Wednesday, May 7, 2014

PSYOPBall, Not Basketball: Mark Jackson and Doc Rivers

After an exhausting seven-game Clippers-Warriors series, the focus has shifted to the next round for the Clippers and to the firing of Mark Jackson. But before we move on, can we talk about how crazy and extensive the psychological operations of both coaches were?

Pre-series:
During the regular season, the Clippers-Warriors rivalry was well-known. Doc forbid his players to join Warriors players for chapel. Mark Jackson was so into the Clippers rivalry that he trash-talked Doc before a Cleveland Cavs game in March, of all things:
-Q: How do things change with Klay out?

-JACKSON: Obviously Klay’s ability to shoot the basketball; probably as important if not more important, his ability to defend. In a game like tonight he would start naturally on Kyrie Irving.

Contrary to Doc Rivers’ comments, it’s not because I’m hiding Steph Curry. It’s just a smart thing to do as a coach. Take that, Doc. (Smiles.)

-Q: What did Doc say?

-JACKSON: He said he doesn’t hide Chris Paul. So nice subliminal shot.

Both Doc and Mark willingly gave each other bulletin board material before the series even started. They went after potential weak links like Redick and Thompson, already trying to sow some doubt in the minds of shooters.

Race:
Mark Jackson called for Clippers fans to boycott pivotal Game 5 to protest Sterling. Of course, such a move favors the Warriors in that pivotal matchup. What you may not have known was just how strong Jackson's comments were:
“If it was me, I wouldn't come to the game. I believe as fans, the loudest statement they could make as far as fans is to not show up to the game,” Jackson said. “As an African-American man that's a fan of the game of basketball and knows its history and knows what's right and what's wrong, I would not come to the game tomorrow, whether I was a Clipper fan or a Warrior fan.”
Tying in the boycott to being black, to what's right and wrong? No, Mark Jackson never said Clippers players should boycott Game 5. But can't you see hints of that idea in his comments and word choices? It's a wonderful bit of psychology. In addition, by the Warriors claimed they were ready to boycott the game had Sterling not been suspended, again, the Warriors seem to be taking the high road while subtly increasing the pressure on the Clippers. Is it ethical? Not so sure. Is it psyops at a high level? Yes.

Religion:
Sam Amick wrote a fascinating story on religion and NBA coaches that I may spin into a separate article. But let's focus on how Rivers is so available during a supposed tight, busy playoff series to give Sam Amick quotes:
"If it's 75% (who believe one way), that's to me 25% that (don't)," Rivers said. "To me, if it's 95%, the 5% deserve the same treatment as everybody else. And I just think that's what we need to do. If it was church, then that's different. This is not church. This is our jobs. So our jobs come first, respect comes second, and I think that's the way it should be."

Jackson is, of course, the pastor of a church in the off-season. Rivers already banned his players from fraternizing with the Warriors in a religious context. We have Draymond Green, Warrior player, saying "because without (God) we are not who we are and we are not the team that we are and we all know that. We like to give him credit for what he's doing for this team." In the same article, what does Rivers do? He intentionally attacks the idea that the Warriors have any special favor from God. He says "I don't think there's any God cheering for one team over another. I know that." It's no accident Rivers is choosing these words. Again, is it ethical? Not so sure. Is it psy ops at a high level? Yes.

After-series:
So the series is over, and the two coaches are friendly again, right? Not so fast.
When Jackson gets fired, he brings up that it's ok that he doesn't live in the Bay Area during the offseason. Why?
"But Doc Rivers coached in Boston living in Orlando. The coaches that I played for lived other places."
Oh, and Doc is disappointed at Mark's firing, sure. But wait, how does he say it?
"Mark Jackson gets a team to multiple playoffs for the first time in a thousand years and gets fired."
Yeah, a thousand years, almost as long as it took Vinny Del Negro to take Clippers to back to back playoff appearances. Worry not, psyops fans. I'm pretty sure Doc Rivers will renew the rivalry with whoever the Golden State Warriors next coach is. And we'll be here to appreciate how slyly the psychology of each statement is used to demoralize the other team.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Donald Sterling, Racism, and Nuance

The Donald Sterling tape is a bit of a rarity in our culture. Finally, pure proof of the racism many of us suspected still exists in sports. And it's more dramatic partly because the NBA has the best track record among the major sports in being race-blind. It's almost sure to improve the way athletes are treated by their "owners," correct? So what's wrong?

