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NFL

Explaining the controversy: poor calls against the Patriots

Posted by She's Game Sports September 24, 2012 02:26 PM

In the wake of the Patriots 31-30 loss Sunday night, there has been much discussion over the poor officiating and very costly penalties that hurt the Patriots in the game. While the officiating alone should not be an excuse for a loss, there were quite a few calls that deserve scrutiny. For those who missed the game or don’t quite understand why there is so much talk about certain plays, we put together a list of the top five plays that Patriots fans are upset about in the aftermath of the loss to the Ravens.

1. Holding on Devin McCourty – Fourth quarter, 6:18 remaining, Patriots lead 30-21

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The situation: With 6:18 left in the game and Baltimore facing a second-and-14 situation at their own 16-yard line, Joe Flacco threw a pass that was incomplete to Torrey Smith. The incompletion would have resulted in a third-and-14 situation at the Ravens’ own 16 with 6:11 left in the game, but then the refs called a defensive holding penalty on Devin McCourty.

Definition of holding: when a player illegally grasps or pulls an opponent other than the ball carrier when trying to prevent a block or cover a receiver.

The controversy: McCourty never grasped or pulled at the opponent. If anything, he may have tapped the opponent on the play, but it was never even close to holding. Even the announcers were left speechless by the call.

The result: The penalty cost the Patriots five yards and gave the Ravens an automatic first down, meaning what should have been a difficult-to-convert third-and-long from deep in the Ravens’ own end turned into first-and-10 at the Ravens 21. The Ravens later scored on the drive, tightening the game to 30-28. The moment was a huge turning point in the game for the Ravens and likely changed the outcome of the evening.

2. Holding on Brandon Spikes – Fourth quarter, 4:15 remaining, Patriots lead 30-21

The situation:
The Patriots were hurt once again later in the same drive as the McCourty call by another holding call, this time on Brandon Spikes. With 4:15 left on the clock and the Ravens facing second-and-goal at the New England 10, Chandler Jones and Kyle Love rushed in and sacked Joe Flacco for a loss of 12 yards. The play was negated, however, when Spikes was called for holding.

Definition of holding:
when a player illegally grasps or pulls an opponent other than the ball carrier when trying to prevent a block or cover a receiver.

The controversy:
Spikes, like McCourty, didn’t seem to hold Dennis Pitta on the play at all – in fact, it was Pitta who grabbed Spikes’ jersey and yanked him down to the ground. The call easily could have been holding on Pitta, not Spikes.

The result:
Instead of a third-and-22 situation from the Baltimore, 22, the Ravens received a first down five yards from the end zone. On the very next play, Flacco completed a touchdown pass to Smith to cut the Patriots lead to 30-28. Had the penalty never been called, it is very likely that the Ravens would have had to kick a field goal, and in a game where the difference in the final score was one point, that touchdown ended up really hurting the Patriots.

3. Bill Belichick grabs the referee – Postgame

The situation: With two seconds left in the game, Justin Tucker kicked a 27-yard field goal that was ruled good by the referees to give the Ravens the 31-30 win. The kick appeared to have just barely made it over the uprights, but it was a close enough play that the Patriots seemed to want a review. In the postgame craze on the field, Bill Belichick rushed to the referee asking for an explanation of the call and grabbed an official.

The rule: According to Mike Pereira, a rules analyst for FOX Sports, “a field goal that goes over the top of an upright is not reviewable because you cannot determine when exactly the ball is directly over the pole.” A field goal is considered good if it makes it above the crossbar and through the uprights or when above the uprights, between their inside edges.

The controversy:
The field goal was very close and it was above the uprights. From some angles, it looked as if it was definitely between the outside edges of the uprights, but from other angles, it was harder to tell. The referees did not take much time to call the play good, and an angry Vince Wilfork stormed over to the referees in an attempt to ask them to review the play, which apparently, they could not do anyway.

The result: The Ravens won the game, and Belichick will likely receive a fine from the NFL for abusing an official.

4. Pass interference on Jerod Mayo – Second quarter, 15 minutes remaining, Patriots lead 13-0

The situation: At the start of the second quarter, it was all Patriots. New England led, 13-0, and the Ravens were tasked with converting on third-and-6 at their own 22 to start the quarter. On the play, Joe Flacco appeared to throw an incomplete pass to Ray Rice, but the incompletion was negated when Jerod Mayo was whistled for a 2-yard pass interference call

Definition of pass interference: When a player makes contact with an intended receiver after the ball is thrown but before it is touched by another player in a way that prevents the player from catching the pass (i.e. holding a receiver’s arms down, cutting off the receiver’s path without making a play for the ball, restrictive contact with a player without making a play on the ball etc.)

The controversy:
Mayo did not seem to do much that would constitute a classic pass interference call, and you very rarely see pass interference calls made on a 2-yard play.

The result:
The call gave the Ravens a first down, their first of the game, therefore marking a huge turning point in the game. If not for the call, the Ravens would have had to punt on fourth-and-6 at their own 22. Instead, the Ravens drove 82 yards down the field to score their first touchdown of the game.

5. Offensive pass interference on Julian Edelman – First quarter, 1:48 remaining, Patriots lead 10-0

The situation: Toward the end of the first quarter, Tom Brady and the Patriots were facing a third-and-11 on the Baltimore 30. Brady appeared to complete a pass to Julian Edelman at the Baltimore 11 that would have given the Patriots a first down, but it was called back due to an offensive pass interference call against Edelman.

