance to be a major player as well.¬†Bosh should take a look at Splitter/Diaw to see how a successful center should play the position. The Spurs earned that championship and no one should take that away from them.

nba-finals-2Ultimately, the conversation will still be about the Heat. While some will take a bit of time to talk about the Spurs and their formula or the pending retirements of some of the key players, but the future of LeBron and the coming Heat changes appear to be more interesting. There are already comparison of some of the NBA’s best in terms of their awards and honors, with Duncan being the closet in individual success compared to Michael Jordan, with LeBron falling short in the fourth spot. There is already a lot of pressure and hate against LeBron, and most of it is completely undeserved. There are times that he is a little arrogant or comes across a little boastful, but that is the life of a superstar. That life also knowingly incurs the hate from people who are jealous or just love to hate talent. If the Heat had anything to appreciate, it had to be LeBron’s performance. He tried to stay confident and tried to stay positive, but he proved his talent on the court. The team forced him to be more of a selfish player when they failed to be accurate as he passed off the ball. When the Heat fell quickly in the quarters that LeBron failed to score regularly, his supporting cast could not step it up. LeBron is the Heat’s future, or a team that can lure him away. If the Heat will fix their problems, it will be to replace either Wade or Bosh and fix the problems with the point guard. They could also use at least one more significant contributor from the bench.

The Spurs can celebrate their 5th championship and figure out their future, but fans and analysts are likely going to overemphasize the future of LeBron and the Heat.

Postseason Highs and Lows

Posted: June 11, 2014 in Basketball, Hockey

The NHL and the NBA are both deep in their playoffs and nearing the ends of their respective final series. There is a lot to be excited about with the way both sports have produced exciting match ups, but it seems to be ending with a little less of that energy that has made both playoffs so enjoyable.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-New York Rangers Media DayAdmittedly, I am not an NHL fan and have not closely followed the playoffs, but the path to the championship was filled with exciting moments. The finals opponents did not get to their positions without some trial and strife. The LA Kings may have won Game 7 against the Sharks in convincing fashion, but they were taken to a 7-game series to move ahead. The trend continued in the conference semifinal as the Kings were taken to the brink again against the Ducks. The Blackhawks were thought to be the team to be able to stop the Kings run, but fell short again in another Game 7.

In the Eastern Conference, the Rangers started with a tough series against the Flyers and finished with a 2-1 win in Game 7. Initially down 3-1 in the series against the Penguins, the Rangers were able to find their stride and win 3 straight to gain entry into their conference finals. They were not a stifled in their conference championship, finishing the series in 6 games with a combination of convincing wins and overtime thrillers.

quick1-594x360The finals have not been nearly as thrilling, unless you count the first two games going to overtime and the second game being a double overtime. Regardless of the closeness of the first few games, the 3-0 victory in Game 3 was much more convincing for the Kings and puts them in place to finish the series tonight. It looks like the Rangers will likely fall short within the next two games and the Kings will gain the title of champions for the second time in three year. I may not be watching the game tonight, but hockey fans should be prepared for a fight in Game 4.

Moving on to the NBA…

NBA-finalsThe Spurs and Heat are matched up for the second straight year and the finals look like they are falling into the same pattern. The teams did not have the same struggles as their counterparts in the NHL. The Spurs had the roughest time with their first round matchup against the Mavericks, but breezed past Portland and Oklahoma City into the finals. The Heat similarly breezed through their conference, with only a slight push from the Indiana Pacers and a touchy Lance Stephenson. Prior to the finals, the Wizards were able to boast their ability to move past the first round for the first time in their franchise history and Damian Lillard had one of the most exciting shots of the entire playoffs as the Blazers finished off the Rockets in the first round.

NBA: Finals-San Antonio Spurs at Miami HeatEntering into the finals, the Spurs were leading in almost every major statistical category, with the exception of FG%. In the first and third games, the Spurs demolished the Heat and made the series look like the Heat have virtually no chance of a three-peat. In both games, the Spurs only needed relatively short blocks of time to make the Heat defense look like they came from the D-league. Point guard play seems to be the problem for Miami, with no one able to cleanly match against Parker and Leonard. Chalmers and Cole cannot seem to score accurately or provide any real defense to stop the point. In Game 3, the Spurs were freely scoring with 71 points in the first half and 19 of their first 21 shots to start the game. The younger talent on the team seemed unable to miss. The Heat were able to steal Game 2 but need to prove something in Game 4 if they want to appear to have any chance to come back in the series.

Interestingly, my greatest fascination is actually with the postseason already. Since the series looks like the Heat could fold way too easily this time around, the result of the finals and its meaning in the postseason seems much more intriguing. The Donald Sterling drama will continue to linger, as he refuses to let the sale go through and acknowledge that public opinion is significantly against him. Regardless, the Heat losing could mean major changes in the league to greatly affect the next year. The Spurs are near the end of their dominance in the Western Conference. Duncan, Ginobili, and Popovich are close to the end of their careers, and Tony Parker has a lot of milage on him. The young guys are good, but their future will be questionable without the veteran leadership.

