Tonya Harding Revisited

Skater Tonya Harding (R) with Coach

This afternoon, I saw the Craig Gillespie film I, Tonya (2017). I remember vividly the events of 1994, when Tonya Harding’s husband Jeff Gillooly conspired with lowlife friends to intimidate rival skater Nancy Kerrigan, but the intimidation turned into a physical attack in which Kerrigan’s knee was broken. Then a bunch of videos turned up on the Internet of Gillooly and Harding’s wedding night with its raucous nudity and sex play. Kerrigan was able to compete again, but Harding was banned from skating competition for the rest of her life.

The film was actually pretty good. The Australian-born Margot Robbie excelled as Tonya; and Allison Janney as her estranged mother LaVon was icily superb.

I always felt sympathy for Harding, because she was a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and from a dysfunctional family. Competition skating in America wants its competitors to be little suburban princesses with happy backgrounds (or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof). Although she was less responsible for the nobbling of Nancy Kerrigan than her husband and his friends and associates, they wound up serving light sentences, but Tonya’s harsher sentence essentially killed her career—for the remainder of her life.

We pretend to be a democracy, but it hasn’t looked that way for some time:  Talented blue-collar girls suffer for not being little bundles of perfection. Tonya is still around, but no longer is she performing triple axels on the ice. She performed brief stints as a wrestler, a boxer, and a racer; and  (according to the film)  she constructed home decks. I wish her well.

Loser City

Clevelanders Parade, Flaunting Their NFL Team’s 0-16 Record

It was almost always thus. In most years, Cleveland teams piled up a dismal win/loss record. Not that I give a fig for professional sports, but while I was living there, I would have given much for a winning season. In 1959 the Indians won the American League baseball pennant (but lost the series ignominiously to the White Sox). And in 1964, the Cleveland Browns shut out Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts 27-0. That was when Frank Ryan was quarterback and Jim Brown was at fullback and gary Collins and Paul Warfield were the ace receivers. After that, it was not until 2016 when a Cleveland team, the Cavaliers, won the NBA championship.

I actually had a personal stake in the Cleveland Indians doing well. As a straight-A student, I received seven pairs of free Indians tickets every summer—mostly to see them go down to defeat. Acutely, I felt that Seymour Krebs’s “The Monster That Devoured Cleveland” from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis had struck. I was in a major dudgeon until I could leave “The Mistake on the Lake,” which I did in 1962, when I went to college in New Hampshire. Thereafter, when I came home from Dartmouth, I could watch my father stew in his juices as his teams traduced his efforts at fandom.

Cleveland’s Terminal Tower (How Appropriately Named!)

Sometimes I think my great love of travel comes from feeling stuck in Cleveland and wanting to get out at any cost. It’s a pity, because at one time it was a fairly nice place. It did not, however, fare well economically and demographically. When I was in the lower grades of grammar school, it was the seventh largest city in the U.S. Now it ranks fifty-first, behind Oakland, Tulsa, and Wichita.



Move Aside, Men!

Best in the World

Best in the World

Something happened quite suddenly in he last ten or twenty years: American women athletes have proven themselves time and again to be world class contenders. Today, the U.S. Women’s Team beat Japan 5-2 for the 2015 World Cup in soccer.

Although I was not able to watch the game, I am delighted to hear that our women won, and convincingly, too.

I would like to see soccer football replace the so-called American football with its armored players pawing the dirt with their feet during the innumerable time-outs that were no doubt created solely for the convenience of advertisers. Soccer football is the real deal: It goes back and forth in waves until a sudden break-out results in a goal.

Americans will always have problem with the concept of a tied game, especially when the result is a 0-0 tie. But even some of those games are exciting.

Way to go, Ladies!


Bad Day at La Bombonera

Fans Climbing Over High Security Barriers

Fans Climbing Over High Security Barriers

Among the lowest of the low among the male animal is the rabid sports fan. I keep thinking of one San Francisco Giants fan, Bryan Stow, who was beaten within an inch of his life by Dodgers fans while attending a game here in Los Angeles.

No one beats soccer fans, however, for grotesque violence, of which the Brits are among the worst—to the extent of being banned from some international events. There was even a war caused by dissatisfied fans when the results of a Honduras-El Salvador match did not go according to their desires. (Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote an excellent book on the subject called The Soccer War.)

