Probably the biggest and most shocking news is that Plushenko has been banned from competition for performing in exhibitions without ISU approval after withdrawing from the world championships. Is it wrong that I feel like laughing about this? I mean, if he was purposefully trying to flout the ISU rules, then justice has been served and I think that's valid reason to feel happy. I couldn't really be happy when he was injured because that would be schadenfreude, but if this was a deliberate flouting of the rules then it's something he's brought on himself. On the other hand, the article linked to above posits that there may have been some valid miscommunication or misunderstanding and points out that, if he is indeed so keen to compete in the Sochi Olympics, it wouldn't make sense for him to willfully flout the ISU rules and jeopardize that possibility. But then again, this is the same Plushenko who also stupidly went on record saying that he doesn't do transitions and then complained that his transition score in his Olympic short program was lower than expected. Part of me would like to give Plushenko the benefit of the doubt and believe that it could have been an honest misunderstanding, but on the other hand, it seems to me that thinking he's above the rules is entirely consistent with his character.
In any case, according to that article, posted June 28, he has 21 days to appeal the decision which, if my math is correct, puts the deadline at July 20th, which is this Tuesday. I hope for the best, whatever that may be, but honestly, I wouldn't be sorry to see him go; I don't think he's healthy for the sport, what with his emphasis on complicated jumping over precision.
Moving on, I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one befuddled by the fact that Evan Lysacek was not assigned to the Grand Prix series. This article also makes the alarming conjecture that he might be leaving competitive skating altogether. What? Don't scare me with conjecture like that unless you have some facts to back it up! I'm not overly concerned about that because he's said on numerous occasions that he intends to continue to compete, so I'm sure if he'd changed his mind he would let people know. Another theory posed by the article is that he might be taking the year off, which seems a little more likely considering the available evidence, but...well, toward the end of DWTS I saw an interview with him in which he said that he doesn't do well sitting around not doing anything, so if he's not going to be skating he'll need to find something to occupy his time, and I trust that if that's the case he'll let us know what it is in due course. Interestingly, Johnny Weir, who was assigned to the Grand Prix series, has announced that he is taking the year off from competition so...it would seem that there are a couple slots opening up...
The problem with being interested in sports for the sake of the athletes themselves is that many athletes don't have a lot of longevity. For people who care about team sports, the athletes come and go, but the team still remains, and people's loyalty usually remains with the team. For example, in the NFL Brett Favre played for the Green Bay Packers (of Wisconsin) for years, but last year he switched to the Minnesota Vikings, a major rival of the Packers. Many Packers fans seemed upset to see him go, but they didn't change their team allegiance. Similarly, some Vikings fans weren't entirely thrilled to see Favre wearing purple and gold, but very few if any stopped supporting the Vikings just because a former Packer was playing for them. However (and get ready for a SEARING insight here): figure skating is not like football. One of the things that makes figure skating unique is its emphasis on individuality. In team sports it's all about wearing the same uniform and functioning as a single unit, a collective consciousness if you will. Even take a sport like snowboarding, which also places a high value on individuality, yet--at the Olympics at least--all the competitors from the same country wear the same uniform. In figure skating, there are no uniforms, there is no collective consciousness; it's all about individual expression, which is one of the many wonderful things about it, but it does make it harder on a fan such as myself when athletes do retire from competition, especially considering the fact that, as I pointed out elsewhere, rarely do figure skaters experience much success after the age of 30, so most of them tend to leave competition before that particular milestone.
ESPN hosts an annual awards show, the ESPYs. I was vaguely aware that they would be happening, but unfortunately I wasn't aware that the awards were determined by public internet polling, so I missed the opportunity to vote for Evan Lysacek and Joannie Rochette. Darn me. Evan Lysacek lost the clunky title of "Best Male U.S. Olympic Athlete" to Shaun White, which is disappointing but understandable. I don't begrudge Shaun White the title because, really, what's not to like about him? Joannie Rochette was nominated for "Best Moment," and it's not so much surprising that she didn't win, but the moment that did win is enormously surprising: Landon Donovan's World Cup goal against Algeria.