Definition of pass interference:
When a player makes contact with an intended receiver after the ball is thrown but before it is touched by another player in a way that prevents the player from catching the pass (i.e. holding a receiver’s arms down, cutting off the receiver’s path without making a play for the ball, restrictive contact with a player without making a play on the ball etc.)

The controversy:
It’s hard to understand where the pass interference on Edelman was since he was shoved in the chest by the defender who did not turn around or make an attempt to make a play on the ball. Since Edelman caught the pass, it looked like the play should have stood as it was.

The result:
The penalty cost the Patriots 10 yards, but it was repeat third down, so the Patriots attempted to convert on third-and-21 from the Baltimore 40. Brady moved the ball up nine yards thanks to a pass to Wes Welker, and the Patriots had to settle for a field goal instead of having an easier chance at scoring a touchdown on what should have been first-and-10 at the Baltimore 11.

NFL

After an ex-NFL player's crime, a grandmother shines as a beacon of love

Posted by She's Game Sports September 21, 2012 10:57 AM

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Rae Carruth is serving an 18-to-24-year prison term after killing his pregnant girlfriend. (photo from SI.com)

About 13 years ago, Rae Carruth had the world in his hands, the soft hands of a young and talented wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers. He made the NFL All-Rookie team in 1997, was adored by fans, feared by defenders and loved by a young woman who was carrying his baby.

Now, Carruth is serving an 18-to-24-year prison term after being found guilty in 2001 on three charges to conspiracy to commit murder. Even though he had plenty of money, Carruth was not intent on paying child support, so he hired a couple of thugs to murder the mother of his child and the baby too.

It was a crime that snuffed out the life of 23-year-old Cherica Adams. Her baby survived. Chancellor Lee Adams was born by C-section the same night his mother was shot 5 times on dark road in Charlotte, N.C. As Cherica hemorrhaged blood, the baby lost oxygen, causing tissue damage to his brain.

Chancellor is now a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy caused by near suffocation at birth. His grandmother, Saundra Adams, has taken care of him since the day she lost her daughter who died in the hospital one month after the shooting.

Thomas Lake wrote a story for Sport’s Illustrated that did not focus on Carruth’s horrible crime all these years later. Instead, Lake wrote the story of a strong woman with a huge heart. It is a supreme testimony to the power of love and forgiveness.

In the touching piece at SI.com, Lake writes that Chancellor is a happy kid despite his physical challenges. His grandmother does not see the need to explain the details of how Chancellor’s mother died and what caused his disabilities.

“Well he knows that Mommy was killed and that Daddy did, you know, Daddy did a bad thing,” Saundra told Lake. “And he’s in jail now paying for the bad thing he did. And we just say, that he, you know, he made a mistake.”

Saundra Adams witnessed Chancellor struggling to do the things other kids do at certain ages. He could not hold and shake a rattle at 14 months. He could not sit up, let alone take his first steps. Walking seemed like something Chancellor never would do- but he can now.

At age 42, Saundra Adams became a grandmother. She spent her first 28 days as a grandparent watching her only child die while her grandson was tied to wires and machines.

During the trial of Rae Carruth, Saundra Adams was called to testify.

“Chancellor has cerebral palsy because of this act,” she said from the witness stand. “We do thank God that he’s still alive. You know, he is our miracle child. Because he was not supposed to be here if that plan had been implemented properly. But Chancellor is alive and he’s got such a strong will. Just like his mom. He is fighting for his life.”

Later in her testimony, in all her sorrow and pain, Saundra said this to the judge, jury and defendant:

“Because I do believe in miracles, I know Chancellor will be better. We’re going to give him lots of love, and I know that God is working things out already for him to be totally happy and completely well. And in my heart, even though Rae Carruth has not shown one single ounce of remorse, to me or anyone in my family, there’s not been one ‘I’m sorry about our daughter.’

“But in my heart, because I am a Christian, as an act of my will, and because I know it’s out of obedience to God, I am forgiving Rae Carruth.”

Saundra Adams went on to devote her life to Chancellor, who is called Lee. She is there for his therapy, there to make his breakfast and there to say good-night. Saundra is “G-Mom” to Lee, and Cherica is called “Angel-Mom.”

Like his father, Chancellor Lee Adams is an athlete. He won a gold medal last spring in the 30 meters in his motorized wheelchair at the Mecklenburg County Special Olympics. He plays flag football from his motor chair with G-Mom cheering from the sidelines.

Saundra said that after everything she can thank Carruth for her grandson.

“You can focus on what you’ve lost or what you have left, she said. “So I didn’t lose. I have my grandson. I have my daughter with me in my heart, always. I have her with me through Lee. So I don’t focus on loss. I mean, I think she’s in heaven with God, so that’s definitely not a loss. So I’ve got a lot left, and a lot of hope left, and a lot to live for, and to be able to help my grandson to become the wonderful man he’s meant to be. I haven’t lost anything.

“Really, I’ve gained. I’ve been pushed into my role and destiny.”

Rae Carruth’s crime is undeniably the worst in sports. His projected release date is October 22, 2018. Chancellor Lee will be 18.

Saundra Adams will look into the eyes of the person who set the plot to have her daughter killed. She will witness her grandson meeting his father man to man. This grandmother could be filled with hatred, and who could blame her?

Chances are that Saundra will stay with forgiveness – not that Carruth deserves it, but because she wants it that way.

G-Mom is into love, not hate. And somewhere up there Angel-Mom is smiling.