As much as I like Argentina, I find the recent violence between Boca Juniors fans and Rio Plate players to be truly despicable. After a timeout in a 0-0 tie, Rio Plate players were shot in the eyes with a homemade pepper spray that disabled them. The Argentinean sports federation called the game and endangered Boca’s chances in league play. According to an article in the Toronto Sun:

The rivalry between the two Buenos Aires sides is one of the most heated in the world. It pits Boca, a traditionally working class side from the port area of the city against their more up-town rivals known as the “Millionaires.”

Boca’s Bombonera stadium was a cauldron of drums and the chants of the club’s passionate supporters, who sat just inches from the touchline separated by high wire fences. Few players relish the visit with away supporters barred from attending Argentine matches in a bid to curb violence.

I have been by La Bombonera, “The Chocolate Box,” as Estadio Alberto J. Armando is known, on my last visit to Argentina. Martine and I could have toured the museum, but we knew in advance that La Bombonera is in a tough neighborhood. There is one main tourist street than runs diagonally to the Riachuelo called El Caminito. Every step away from the Caminito raises your chances of being mugged; and the street itself has a huge police presence.

Perhaps rabid attention to sports is something to live for when you have nothing else to live for. But that doesn’t mean I would ever like to attend a major soccer football match anywhere in the world.


Better Than American Football?

Better Than American Football?

Frankly, I think that most American spectator sports are there strictly for the commercial breaks. There is a brief spurt of intense activity, followed by several interminable ads directed at selling junk to macho males and hip females. The only exception is baseball, which is too much like watching grass grow. There is a pitcher, a batter, a catcher; and, very occasionally, some other players are briefly involved.

While I was in the hospital on Saturday, I watched the Argentina-Iran game in the morning. I was impressed. Despite the fact that the Argentinians won it 1-0 (superstar Lionel Messi finally came alive), it was beautiful to see the ball handling. The Iranian goalkeeper, Alireza Haghighi, frustrated all of Argentina’s many shots at goal until late in the Second Period. It was beautiful to watch the action, from the setup in the backfield to the elegant passing back and forth, along with the numerous interceptions that forced the other side to begin all over again.

The thing I loved was that something was always happening, like waves starting far out in the ocean and crashing on the shore.

Why do I love soccer football so much? For one thing, it was a tie to my father which I remember with great fondness. Elek (Alex) Paris and his brother Emil were identical twins who played the same position in the semi-pro nationality club teams of the 1930s. There were stories from my youth about my father forcing a referee to swallow a whistle (while inhaling to blow it), requiring him to pull it out by the lanyard while choking. Numerous players told me of my father’s powerful kicks that broke other players’ legs.

In the long run, I think that soccer football will replace the mayhem of American armored football. Parents just don’t want their sons to have to deal with concussions leading possibly to death or other serous head injuries. The next generation will be much more receptive to the game—unless they have to play someone like Elek Paris.

There are three reasons why, for the time being, soccer will take second place to the prolate spheroid pigskin, at least for the time being.

The main reason is that games can end in ties. Americans don’t like ties. When the USA-Portugal match ended in a 2-2 tie, newspapers around the country weighed in and harshly criticized the American effort. That was too bad, because the US really outplayed Portugal: Unfortunately, they left a brief opening for Ronaldo to set up a strike at the net. It didn’t matter to me: The Americans played a great game that showed that they deserve their 11th place world ranking. (“What only 11th place?” say the critics.) They’ll be better anon. Whether they ever reach the top spot is a different matter. First they have to pay some dues.

Another thing that drives many American fans crazy is the “expandable clock” of regulation play. A game runs 90 minutes, but referees can add minutes at the end for injuries and whatnot. In the US-Portugal game, there was a time-out at the end of the First Half as a water break. The jungle city of Manaus was hot and sticky, and the players were seriously drenched and dehydrated. In the end, the game ran approximately 95 minutes. It’s not over until the referee whistles the game over.

Finally, many Americans want more bathroom and snack breaks. Well, then, they can watch baseball, which is a lot of nothing—or some other sport with numerous breaks for ads.