I'm trying very hard to be diplomatic about this because I don't want to inadvertently ruffle anyone's feathers, but I'm really, REALLY surprised that American sports fans picked a soccer moment as the best moment. If I were a betting person, I would have pegged either Rochette or the Super Bowl champions (New Orleans Saints) as the winning moment. (My pick, of course, would have been Rochette, but if I were trying to figure out how most American sports fans would vote, I would guess they would have picked the Super Bowl). I suspect that it may have worked in Donovan's favor that the World Cup happened so recently, while the Super Bowl was in January and the Olympics were in February, so the World Cup was probably a bit fresher in people's minds. Another thing is that the Super Bowl, by its very nature (as American football) pits U.S. teams against one another, one team from each of the two conferences. Some people seem to form allegiances to one conference over the other (for example, if their team doesn't make the Super Bowl, they'll support the team from their conference that does), so when one team won the Super Bowl, it might have alienated a lot of fans of the other conference. In the World Cup, however, its Team USA against the world, so there's no question of divided loyalties. And Americans love figure skating, but many of us have not openly embraced our love of figure skating. We seem to be a little more comfortable with our love of women's figure skating because it seems more appropriate to us for women to wear sequins and jump and spin around, but I think a lot of us don't want to express appreciation even for the women's event for fear of being perceived as weak or effeminate or overly emotional (remember that, officially, it's not known as women's figure skating but "ladies' figure skating," which connotes primness and delicacy, two qualities not typically associated with sports in general). And we should probably also take into consideration the fact that Rochette is Canadian, so while I think we all wish her well, we Americans don't really feel a sense of pride in her accomplishment. (I feel a sense of pride in it as a figure skating fan, but that's me.) I wonder too if there might not be a subtle, anti-Canadian bias stemming from sour grapes over the Olympic hockey final. (The other nominee that I know of was a golfer, and I don't know enough about golf to comment.)
Several weeks ago, I read an editorial in the Argus Leader about soccer. It was funny because they tried to set up the question of "will soccer ever become a mainstream sport in America?" as a pro/con debate, and I don't think the question was well suited to that. Anyway, I read the response from the guy on the "con" side, and he posed several theories as to why soccer might not appeal to mainstream American sports fans (one of which was the fact that you can't use your hands, and if I may play devil's advocate for a moment, that's one of the reasons soccer appeals to people; the fact that you can't use your greatest strength is what makes it challenging and interesting...for those who like that sort of thing). Anyway, at the end he said something like, "let Americans adapt soccer according to our tastes, and then we'll embrace it." Which made me laugh, because what exactly does this guy think American football is but an adaptation (some would say corruption) of soccer? More accurately, I believe that American football is a variation of rugby, which in turn was adapted from soccer. In any case, the guy was right, when we adapted soccer according to our own taste we embraced it wholeheartedly, one might say mindlessly if one was feeling uncharitable. (To be fair, I've grown to appreciate that you can't really play or watch American football mindlessly because the rules are so very complicated. That is one thing that I prefer about soccer over American football is that the scoring is more straightforward: ball goes into goal=one point...at least in theory.)
Anyway, I don't think soccer ever will enjoy much mainstream popularity in the U.S., and it has nothing to do with the scoring or the refereeing or any of those other factors that people debate so much. No, it's because the match runs 90 minutes with no stops except for the 15-minute halftime, and if you cut away, there's a good chance that you're going to miss something vitally important; very possibly the only goal of the entire match. That means there's less time to show commercials. Less time to show commercials means less advertising airtime to sell. No matter how popular it may be or may become, it's never going to become as commercially viable as sports like American football or basketball or baseball--or even golf. And I don't see a sport that Americans can't watch on TV becoming mainstream. But I could be wrong.