Lions Around the Dorm

This week in Around the Dorm, we battle over John Amaechi and his new book, Dice-K and the Red Sox, and Marty Schottenheimer getting axed. The contestants this week are Signal managing editor Lauren Kohout, Signal nation & world editor James Queally and WTSR sports director Pat Lavery. Signal sports assistant Justin Jez will be the ref.

1) Revealed in his upcoming book, “Man in the Middle,” John Amaechi became the first NBA player to openly identify himself as being homosexual. Amaechi’s book has prompted discussion about diversity and has been the target of some homophobic reaction. What effect will this book have on NBA players and other professional athletes? Will this news inspire a more diverse and accepting sports culture?

LK: I wish I could say that since Amaechi came out of the closet, it will prompt other gay players to take his lead and do the same. However, because Amaechi doesn’t play anymore, he avoided a lot of unwanted stigma. I’m sure there are homophobic NBA players who wouldn’t feel comfortable hitting the showers if they knew there was a gay person on their team. I don’t know what Amaechi says in his book, but I doubt it makes it easier for anyone to come out of the closet, let alone a famous ball player. I don’t think this will change anything, at least anytime soon.

JQ: It is unfortunate that ignorance and petty prejudices have forced people like Amaechi to reveal their sexuality in a post-career narrative rather than in casual conversation. I do believe that Amaechi’s book will inspire more openness about sexual identity in the NBA and other major sports. However, Tim Hardaway has already proven that this openness may not always be a good thing. On a radio show early last week, the former Miami Heat guard revealed that he would be uncomfortable with playing alongside a gay teammate, adding that he believed homosexuality was wrong. On the flipside, “Sir” Charles Barkley admitted to knowing of several gay teammates during his tenure in the NBA and swore that he was one of many players who did not have a problem with it. It’s going to take a while to sift through all the conflicting reactions, but at the very least Amaechi’s book has opened up the discussion of homosexuality in the NBA. I won’t say that it will definitely inspire a more accepting and diverse sports culture, but it will go a long way in helping to promote one.

PL: Hardaway has been banned from his promotional appearances at All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas because of homophobic comments he made on sports columnist Dan Le Batard’s radio show. Hardaway has issued a half-hearted apology. Le Batard has chastised Hardaway. writers Liz Granderson and Gene Wojciechowski have publicly condemned the timing, nature and media hype of Amaechi’s announcement – wrongfully, in my opinion, especially on Granderson’s part, as he himself is gay and knows the difficulty associated with outing oneself. We’re not talking about a man who’s saying he’s gay just to get attention. We’re talking about a man who felt like an outcast in the “macho” society of basketball. Amaechi decided to keep his orientation private until he was financially guaranteed for life by his NBA contracts. Because of the way Amaechi has talked, it’s not a certainty that a professional team would pay a gay player as much as a straight one. Does that mean he was right to publicly bash Jerry Sloan and accuse certain people of homophobia? Probably not. Does it, and the rest of Amaechi’s book, mean that professional sports as a whole will become more accepting of gay athletes? Not for a long, long time. But does it mean that we’re getting closer to an athlete coming out while still an active player? It might not be tomorrow, but it’s coming soon, ready or not.

JJ: Queally takes this round, earning 3 points. A dialogue is indeed taking place, and the fact that Barkley revealed that he knew homosexual players in his playing days only proves that Amaechi’s actions will bring change. 2 points for Lavery, who made a good point that Amaechi may have kept quiet for financial reasons. Kohout, I respect your opinion that nothing will change soon, but I wanted to hear more reasons why – 1 point.

2) Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka attracted tons of media coverage since the Boston Red Sox got set to open spring training. Nicknamed “The Monster,” Matsuzaka is projected to provide a big boost to Boston’s rotation. How effective will Matsuzaka be in the MLB, and does he give Boston an edge over the Yankees?

LK: If Matsuzaka is anywhere near as good in the MLB as he was in the Japanese league, he will be extremely effective. It just depends on if he lives up to his hype or not. He gives the Red Sox enough of an edge to hang with the Yankees. It always comes down to the wire with those teams. Matsuzaka may not give the Sox the edge over the Yankees and their ridiculously sick lineup, but he will be a nice complement for the Sox since the Yanks got back Andy Pettitte.

