It is hard to remember a story like Jovan Belchers without being stunned by how many details of its hideous end have been released so quickly.And how, when it all shakes out, well not be sure of what we think we know. For that, we need to remember Junior Seau.Through exhaustive reporting, most of it done by the Kansas City Star, we have a fairly comprehensive picture of a troubled athlete with relationship issues, financial issues, substance abuse issues, and despite help from the team, coping problems as the swirl of conflict overwhelmed him and caused him to kill the mother of his child and then himself.An autopsy may take weeks to sort out, but he may even have had trauma issues related to football. As yet, there is no evidence of that, as that would only come out in an autopsy, but we know not to blithely dismiss it as a potential cause any more.But until we know all there is to know, we are left in an odd sort of neithernor, where Belcher is not safe to be lionized OR demonized. Witnesses saw him kill Kasandra Perkins, which makes him a murderer. Witnesses saw him kill himself, which means he has left his child without parents. Witnesses have spoken of his ongoing struggles and how they overwhelmed him to the point where he could kill his girlfriend, then kiss her on the forehead and apologize, first to her and then to his mother.The details are sufficient that you can almost see the deeds in your minds eye. Unlike most killings, this was done without an attempt to conceal. It was one last attack upon the demons, then surrender to them.And it still doesnt make him a sympathetic figure. Indeed, the reaction to Belcher even in the NFL community, where mythmaking is king, has been muted. Though some in the industry tried to handle this merely as the death of a player, Tom Jackson of ESPN made a point to honor Perkins memory. The Chiefs held a moment of silence before Sundays game not for Belcher but for the victims of domestic violence.For once, everyone seemed to get it. Sort of.Because the back end of this has not yet been learned. The why. And yes, the why matters.What we have learned about trauma in football is that it doesnt hit only men in their 50s and 60s. It strikes when it strikes, and it is as capricious as it is cruel. The famous are not spared any more often than the anonymous.This is among the things that Seau taught us. He also taught us not to believe our first impressions about how easily the limelight distorts ones vision, comprehension and even sense of self.But ultimately, he taught us not to dismiss the possibility that football can kill just as easily as anything else. Again, we know nothing about Belcher except the outward manifestations of his anger and grief. He killed two people, and didnt try to get away with it, a level of despair so profound that it scares everyone around it.In other words, this may not be brain trauma-related. It may be just someone who, in vernacular, snapped so violently that he did the unthinkable, twice.But until we know what the autopsy tells us, we cannot know just how much to condemn the sinner, if at all. Condeming the sin is, of course, easy. It should be hated. It is.Junior Seau, though, showed us that the further back from the trigger we get, the more muddled the story becomes. Thanks to some dogged and sober reporting both in Kansas City and elsewhere, we have a very good handle on the what, where, when and how, and in remarkably quick time. As we said, it was a murder-suicide done in the open by a perpetratorvictim too overcome by events and circumstances to try to hide his deeds.The why, though, remains a very open question indeed. For that, we wait. It will seem like forever.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com
Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.
Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.
With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.
But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.
But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.
He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.
Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.
But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.
This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.
So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.
Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.
But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.
Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.
But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.
Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.
And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.
But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.
So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.