NHL

Making the most of an unfortunate situation: what Kathryn Tappen is doing during the lockout

Posted by She's Game Sports September 20, 2012 11:26 AM

The mission of the Boys and Girls Club of America is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.

The clubs, in cities and towns around the country, provide a safe place to learn and grow, ongoing relationships with caring, adult professionals, life-enhancing programs and character development experiences, hope and opportunity.

With the announcement of the NHL Lockout this past weekend, I found myself with free time on my hands for the immediate future. I decided it was time to go back to doing what I love – volunteer. And so, I ventured out to become one of the adult professionals that the Boys and Girls Club of America depend on to make their system work for our youth.

On Wednesday evening, I participated in the volunteer orientation at the Boys and Girls Club that is within walking distance of my home in Boston.

My first reaction was of surprise at the number of people like myself who showed up for the orientation. I was thrilled to see that so many people want to give back. Immediately I had a smile on my face.

The children in the club all welcomed us with big “hellos” and smiles. And there were kids EVERYWHERE! It’s no wonder they need so many volunteers. The employees and children create such a warm facility, a safe haven for millions of children around the country.

Then my group took the tour. If there were ever a look of awe on 20 individuals all at once, I saw it last night. A learning center, an art room, a computer room that looked more like an Apple store than an afterschool program, a recently remodeled music room equipped with guitars, pianos, a recording studio, a full basketball court, workout room, swimming pool, rock climbing wall, and so much more. I was blown away – and proud. I can’t believe that children all over the country have access to this type of facility for after school programs at the Boys and Girls Club. It was exactly what the mission stated: hope and opportunity.

For $25 a year for kids, and $5 a year for teens, students can come to the Boys and Girls Club from the time they leave school each day until as late as 7:30pm. $25 a year? Are you kidding me? We were all shocked. And the best part – that includes a dinner meal every night.

Attending orientation at the Boys and Girls Club opened my eyes to another world. While I always knew what the club was, I had never explored to the extent I did on Wednesday night. And now, I cannot wait to get started by helping young individuals with their homework and their activities.

I better brush up on my algebra skills – or else these kids will be teaching me instead of the other way around! But something tells me I’m going to be learning a lot from this amazing place.

To learn more about or get involved with the Boys and Girls Club of America, go here.

NHL

NHL Lockout: 229 words the NHL might wish it never wrote

Posted by She's Game Sports September 17, 2012 08:00 AM

Sunday, at 9 a.m. EST, the NHL released a statement that immediately drew the ire of both fans and professional hockey players on Twitter and across other social media platforms. The short statement fails to clarify any of the questions that fans had going into midnight Saturday night, when the then-current collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA expired.

At midnight, the entire industry and culture surrounding hockey, from star players down to the guy who sells Miller Lite tallboys in the upper concourse, was thrown into jeopardy. Considering the state of hockey over the past season, the effects could be devastating to the progress the NHL has made since the 2005-06 lockout. People are beginning to notice the hypocrisy and general ineptitude that has become inherent in the corporate culture of the National Hockey League. The 229-word, unapologetic statement did nothing to alleviate concerns.

It’s going to be hard to forgive both sides when this is all over, because, as many have said, it’s millionaires and billionaires fighting over their slice of the pie. Meanwhile, NHL teams signed many big deals in the time leading up to CBA expiration, which would seem antithetical to the owners’ insistence that the current deal is unfair in both its revenue percentage allowed to players, contract sizes, and contract lengths.

A six-year, $23.8 million dollar deal was struck between John Carlson and the Washington Capitals--a deal that, if the owners had gotten their way, might have become illegal when the clock struck midnight at the end of September 15th. None of the other under-the-wire deals were as long or as valuable (see: Tyler Ennis, Carlo Colaiacavo, Justin Abdelkader, Shane Doan), but the fact that they were made at all seemed to show everyone watching that anything said at the bargaining table was symbolic at best. Each side took what they could get from the old CBA before entering into a deep and impenetrable rhetorical mire, with October 11th, the scheduled start date of NHL regular season games, weighted with sandbags at the bottom of the swamp.

It’s funny, because the statement says that successful changes to the CBA “are attainable through sensible, focused negotiation--not through rhetoric.” Rhetoric can be the only thing disguising such a huge battle that is focused largely on money. If players can get what they need to feel secure in their jobs and the league maintains a percentage of revenue that allows it to operate profitably, that comes down to pure mathematics.

The whole negotiation is rhetorical; the dollar sums and percentages are theoretical. The fact that this has happened multiple times since 1992 not only shows gross mismanagement, but a fundamentally damaged business culture that will not be reformed until this nonsense is stopped.

Neither side can negotiate until it does, because the NHL is, literally, a business. This doesn’t exist for fans or players, as much as we love believing that when our team raises the Stanley Cup or when we hang posters on our bedroom walls. The togetherness and excitement we feel as sports fans is a side effect of a business venture, a multi-billion dollar one. Businesses fail and hemorrhage money when they don’t actually go out there and earn their revenue.

The negotiations have never made any progress on a business end. Take away the philosophical differences that players and owners are undoubtedly dealing with. It’s very clear that no one has ever said, “Let’s go out and do what we love and earn our livelihoods on October 11th.” And it’s this lack of businesslike cooperation that has led to the lockout, that may lose an entire season.

The NHL's statement concludes, “This is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room.The League, the Clubs and the Players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible. We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans.”