"Back to the tape: It really does have all you could want from a bigotry case study. Perfect material for a race, class, and gender sociology seminar. So much so that it begins to feel not real. Not in the sense that you’re surprised someone could think this way — not even close. But more in the sense that this whole thing — from the racial revelations to the symbolism of the players’ uniform removal — starts giving off strong vibes of a Disney race movie." --Rembert Browne, Grantland.

It's almost too convenient, the scriptedness of it all. The coverage severely lacks nuance, with a few notable exceptions (I highly recommend the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar article in Time as well, and Mark Cuban's comments on the possible ramifications of a thought witch hunt). Problematically, what worries me is that the very act of seeking nuance to this story is seen as suspect. Bryan Curtis hints at this in on Grantland:

A certain opinion — and I’d argue that this is, in nearly every case, an opinion that falls on the lefty side of the political spectrum — is articulated. It surfs Twitter. The opinion builds momentum until it becomes, with a few noisy exceptions, the de facto take of the entire sportswriter intelligentsia (perhaps the wrong word). That opinion then becomes something like a movement.

Sports blogs have come a long way. I recall the bad old days, where any act of a minority athlete that seemed "weird" was ripe for ridicule on a sports blog, with little room for nuance or cultural interpretation. High-five the blogger next to you, because they deserve it. Overall I'm pleased at how sports blogs have a more pro-labor, pro-individual understanding of sports than your typical columnist.

However, this has come at the cost of nuance in the sports blog community. The voices are more united, but they are more shrill. Alternative angles to a story are buried and shunned. Yes, your first article should be that Donald Sterling is a condemnable racist. But let's look at the other angles:

1) V. Stiviano fulfils every last stereotype of an opportunistic gold-digger. Her recordings, which may be as many as 100 hours worth of content, may not even be legal according to California law. She no doubt sold the recordings, and timed them for maximum impact. Relying on her tape as unbiased and clean testimony is hazardous. Sterling is not a first time offender and deserves much of this, but she also clearly targeted and exploited an elderly man. Abdul-Jabbar and Charles Pierce both brought this up, and deservedly so.

2) Mark Jackson tells Clippers fans to stay away, which sounds good!...until you realize it helps his team win pivotal Game 5 in LA. Magic Johnson deservedly hammers Sterling for telling Stiviano to stay away from Johnson in photos, good!...but Magic Johnson may have an ulterior motive in that this press could force Sterling to sell the team to Johnson at a lower price than face value. (For what it's worth, Magic denied interest in buying the team and also said he will not do more interviews on Sterling, which I give him credit for. But the rumors are floating.). I don't blame Mark and Magic for what they are doing, but it's important to point out the business of castigating racists can be rather lucrative. Doubt me? The LA NAACP would like a word. And finally...

3) There is a certain irony in organizations that have for years struggled to put a black face on camera or behind a computer piously criticizing a white man who employs blacks. Besides Grantland's wonderful Browne/Morris article, I struggle to think of a sports blog that has featured a black writer's take on this story. That's highly problematic. Donald Sterling is a racist...who hires black men. Sports blogs are not racist per se, but they have historically struggled to hire black writers. Thus such writers have been forced to start their own blogs to get noticed. (Full disclosure: I worked with DK Wilson at one such blog, just one example of this trend). I'll just gently and forcefully say that our whiteness is showing in coverage of this story. This is particularly true of those who are shouting at various black players, owners (Jordan), and workers to be "courageous" while offering little evidence of any personal courage in their linking, hiring, and publishing blog practices. Finally, sports blogs have mostly refrained from asking actual experts on race and business to weigh in. I understand that to some extent, such actions are more the Wall Street Journal or SI's domain. But there are definitely some voices out there that would talk to blogs, if we asked. (Popsspot has some interviews with experts on this, as an example).

I'm pleased that Sterling has been fully unmasked, but I worry about a blog culture in which asking any questions about the nuances of such stories is in itself suspect. No one wants to be seen as supporting a racist, I understand that. What worries me is that no one seems to want to be seen as thinking out loud on this topic, either.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Congratulations to Brynn Cameron, Balla and Lover Extraordinaire

Brynn Cameron was the former girlfriend of Matt Leinart, the USC quarterback in the middle 00's. They met in class, and bonded because they both had a goofy sense of humor. It didn't hurt that both are attractive people. They broke up, but not before having a baby together. The adorkable New York Times article about it all is here, and the photo below is also from the article.