The Heat are seemingly in the middle of their dominance in the Eastern Conference, but Dwayne Wade seems to be a little too banged up to be considered a longterm continued star for his home team. LeBron is polarizing but mesmerizing at the same time. Where he goes, the rest of the league tunes in. If the Heat win, he will definitely stay in South Beach, but there could be changes if they lose. Melo seems to be the talk of the NBA with regards to being the latest move to the Heat, but the Big 3 and Melo would have to take pay cuts to all work together. With Chris Bosh seeming to be comfortable in Miami, this is now a more complicated situation than prior to Melo’s or the public’s interest in an enhanced Heat squad.

NFL and college sports may be where I put most of my attention, but these championship series still deserve their due.

Evolving before the rest of the industry could catch up, Nintendo advanced to a place that open new doors for game development. While Sony, Sega, and Microsoft were all creating games that had a 3-dimensional concept, Nintendo used polygon graphics to get that z-axis to perform greater than could ever be predicted. The system started with its quintessential Mario game, but Pilotwings jumped in to help highlight what the new graphic style could do to revolutionize the possibilities in gaming. Large, free-range environments began to become the standard and characters had more malleability and mobility than the past.

The N64 came at a pivotal point in the industry as well. Nintendo had stuck with cartridges for their entire existence, but the rest of the industry was switching to CDs for storage considerations. Sticking to their guns, Nintendo believed the cartridge still provided better opportunities for file saving, load times, and cleaner gameplay. While it seemed to work in the short term, the system’s end came when CD (and eventually DVD) technology outshines the capabilities of the cartridge. While Nintendo still tried to break convention, they had left a ton of titles that deserve attention and praise for their lasting impact on the industry.

Honorable Mention:¬†Turok: Dinosaur Hunter; Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire; Yoshi’s Story; Pilotwings 64; Wave Race 64; Banjo-Tooie; Donkey Kong 64; Mario Tennis; Pokemon Stadium; Pokemon Snap; Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards; Diddy Kong Racing; F-Zero X; Star Wars: Rouge Squadron; 1080 Snowboarding; WWF: No Mercy; Paper Mario; Resident Evil 2; Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater; Conker’s Bad Fur Day

10) Mario Party183539-mario_party_3__u_

Party games had never truly existed before. There was no genre to define the type of game that pitted more than two players against each other that could not cleanly be defined as an action-adventure game or fighting game. Mario Party changed the video game universe with the way that it engaged players of all ages and incorporated ways to even out skill level without luck being too big of a factor. The mini games within the greater package may have been simplistic (and a few of them frustrating), but the variety and creativity is something to honor. This game paved the ways for a whole series to be constructed simply around Mario-based mini games, but eventually this led to a whole new slate of games that could officially be deemed party games.

9)¬†The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s MaskThe_Legend_of_Zelda_-_Majora's_Mask_(North_America)

First of all, this is not the only Legend of Zelda game to grace this list. The reality is that Nintendo had a gold mine and found just the right way to engage it. Majora’s Mask was a bit of a diversion from the previous Zelda game, in that it was darker, stranger, and more nuanced than its predecessors. Link, after the events of a previous game, found himself in the woods with Epona. Getting attacked by the Skull Kid (wearing a special mask), Link ends up in a new land and is commissioned to save it from destruction before the Moon crashes into the world. As young Link throughout the game, he uses masks to engage and extract special abilities to traverse his new land. The game was full of strange characters, interesting side quests, and creepy bad guys. It may have been difficult for some to pick up as easily as other games on this list, but it was truly a treasure for this system. (The commercial is for a remastered version of the game.)

8) Perfect Dark71fzEw4A6IL._SX300_.gif

This is one of those games that I heard plenty about but never actually got the chance to play it myself. Based off of the¬†Goldeneye 007¬†engine and due to the company’s inability to produce a sequel off of the successful first-person shooter,¬†Perfect Dark¬†rose to more of a cult status (since it was not a known story) but was able to improve upon the presentation of the 007 game. Surprisingly, the multiplayer was actually on par (if not slightly better) than its well-known predecessor. The only thing that is really hurting this game’s ability to move up on this list is the fact that I never played it and probably never actually will. I’ve moved on…

7) Banjo-Kazooie1159001550-00

As far as 3D platformers go, this was an odd one. Vegetables with eyes. Inanimate objects coming to life and needing your help. And a witch that seems to keep leaving the door open for you to upgrade your abilities and match her power. Just plain weird…but worth all of the oddities. Two friends joined together closer than the movie¬†Stuck on You. Banjo is the more powerful, bumbling one, while Kazooie was more finesse and sass. The banter made the game truly enjoyable and the creativity of Rare to choose worlds that would normally not be considered for a game of this type was simply perfect for its success. While the sequel also was strong, it went a little too far and pushed the limits of the variety of gameplay elements one game can provide.