This statement is egregious in its naiveté. First of all, let’s be clear: the fans in this situation are owed nothing. The NHL exists as a business in order to take our money. Were it that the League existed for us, it would be a whole heck of a lot cheaper. Second, because it is a business, yes, your focus should be on the meeting room, because that’s where deals are made and that is how businesses gain momentum, structure, and management.

And lastly, if the League, the Clubs, and the Players wanted the puck to be dropped as soon as possible, this wouldn’t have progressed at such a gelatinous pace. In fact, it may not have happened at all.

Lest we forget, also, that despite record revenues and unprecedented levels of parity, the League has faced increased problems in the culture of its game, starting at obvious things like increased head injuries and a shocking lack of player compliance to combat them, and ending with plain old disrespectful behavior and poor, unprofessional attitudes. The disrespect, we are discovering, is systemic. Everyone is screaming “me first!” Obviously, this is antithetical to negotiation, and antithetical to the positive culture we try to foster as a sporting community. Either no one gets any bit of what they want, or someone caves.

The NHL didn’t even want to meet with the players Saturday night--they said they saw no purpose in holding a formal meeting. Much like the potential online streaming quality of KHL games this winter, things are going slowly, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Top 10 reasons to love NFL Sundays

Posted by She's Game Sports September 14, 2012 10:00 AM

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Looking at Tom Brady is another great part of football Sundays. (Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE)

I admit it. I am a pro football junkie. When the NFL Network introduced the "Red Zone" I thought I died and went to heaven. After covering the Patriots for over 20 years, I have seen it all. Sitting in a press box is not like sitting in the stands, and it's definitely not like sitting at home. The best part of "being there" was running on to the field after a big win and interviewing players in the heat of the moment. Asking Lonie Paxton about his snow angel just feet from where he made it - now that's a moment.

When the days get shorter, the leaves turn colors and the air cools down- there is no better sport than pro football.

Here are my top 10 reasons.

1. One game a week

Unlike the other pro sports that have either 82 or 162 games per season, the NFL offers only 16 regular season games. This means every game is a huge game, and every game is worth watching. Light a fire in the family room, make the Mexican dip, grab a cold one, and watch football. That's my idea of a perfect Sunday.

2. Family

Sunday afternoons watching football have become a household ritual. It is also one of the few times when parents and kids will watch the same thing. My kids knew Drew Bledsoe was the Patriots quarterback before they were in preschool. They also learned what a Cheesehead was before they knew about the state of Wisconsin. The year was 1997 and the Patriots were playing the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. I have home video of my daughter saying the Patriot’s coach is a "Big Tuna."

3. Friends

As the kids got older, the parents figured out watching the Patriots on a Sunday afternoon sure beat the heck out of standing on soccer fields all day Saturday. Burgers on the grill in the good weather, chili when it got cold. Your house or ours? And there is NO TALKING except during commercials. Chatty girlfriends were warned in advance, “We need to hear the play by play. Non-football related chit-chat will not be tolerated.”

4. Action

I love hockey live, but football is by far better made for television. Both are violent sports with great speed and high impact, but football lends itself to a television audience better than any other game. With 15-20 cameras all over the field, we see every angle on replay. Last week I "heard" the football hit the crossbar in the Niners/Packers game like I was sitting under the goalpost. The first time I was on an NFL sideline during a game, I could not believe what a full speed, helmet-to-shoulder pads collision "sounded" like. With improved technology and boom microphones all over the field we not only see the game; we can "hear" it too.

5. Build up

Because the teams play only once a week, we get at least four solid days of pregame hype. By game time we can recite the story lines for the afternoon. Trash talking is strictly prohibited in some locker rooms and encouraged in others. The media naturally loves trash talking, and will try to bait the players all week. Few Patriots players ever took the bait, although Rodney Harrison was always good for a "knock their heads off" quote. The networks have become masters of weaving in the story lines before and during the game, so it makes it even more fun to watch a game on TV. You want reality TV? I'll take the NFL over Survivor any day.

6. Rivalries

Patriots/Jets. Packers/Bears. Giants/Cowboys. Classic.

7. Food

There is always food involved when watching football. Do we order in pizza and chicken wings for a baseball, basketball or hockey game? No. A typical Sunday diet during football season includes grease, carbs, and enough salt to make you float away. And from experience I know that it’s not just at home where the feeding frenzy is happening. NFL press boxes across America serve up three course pre-game meals, hot dogs, huge soft pretzels and cookies at halftime, then finally pizza at the end of the day as writers furiously work to make their deadlines. Pass the Pepto.

8. Beer

As much as I love my wine, football goes with beer. A noontime bottle of suds is the way to go. Chardonnay does not cut it. For one thing, wine causes late afternoon sleepiness that can totally inhibit watching the primetime game on NBC (although after 6:00, switching to wine is not a bad way to go).

9. Community

Have you ever noticed that the lawn mowers go silent for a few hours on Sunday afternoons in September? If you are a shopper and not a fan, it is by far the best time to go to the mall. I had to run to the grocery store at half-time once, and the place was a ghost town except for the employees (I updated them on the score). People plan their day around the game. If it ends at 4:00, the stores are busy at 4:30. If it starts at 4:00, the rush is between 2:00 and 3:00. Really, you can set your watch by it.

10. Tradition

Last but not least: this is America and we love our football. I like the anthems, the flyovers, the Minutemen in the Patriots end zone. I even like that fireman dude we've been watching forever at the Meadowlands. J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets. The Lambeau leap, end zone dances, Hail Mary passes, and massive sacks. Snow games, mud games, wind chill and wind factor. Whatever the weather brings. This is FOOTBALL- not even Mother Nature can stop it.