Six years later, Brynn met another athletic young man. They went out for a while, and lo and behold, Brynn became pregnant again. No big deal, right? A single mother dating 6 years after her first child is hardly irresponsible! And the young man was 24. Surely he knew the basics about birth control, should he have been worried about pregnancy? There's no real story here. Or is there?


Because somehow, between TMZ and The Big Lead comment sections, you'd think Brynn Cameron is a con woman and witch. You'd think she was bewitching wealthy, athletic men, forcing them to have sex with her and stealing their sperm via her magicks just so she can collect child support forever and ever. Because obviously, Matt Leinart and Blake Griffin are sheltered, charmless individuals who had no other sexual options, right? Wrong.

Let's look over the complaints, one by one. First, the charge that Miss Cameron is somehow not attractive. I reply: Scoreboard! She landed two of the most attractive bachelors in LA. How can you claim she's not hot? She's tall, blonde, athletic, and apparently has a fun sense of humor. Many a woman has done just as much with less. Tall blondes might not be your thing, and there's nothing wrong with that, but why question another man's choice?

Second, the idea that Brynn Cameron somehow took advantage of the two men. In a creepy way, I kind of understand where some men are coming from in their complaint. We've all been "that guy" who instead of using common sense, pursued a woman just because she was hot. But since when is it the woman's fault for being attractive? Isn't it the man's fault for lacking self-control or not taking appropriate precautions? Sex is risky by its very nature, which is perhaps why it's so addicting, but I'll leave that logic to smarter folk than I.

Third, the idea that Brynn Cameron is some sort of "jersey chaser" who hunts down athletes. There were SEVEN years between Leinart and Griffin. For all we know, Brynn spent those years not dating at all, or dating polite accountants from San Diego who liked museums. But otherwise, fine, let's imagine the "worst"; Brynn only likes dating men her age with great bodies who have a lot of money. My unscientific survey estimation is that she shares that "fetish" with about...95% of womanity. She happens to have qualities that allow her to live that dream; congratulations to her for winning the genetic and personality lottery. Don't hate the game, right?

Fourth, some commenters have gone so far as to claim that Brynn must be some sort of sexual freak to land the two men. I would link to make my point, but I try to keep the language on here SFW. But...can't we also assume that Brynn has a good understanding of the mind of an athlete? That, being an athlete herself, having a brother who is an NFL player, and also being around athletic men, she knows what they like and how they act? Never underestimate the value of truly understanding a man's culture and mindset.

Finally, it's fair to point out that Brynn Cameron complained that Matt Leinart was not paying her enough in child support. He had wanted to pay her $72000 a year. Which sounds like a lot...until you realize that she was living in LA at the time. In, say, "Buffalo, New York" dollars, that's $50,000 a year. That's not that much, given Leinart's wealth, and that Brynn Cameron was a college graduate who now had to stay at home to look after a baby. Supposedly, Leinart then had to pay her $15000 a month. That's a lot, but it's also only fair to point out that Leinart's first contract was for about 8.5 million a year. According to my conservative calculations, Matt was paying 2.5% of his salary in child support. Most child-support paying dads would think themselves lucky to pay so little, percentage-wise.

Maybe one day the sports world will stop being so misogynistic to women, but that day is not today.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Michigan State Refuses to Educate Jay Harris

Jay Harris, a three-star recruit, supposedly has turned down a scholarship from Michigan State in order to pursue his rap career. By itself, it's rather irrelevant, much like the football player who opted for modeling over football. Rap can be a young man's game. Jay Harris may be making a very logical decision, for all we know, that his chances in rap right now are better than his chances at the NFL three or four years from now.

(photo via Lou Rabito of Philly.com)

But it's the response of Michigan State that most concerns me. Philly.com is reporting that Michigan State turned Jay Harris down once his explicit rap videos came to light. Perhaps it's Michigan State trying not to look like Harris dropped them. But perhaps it's MSU blackballing Harris for his videos. And that should truly concern those of us who care at all about the legitimacy of college sports.

College sports has always portrayed itself as the great educator of young men who otherwise would be trapped in some sort of urban maelstrom. Plenty of young athletes have used drugs or spoken harshly of everyone who isn't a heterosexual male. One wonders if MSU would be turning down Mr. Harris if instead he was a lacrosse player who uploaded Youtube vids of he and his friends being high and had hardcore porn on his Tumblr. Michigan State is showing that college sports isn't about education, it's about suppression. Slap your athletes around enough so that their harsher side is hidden. Teach them to keep the groupies behind closed doors and the drugs carried on non-athletes. That appears to be more the true mission of college sports.