6) Star Fox 64StarFox64_N64_Game_Box

At this point of the list, it is tough to truly distinguish which game really is better than the others. This is definitely the case for Star Fox 64. Fox and friends (not to be confused with FOX News) are back on a system that was much more prepared to present a complete game in comparison to the SNES. The 3D feel of the game and the dynamic levels made this one that could easily be played for hours and hours. Not only was the single player strong, but this was one of those games that proved that multiplayer battles and missions were the wave of the future. The multiplayer was intriguing in the way players could choose Arwing, tank, or your character with a pistol. Still, the single-player battles with Star Wolf and the amazingly engrossing boss battles were the true gems of this game. It is strange that Nintendo has failed to produce another flight simulator game like this since the N64.

5) Super Mario 64Super_Mario_64_(NA)

This was the game that started the system. This was the one that changed the name of the game. It evolved video games truly into the world of 3D and dramatically raised the bar for its competitors. Unlike the previous entries of the Mario series, this was one that had levels but also game players the ability to navigate an open environment and choose their path more freely. I was also inspired to attempt a speed run for all 120 stars, but I never was able to complete it in any less that 23 hours (still impressive, I would say). The worlds, the enemies, and the challenges made the replay value so high that I can still break it out today and enjoy it just as much as the more complicated action-adventure and RPG games now.

4) Super Smash Bros.Super-smash-bros-boxart

Fighting games had traditionally been a 1 vs. 1 affair. Nintendo decided it was time to break the mold with this game. In the first success of its kind,¬†Super Smash Bros.¬†pitted Nintendo’s top icons against each other on a variety of stages set in their games. If you had ever wondered if Mario could beat Link in a fight, you could test your theory. The single player mode was a little on the quick side, but the focus of the game was on the multiplayer. The variety of moves, stages, and items created a vast gaming experience for hours and hours of enjoyment. Since the original game, anticipation skyrockets every time a new edition begins to get teased. Who is going to be in this next one?!? None of this has been able to be replicated by the other companies, nor should it ever be.

3) Mario Kart 64Mk64cover

SNES had it right with the first in the series, but N64 took advantage of the 3D environments and also maximized the multiplayer experience, just like SSB. With 8 featured characters (including Mario, Luigi, Bowser, and Yoshi), the racing and the battle mode had the right balance of challenge and flexibility. While the flat tracks of the first game were relatively dynamic, power sliding through Bowser’s Castle, navigating Yoshi’s Valley, and racing around Rainbow Road was just stellar. The battle mode was an even bigger step up. Fighting it out on multilevel platforms created a new way to play that helped to set up the following games. Just like SSB, this was simply hours and hours of multiplayer fun!

2) Goldeneye 007007-GoldenEye

There is a bit of a theme at the top of this list. The previous titles hit the racing and fighting genres, but the shooting genre had not taken off in the console world yet. Shooters were mostly resigned to computers due to the processing power and control elements necessary to make it work.¬†Goldeneye 007¬†changed the game and opened up the possibility for consoles to capitalize on 3D graphic technology. The single player mode followed the events of the film, but with a few additional missions thrown in. The difficulty level was extremely high, especially with the final levels. Yet again though, the multiplayer was the significant success of the game. Fighting it out in the facility or the temple provided all sorts of secret pathways and places to set traps. Being able to customize the weapons package also provided a lot of variability as well. Just don’t be the jerk who always chooses Oddjob…

1) Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TimeThe_Legend_of_Zelda_-_Ocarina_of_Time_(Collector's_Edition)

Arguably considered the best game of all time, this was one of the few titles to actually get perfect scores from game reviewers almost entirely across the board. Link was back, and with a quest that was more epic than anyone could have ever dreamed. Traveling from his childhood into young adulthood, the game was dynamic, dramatic, expansive, challenging, and truly a masterpiece. Even with the infamous Water Temple, few could ever walk away from OOT with any sense of disappointment. Battling Gohma inside the first temple or Ganondorf/Ganon at the end was just enthralling. One of the best moments of the game may actually be at the first real encounter with Ganondorf capturing Zelda and then getting the Master Sword, or maybe it was actually when Hyrule Castle falls and Ganon rises from the rubble. Mario may be the Nintendo mascot and have impressive numbers that outrank The Legend of Zelda but Link is the true franchise.

The N64 clearly proved that it was the system that revolutionized both 3D and multiplayer gaming. The cartridge began to see a decline after the first several years of success, but Nintendo would continue to find ways to stay relevant until they could revolutionize yet again. Stay tuned for the Gamecube review soon.