When I was in Dallas two years ago for the Super Bowl, a nice gentleman approached me in a store and asked, “Are y’all here for the football game?”

I said, “I sure am!”

He then said to me, “You know, I like baseball better. It’s a ‘cerebral” game. It’s all about anticipation, knowing the next move. Football is a “social” game. Fans “react” they don’t think ahead. Y’all can miss a play, then watch three or four replays. Oh, and by the way, all the ladies can be yakking in the kitchen and run out like they didn’t miss anything.”

And then I understood. I admit it. I am social. I am without a doubt the reactive type. And I have never been accused of being cerebral.

Thank God, because I love the NFL!

Sunday at 1:00 is the best time of the week. How many hours until kickoff?

Meet the girlfriend: the woman behind Andy Murray

Posted by She's Game Sports September 13, 2012 09:51 AM

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Kim Sears was quite the proud girlfriend as she cheered on Andy Murray during his U.S. Open victory. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

If the world didn’t know who Andy Murray was before this summer, they’ve certainly become acquainted with him now. Murray used to be a low-profile Scot, but he has risen in the past few months to become one of the biggest names in tennis after years spent waiting in the wings behind Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Murray, who was long criticized by the British press for his failure to win a Grand Slam title, finally began to carve a place for himself in British and tennis fans’ hearts in July, when he lost to Federer in an emotional Wimbledon final. In August, he found redemption as he won Olympic gold on the Wimbledon lawn against Federer, and in September, he marked his biggest achievement to date by topping Novak Djokovic to win the U.S. Open title.

Through it all, Murray has enjoyed the steady presence of long-time girlfriend Kim Sears, and in the wake of Murray’s Grand Slam victory, Sears is seeing a rise in her fame to parallel Murray’s. In the days after Murray’s Open win, the British tabloids, have been full of rumors that Murray may finally be ready to marry the woman who has supported him throughout his entire career.

So just who is Kim Sears and why is she such an important part of Murray’s career?

Let’s start from the beginning.

Sears comes from a tennis family; her father, Nigel Sears, is a British tennis coach. She met Murray through British tennis circles back in 2005 when she was 17 and he was 18, and aside from a six-month split in 2009, the couple have been inseparable ever since. They live together in Surrey, near where Sears grew up, and have two dogs, Rusty and Maggie May. Murray can be hotheaded, and both he and his mother Judy credit Sears with cooling his temper. Not much else is known about their private life. The couple bask in as much privacy as they can get.

Sears’ and Murray’s relationship bears some similarities to that of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Like Middleton, Sears keeps a low profile – while Murray was off rising in the tennis ranks, Sears attended the University of Sussex where she earned a degree in English literature, but her true passion was art. Sears works as a painter doing portraits of pets and devotes the majority of her time to supporting Murray. On her website, she said she enjoys the simple things in life – the countryside, a good cup of tea and chocolate biscuits. Similarly, Kate Middleton whiled her time away doing odd jobs after graduating from university while the main focus of her life was William.

Sears’ quiet life is a perfect match for Murray’s personality. The tennis star is known for his anti-party lifestyle and shy, reserved nature. He does not drink, and in fact celebrated his U.S. Open win with a lemon soda despite paying for the rest in his party to enjoy over $1,000 worth of alcoholic beverages. For Murray, the soda was a bit of a splurge. He doesn’t normally drink soft drinks, but as he told the press at a party thrown in his honor at the British consulate in New York, he supposes he can let his guard down for the next week or so.

The shy Murray keeps a small inner circle of close friends and family whom he relies on for support and encouragement and also trusts to keep the details of his life private. Sears has never betrayed that trust. Like Middleton, Sears is well-known as Murray’s girlfriend, but she never uses her position to her advantage. She has avoided any controversy while dating Murray, does not do interviews and stays out of the limelight as much as possible. Middleton had to wait a long time to get engaged – she and William dated for a decade before marrying – and Sears is experiencing the same lengthy wait as she has stuck by Murray’s side for seven years.

And so Sears waits. Every relationship is different, and in another relationship, Sears’ patience could be considered a detriment. But as a tennis girlfriend, she fits right in.

That Murray has yet to marry is not too surprising considering the grueling and self-centered nature of the tennis circuit. Very few elite tennis players are married – of the top men’s and women’s singles stars, only Federer and Andy Roddick have walked down the aisle. Players generally only have the month of December off, and for the rest of the 11 months of the year, they travel around the world to compete. Since tennis careers are so short, Murray has a limited time frame to make his mark, and at 25, he is likely at the peak of his career. Marriage can wait, but tennis will not.

Sears clearly knows that. While Murray pursues his dream, she remains his rock and his confidante. She finds something constructive to do with her time and contributes to charity. She lets her personality and wit shine on a Twitter account she runs in one of the couple’s dog’s name, but still manages to keep attention away from herself and Murray by not having her own Twitter account.

Most importantly, both Sears and Murray seem to be very happy and comfortable together. It was heart-warming to see the two embrace at Wimbledon this year, and after Murray won the U.S. Open, Sears’ celebration with Judy Murray proved just how much of a place Sears has carved for herself in Murray’s life. There is an old saying that behind every great man is a great woman, and whether or not Murray marries Sears next year (as the British press is speculating), it seems Murray has found his great woman.