Yes, I'm on a soapbox, but I'm more surprised that no one else is with me. To the best of my knowledge, Jay is only 18. Don't confuse this with the controversies of various pro athletes in their late 20's releasing rap albums. Michigan State did not employ Jay when he made the videos. It seems to me that MSU is refusing to educate Jay Harris, and that reflects more on MSU than on Jay.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

From Deadspin Comment Joke to Cold Hard Fact: Lennay Marie Wochinski

On the original Deadspin post, Jimmyxx77 made the following obscure Seinfeld joke that people couldn't find Lennay Kekua (of Manti Te'o scandal fame) because it was her professional name, not her real name:

Wouldn't you know it, slimcelebrity.com believed Jimmyxx77.

Shut it down, Lennay Marie Wochinski truthers, this is why you can't find her on your Google searches. Jimmyxx77, you are a credit to the oft-maligned Kinja burner race on Deadspin, and may you get a regular commenter name and comment often.

What did MSMK mean in Lennay Kekua's Twitter Handle?

Just for fun, I have a theory on the meaning of MSMK in the twitter handle @LoveMSMK. At first I thought it referred to Lennay Marie Kekua (Manti used the tag #LMK, and the MK would come from there). But the MS part never quite made sense: perhaps Manti something, but where did the S come from? So for what it's worth, here's an alternate theory:

It's a religious acronym meaning My Savior, My King. The phrase is used in several gospel songs and hymns by Hillsong United, Issac Watts, and other well-known gospel song writers. Recall that Ronaiah, the alleged faker who created Lennay, was religious and sang gospel music.

I looked at Ronaiah's Youtube channel, and he liked several songs by Kirk Franklin on there. Kirk Franklin is a very popular gospel artist. Kirk Franklin has a song titled "The Moment #2." The opening line is "My Savior, My King." If you read the rest of the lyrics, it unfortunately would have worked very well for Lennay to use that song as an inspiration during her illness. I don't have proof that Ronaiah liked the video to Kirk Franklin's "The Moment #2" on Youtube, which would have been nice. But otherwise, it seems to fit. An excerpt:

"My Savior, my King
My stronghold, my keeper
My body grows weak but
I find strength in You"

An underappreciated part of the scam is how Ronaiah could use religion to make it harder for Manti to ask questions or question Lennay. Take a look at some sample Lennay tweets, courtesy of Deadspin:

"RT @LennayKay: You won't find any pictures of me in some booty shorts, half naked on here. #MyBodyIsATemple fit for one king and one king only. #SooWoop"

"I am a daughter of the King. Raised to be a noble wife someday. Raised to nurture and train up my children in the Lord. Amen."

So if you're Manti, and you're asking Lennay to get on Skype, you can see how she might play a religious "Sorry I don't Skype" card to avoid detection. Just a thought.

Three Questions People Should Stop Asking about The Manti Te'o Deadspin Story

Deadspin's Manti Te'o story by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey is closing in on 4 million hits as of today. It inspired plenty of questions, and few answers. But a few of the questions being asked have obvious answers. Here's three that I think we can stop asking:

1) Good story, Deadspin, but didn't they just get lucky?
Honestly, I was a little disappointed that no sports blogs seemed to play significant roles in breaking the Jerry Sandusky story or the Steubenville football rape cover-up story. Sports blogs like Deadspin are perfectly positioned to uncover stories of college-town corruption and cover-up. College and high school students feel more comfortable going to blogs with such stories. And local media in such towns is often too closely tied to the team to break the story. In fact, and apologies for sounding like a jerk, I think sports blogs should be able to write stories like this a lot more often. Given a properly honed tip-generating process and visibility/rewards for tippers, why not?

2) Why didn't Notre Dame investigate whether Te'o was in on the hoax?
The investigation sounds rather laughable now. Notre Dame did not put much effort into the investigation, right? But I'm sure the original purpose of the investigation was merely to find out if Lennay Kekua was real or not. Once they figured out she was fake, they thought the story was over. Also, remember, Manti Te'o smartly went to them first. Any factual slip-ups he made could be covered over by him saying "I was just embarrassed and made things up." There are a lot of problems with Notre Dame's reaction to this, but I'm not so sure this question addresses the biggest problem.

3) How could Ronaiah find a woman to help deceive Manti Te'o on the phone for so many hours?
No appeal to talking to a high-status, beautiful person for hours on the phone each night? If Ronaiah could con Manti in the first place, I'm sure he could talk one impressionable woman into chatting with Manti.