JQ: The Monster’s actual impact in the MLB will depend on how much of an edge he gives the Red Sox’s five-man rotation against the Yankees’ pitching staff. The two teams have evenly matched one-two punches, with Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett leading the charge for the Sox, and Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina heading the Yanks’ rotation. With each team also harboring an aging inconsistent pitcher (Tim Wakefield for the Sox and Pettitte for the Yankees), it’s going to come down to a battle between Matsuzaka and the Yankees’ most recent Japanese import, Kei Igawa. Igawa has the advantage in experience, having played 10 years in Japan, but Matsuzaka’s 96 mph fastball, as well as his unique style of pitching, is exactly what earned him his nickname. I think Matsuzaka’s unorthodox pitching arsenal, as well as his “gyroball” (a pitch unique to Japan) will confuse most American hitters, including the Yankees. The Monster will tip the scales in the Red Sox’s favor.

PL: I interviewed the CEO of a sports public relations firm in Massachusetts who was an absolute Red Sox fanatic. Contrary to the view that most Yankees fans (like myself) hold of Red Sox fans, this man was very rational and gave the Yankees a lot of credit for their offseason moves so far. My friend told me, after talking to Red Sox officials and front office men, that the best-case scenario – we’re talking best case, here – was that “Dice-K” would win 17 or 18 games this year, meriting strong Cy Young consideration. However, the Red Sox would finish the year around 93 wins, compared to about 100 for the Yankees, who he predicted would win the American League East for the 10th consecutive year. That’s pretty much straight from the horse’s mouth and it’s good enough for me.

JJ: 3 points for Queally. I love the way you broke down the starting lineups for the Yanks and Sox. People are questioning, however, whether or not he can actually throw that “gyroball.” Kohout, we will see if The Monster can live up to the hype – 2 points. Lavery, I appreciate a Yankee fan predicting that Matsuzaka will win 17 games, but I want your opinion, not a New Englander’s – 1 point.

3) A month after being told his coaching position was “safe,” former coach Marty Schottenheimer was fired by the San Diego Chargers. Schottenheimer led the Chargers to a 14-2 record this season, and two AFC West titles in the past five years. Did Schottenheimer deserve the axe?

LK: I don’t see how Schottenheimer deserved to be let go. Sure, he suffers in the playoffs and gets criticized for it. But last time I checked, so did Peyton Manning, and, oh look, he just won a Super Bowl. Schottenheimer got the short end of the stick on this one. Who can bring the Chargers some future success? The question is who can’t. You have to wonder who could possibly make the team worse and become a virus in the Chargers’ Club, kinda like a T.O. type as a coach. I’m sure Norv Turner won’t have that effect on the team.

JQ: No, Schottenheimer did not deserve to be let go by the Chargers. He led the team to the league’s best record, and more importantly, he jelled with his team better than almost any coach in recent memory. Shaun Merriman and Philip Rivers have both sworn up and down that they would love to finish out the rest of their NFL careers under Schottenheimer. His firing destroys the morale of a team that should have won the AFC this year. Yes, I understand that Marty is cursed in the playoffs and part of that has to do with his conservative playcalling. However, the incredible player-coach relationship that Schottenheimer had with some of his stars, including LaDainian Tomlinson, is the kind of thing that will keep players of that caliber in San Diego when free agency rears its ugly head. So when the front office starts wondering why talent is moving out of the city left and right, it can look no further than its own shortsighted decision.

PL: To improve the Chargers, one must look no further than the players themselves. That team beat itself in the playoffs. When the Chargers led 21-13 late and looked like they were going to upset an exponentially more experienced Patriots team, I thought that the Patriots had no one to blame but themselves if they lost this game. Only minutes later, after the Pats tied the game, did I realize I could have been saying that about either team. No dosage of the Martyball playoff curse should have been enough for the Chargers to lose that game. Not only did they have the most dominant players in the league this past year at running back (Tomlinson), tight end (Antonio Gates) and linebacker (Merriman, steroids or not), but they had the consensus best team in the league at 14-2. So it doesn’t matter who the coach is next year (and no, Marty didn’t deserve to be let go, unless it was an age thing since he turns 64 next season), because the players know (and if they don’t, they should) that the onus is on them.

JJ: Kohout gets 3 points for her answer. Peyton had the same monkey on his back that Schottenheimer has. I also agree with you that this Chargers team is extremely talented and many coaches would do well there. Queally and Lavery each earn 2 points. It will be ironic, Queally, when LT and company begin to move on to greener pastures. And I am also glad that Lavery placed at least some blame on the players themselves; last time I checked, coaches do not score touchdowns.

With a score of 8-6-5, Queally grabs this week’s title.