When sports and politics intersect

Posted by She's Game Sports September 10, 2012 09:33 AM

It’s an election year in the United States -- as you already know thanks to the divisive coverage at every level of media and probably your own very personal stake in the matter of who will become the next president. Sports have often have a strange relationship with politics, since an interest in sports can bring people together across lines of ideology in a very unique and peculiar way. Whether because of an interest in the game itself or an allegiance to a particular team, stadiums, arenas, and bleachers are always filled with fans whose backgrounds, voter registrations, religions, morals, and social policies are vastly different, even when they cheer for the same athletes.

So obviously, the business of athletes being individual human beings with political thoughts of their own is bound to get lost somewhere in translation. Athletic abilities and being a good teammate aren’t things even remotely related to political affiliation. But the current drama of American politics isn’t excluding professional athletes from the line of fire — in fact, many have put themselves directly in it, and the blow-back has been harsher than it would be in any other entertainment industry because of the fact that interest in sport, in and of itself, is relatively apolitical.

Sports are unlike films, visual art and music, which often wear their sociopolitical context on their sleeves — and we, as viewers, accept that. Sports are another story. Sports culture is where things can get very tricky.

Many sports fans vehemently resist politics entering into their conversations on sports, which to a degree seems fair — having something in our culture that provides an element of unity and leisure is worth having. Yet there seems to be some kind of misconception that because athletes are such public figures, often styled as heroes and role models, that their opinions are less welcome or even insulting to their fan base, and this is simply not the case.

Their level of responsibility to the greater public begins and ends with doing their jobs and being a good citizen — and in a democratic society, there is no way that expressing an opinion can be categorized as bad citizenry, even when that opinion is unpopular — as long as it isn’t downright violent or hateful.

Take for example the controversial action by Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who refused to visit the White House with his team and the Stanley Cup following a dramatic championship performance of a lifetime. Thomas is a Republican. At the time, he stated on his Facebook page that he was exercising his right as an individual to decline the invitation due to fundamental disagreements with the federal government. While the act was perceived as disrespectful to President Obama and caused some apparent tension between Thomas and the Bruins organization, he was well within his rights as a private citizen to refuse to go.

Thinking of Thomas as a Boston Bruin player first and foremost, it isn’t going to be a popular move. But very few people are singularly beholden to their jobs–and indeed, Thomas announced a hiatus from hockey shortly after the incident, with the intention of focusing on his family and personal life. We like to romanticize the teammate relationship as fans, but being a pro athlete is both a job and a business, and it obviously doesn’t satisfy every human need.

This sentiment was echoed by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who has been a vocal supporter of gay marriage and gay rights. His team’s owner, Steve Bisciotti, was contacted late last month by Maryland politician Emmett C. Burns requesting that Bisciotti force his employee to “cease and desist”, referring to Ayanbadejo’s public support for gay marriage as “injurious actions.”

Ayanbadejo tweeted on September 4th: “Football is just my job it’s not who I am. I am an American before anything. And just like every American I have the right to speak!!!”

Team owners have power over players’ salaries and behavior while performing their jobs — the same as if he or she worked at Starbucks or in an office — but not when they’re off the clock. But Burns seemed to think that possible fan disagreement and the entertaining nature of the NFL precluded Ayanbadejo from making such a statement. Burns’ letter drew a rather colorful and strongly worded counter-letter by Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, which specifically cites Burns’ request to Bisciotti as being in violation of the First Amendment among other more metaphorical accusations (read: the language is quite NSFW).

Maintaining the professional sports industry as something that can be enjoyed by everyone is important if we want our favorite teams to continue to bring people together on a plane separate from politics. It’s one of many ways that we can engage each other in America and come to understand each other as people rather than election results and Gallup polls.

However, this also involves recognizing the athletes we root for as private citizens themselves with rights to their opinions, no matter what those might be. Acting like it’s some violation of their contracts to have public opinions is tantamount to objectification. Let them do it. If you have a problem with it, it might be you who is politicizing the sport.

The jury is out on replacement referees

Posted by She's Game Sports September 7, 2012 09:24 PM

The NFL has started the season with replacement officials. The league that turned football into a multi-billion dollar industry (and America’s favorite sport) could not settle its differences with the men in stripes.

For the first time since 2001, the NFL kicked off the season with replacement officials. Regular officials have been locked out since June. The two sides talked over Labor Day weekend before discussions broke off.

The issues are both financial and non-financial. Some NFL officials have other jobs outside of their weekly commitment to the league. Others do not. Along with more pay, the guys who make the calls want a pension plan.

Having replacement referees during the exhibition season is one thing, but what happens now when the games “count?” Ultimately the players decide the outcomes of games, and on occasion, the officials do too.

If the season opener between the Giants and Cowboys is any indication, this may not be such a big deal. Aside from missing an obvious hold on Giants receiver Victor Cruz at the goal line, the substitute officials did not embarrass themselves.

The same cannot be said of the preseason, which was chalk-full of follies and faux pas. Everyone knows that officials make mistakes. Just like the players, and the rest of us, they are human. But if the lockout continues, there is sure to be at least one big blunder that could be the difference between a “W” and an “L.” In a 16-game season that is huge.

After the season opener in East Rutherford, Giants coach Tom Coughlin was diplomatic when asked about the non-call that cost his team a touchdown.

“I think it was more than a hold. There is another word for it. But you have people in a position and they’re trying to do the very best they can. We can yell and scream on the sidelines all we want, but that’s the nature of what we have in front of us right now.”

Just picture if that were the Patriots. Imagine Bill Belichick’s head exploding on national TV the first time he disagrees with a lame call that could be a game-changer.

Up in the broadcast booth we hear Jim Nantz say, “A pass interference call on Devin McCourty leads to a Titans touchdown with one second left on the clock. I don’t know Phil, the replay seems to clearly show the Patriots defender made a clean play.”

Phil Simms: “Bill Belichick not only ripped his headset off; he is now being restrained by his own players!”

In my ten years covering the Patriots, I learned this about Belichick. He has little patience for ineptitude- not from his players, not from the media (the worst offenders) and not from officials who steal a win from his team because of a bad call.

There is no doubt that coaches and any other team personnel have been instructed by the league to stay out of diatribes having to do with bad calls. They know where their bread gets buttered, and the owners clearly want to win this battle.

So for now it is up to the replacements. Where do they come from?

Everywhere from Pop Warner to high school to college to the Lingerie League. Yes. Lingerie League.

Imagine a game between the Bears and Packers being decided by a referee who once officiated women running around in bras and panties.

How much will the replacement officials change game plans?

If I were the Patriots, I would run the hurry-up faster than the speed of light. Before a whistle could get into an official’s mouth, Tom Brady will have taken the next snap. It’s a sure fire way to create mass confusion- not just for the opposing defense, but for the officials.

It’s September and football is back. No labor dispute would ever stop me from watching. The sport is that good- even if the officials are not.

In the words of Coach Hoodie, “It is what it is.”

The BU hockey task force: looking in all the wrong places

Posted by She's Game Sports September 6, 2012 07:38 PM

Over the past two days, I have had countless discussions regarding the task force report released by Boston University. I worked for over two years as the BU men’s hockey beat writer for The Daily Free Press, and during that time, I was able to get to know the team a little better than your average fan, thus meaning people constantly ask me questions about the team.

However, after two players were arrested within 10 weeks of each other last winter, I was definitely just as troubled as the average BU student. It’s hard to comprehend the types of crimes the two players were accused of, and it was hard to walk to class every day with news trucks lined up along campus.

I felt that BU had to do something about the arrests, but from the beginning, I did not believe the task force was the way to go. Here we had two arrests stemming from separate and completely different incidents of sexual assault, and rather than establishing an immediate plan for handling sexual assault on campus, the president decided to look into the culture of the hockey team. But to believe that sexual assault was an issue isolated to the hockey team was ridiculous, and the task force proved that to be true. It ultimately found nothing about BU hockey itself that caused the two incidents.

If you read the papers, you’ll see a different story. According to the media, the task force did find plenty wrong with the BU hockey culture. They have decided to run with the story that there is a culture of sexual entitlement among some BU hockey players and that the hockey players are held to a lower academic standard and isolated on campus from the rest of the BU students.

To a degree, those statements are true. When it comes to housing, the players are indeed somewhat isolated. They room with each other – freshmen in Shelton Hall, sophomores on Bay State Road and juniors and seniors in Student Village I – throughout their BU career. However, the hockey players share floors with other students, and the rooms of hockey players are scattered among different floors in each building.

And, just like every other competitive college athlete in this country, the BU hockey players do not all live up to the academic standards expected of your average BU student. Furthermore, like many college-aged students, the team tends to be sexually promiscuous.

I personally don’t see any of those issues as a problem specific to the hockey team or the sexual assaults. The task force acknowledged as much. They said there were no NCAA violations, and the issues found with the hockey team at BU are commonplace at any college.

The root of the issue here has nothing to do with housing or academics or even hockey. The root of the issue is that college-aged men and women get drunk and do stupid things, and unfortunately, people end up being sexually assaulted. It happens nationwide, and it happened at Boston University. It wasn’t just the hockey team. BU had multiple reports of rape and assault aside from just the two incidents related to the hockey team. Don’t forget about the Peeping Tom in Warren Towers or the reported assault at Mugar library shortly after the second hockey player’s arrest.

BU had to respond last winter in some way in order to prove to people that they were doing something about the issue, but was forming the task force effective and was it targeting the right problem?

As an alumna of BU (I graduated in May), I can say from a student’s perspective, I do not believe BU targeted the sexual assault issue effectively. After much protest on campus last year including an online petition that over 1,000 students signed, the university finally created an on-campus center for sexual assault prevention and education. This happened 2 ½ months after the second arrest. The task force was created just days after the arrest. Since the on-campus center to combat sexual assault was created months before the results of the task force were released, I assume the sexual assault center was not the central focus of the task force.

While the task force investigated hockey culture, BU students continued to lack sexual assault protection on campus. After the second hockey player was arrested, one student attempted to use BU’s only known system at the time for reporting some sort of assault: the Student Health Services crisis hotline. The student (who was testing the system and was never actually in danger) asked for resources available for victims of rape and sexual assault and was told by the person on the hotline that none were available through BU.

I personally noticed a lack of attention to the issue of sexual assault from BU. Last winter, a devastating fire in an off-campus apartment belonging to BU students ended up destroying all of the students’ belongings and seriously injuring at least one student. Those students called their parents before calling 911 about the fire. Less than a day after the fire, I received an email from BU briefing me on fire safety.

Why did that never happen with the sexual assault issue? Never once did I get an email educating me on what to do in case of sexual assault on campus. Who should I call? I still have no idea. What is the best way to avoid situations in which I may be sexually assaulted? It seems like common sense to me on how to avoid situations in which I may be at risk of sexual assault, but it also seems like common sense to me to call 911 in case of a fire.

And so while it’s all well and good that the task force has come up with all kinds of suggestions as to how to better academically integrate the hockey team with the rest of the university, it still seems to me that the task force missed the point. It appears as if BU conducted this whole task force in order to say they’d done something but swept the issue of sexual assault on-campus to the side.

NHL

The NHL youth movement: sporting the 'C'

Posted by She's Game Sports September 6, 2012 09:28 AM

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19-year-old Gabriel Landeskog made history when he was named captain of the Colorado Avalanche. (Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE)

On Tuesday morning, history was made in the NHL.

At 19 years old, Gabriel Landeskog became the youngest player in NHL history to be named a permanent captain, as the Colorado Avalanche honored the young star with the “C” for his sweater.

Landeskog is 11 days younger than Sidney Crosby was when he was awarded the “C” by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007. The only other teenager to be named a permanent NHL captain was Vincent Lecavalier, but Landeskog is 29 days younger than the Lightning star was.

On July 18, 2008, following his successful rookie campaign, Jonathan Toews was named captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, at 20 years and 79 days. At the time, he was the third-youngest team captain in NHL history, but after Tuesday’s announcement in Colorado, he now is fourth.

The NHL’s trend to award young stars the enormous role to sport the “C” has been quite successful.

Crosby received the captain’s nod in 2007. Two years later in 2009, he led the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup, and at 21 years old became the youngest Captain to hoist the coveted Cup.

Similarly, two years after being named captain in Chicago, Jonathan Toews hoisted the Cup in 2010.

Lecavalier is a bit of a different story. After being named captain in 2000 at age 19, management decided the youngster wasn’t quite ready for such a role. He was stripped of the “C” before the 2001-2002 season, but later played a key role in the Lightning’s Stanley Cup victory in 2004 and was given back his title at the start of the 2008 campaign.

It’s not all fun and games, however, being so young and carrying the weight of the team on your shoulders. In fact, media pundits jump all over such announcements, criticizing both the player and the team for being too inexperienced and immature to handle such a title.

Such is not the case with any of these young stars, and they have the Stanley Cup to prove it. What better way to silence the critics?

I had the pleasure of meeting Gabriel Landeskog at the NHL Awards in June, where he was awarded the Calder Trophy as the League’s top rookie after collecting 52 points and a team-leading 22 goals while playing in all 82 games. He is poised, well spoken, confident, and respectful. He’s a leader on the ice and off. Why shouldn’t this star player, who made the Colorado Avalanche as an 18-year old last October after being taken as the second pick in the 2011 Draft, be heralded as the future of the franchise?

In no other sport do we see such a youth movement. Derek Jeter is the perennial captain who comes to mind when you think about sports and their leaders. A five-time World Series Champion, even Jeter had to wait for his “C”. In 2003 at the age of 29, after 8 seasons in the majors, legendary team owner George Steinbrenner honored Derek Jeter as Captain of the New York Yankees, following eight seasons without one after Don Mattingly retired in 1995.

Say what you will about young captains. At the end of the day, a leader is a leader. Teams recognize that. So do players. Milan Hejduk, a veteran in the Avs locker room at age 36 and the reigning captain, gave the captaincy to Landeskog himself. He said he felt his diminished role to the third and fourth lines last season didn’t warrant the title, and that the captain should be someone with a significant role.

It was a true gesture of teamwork by Hejduk, and the right decision by the Avs.

Now let’s sit back and see if Gabriel Landeskog can join the likes of Crosby and Toews.

Youth doesn’t always mean innocence, naivety, or lack of leadership. The NHL has proven that, and in turn has given us young stars to cheer for many years to come.

On fashion: Serena Williams leads at US Open

Posted by She's Game Sports September 5, 2012 11:30 AM

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Serena Williams' funky style takes center stage in a U.S. Open fourth round match. (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports)

I was once told that in order to see results in the gym or with any workout you do, you must feel confident in what you’re wearing while you’re exercising. Yes ladies, this means leaving your husband’s oversized t-shirt at home and actually going shopping for a new set of capris and a supportive sports bra. Major brands make cute training gear nowadays and I find just as much joy in shopping for a gym look as I do for a night on the town.

Tennis phenom Serena Williams must have heard that same idiom some years ago, because I can’t remember a time where her personal style didn’t come through in her on-court gear, and she puts up the numbers to back what my friend said. In singles matches alone, she has a 542-108 record, including 17 Grand Slam titles, not to mention the 164-20 record she’s compiled with sister Venus in doubles matches.

In honor of her quest for her fourth U.S. Open title this year — and her most recent 6-0, 6-0 rout of Andrea Hlavackova in a fourth-round match — I want to salute Serena Williams for showing women they can still look well-kept and put together while they are burning calories.

Among her top sponsors is Nike, the mega brand which outfits her from head to toe when she’s competing. In her most recent contest, Williams was seen in a fuchsia pleated tennis dress with royal purple inlay and an electric green Nike swoosh adorning her chest.

To add to the vibrant colored ensemble, the swoosh on her dress matched her electric green headband and similarly loud spandex shorts, while the sweatbands on her wrists pulled the whole thing together: they were fuchsia terry cloth with electric green embroidered swooshes. She was fully accessorized and dominated accordingly.

I would do anything to have her wardrobe at my disposal. When I hit the gym I try to make sure that if I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I don’t have to cringe. I doubt Williams ever frowns when looking back at herself in pictures or highlight films, because her fierce fashion completely complements her ferocity in her game.

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