A Mad, Sad Summer
BOSTON – In a way, it’s consoling that the turmoil that seems pervasive in Chapel Hill these days is pretty much everywhere in sports.
College athletics appears ready for either an evolution or a revolution, and standing pat is simply not an option. The PED scandal in Major League Baseball has already banished one all-star (Ryan Braun) for the season with others to follow, and now word is spreading that the next names exposed won’t be limited to the National Pastime or even professional sports.
But nowhere in the country is there more collective anxiety than here, where within four months a terrorist bombing shattered the Boston Marathon, a member of the revered New England Patriots was charged with first-degree murder and they finally broke up of Big Three that brought the Celtics their last NBA Championship.
Oh, and the Boston Bruins blew the Stanley Cup in 17 seconds of Game 6 while the Red Sox are hanging on for dear life with a decimated pitching staff. Plus, it’s raining cats and dogs, just like most of the summer in Carolina. What is a fan to do who uses sports as his or her escape?
NCAA President Mark Emmert is under siege from what – for the time being – has settled in as the big five conferences, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 14 and Southeastern. All five commissioners, including the usually reserved John Swofford of the ACC, have used their football media days as bully pulpits to lobby for changes that run from the old (paying college athletes something) to the new (a football federation with a separate set of rules within the NCAA). Emmert has no choice but to support everything everyone is proposing, because apparently he is fighting for his job.
So far, no member of the Red Sox has been linked to the Biogenesis PED scandal, but supposedly that list is long and surprising. After the Marathon bombings that killed three and injured hundreds on April 15, the city rallied around the Sox who were trying to recover from their own relative disaster of losing 93 games in 2012 under beleaguered and since fired one-year manager Bobby Valentine.
After an exciting 20-8 start that took Boston’s mind off the Marathon, the Sox pitching staff began going down one by one, from closers to set-up men (including UNC’s Andrew Miller) to starters who started fast but either haven’t pitched since (Clay Buchholz, 9-0) or pitched poorly (Jon Lester, now 8-6). Somehow, the Sox still led the American League East by a half-game heading into the weekend.
Their biggest news also came with a sobering reminder. Dirtball second baseman Dustin Pedroia signed a $110 million contract extension, keeping the underrated, undersized and unrelenting captain of the team here for the next eight years. But such a signing was an easy reminder that 10 months after the Patriots extended Aaron Hernandez’s contract for five years and $40 million, the deeply troubled tight end was charged with murdering a friend and is now a suspect in at least two other slayings.
With NFL training camps open and Hernandez moving from his mansion to an eight-by-eight jail cell, that story simply won’t go away. Not even Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady can quell the obtuse obsession by acknowledging the magnitude of the tragedy while vowing the Patriots will nevertheless move ahead and play football. People are still going nuts here over how and why Hernandez, an exemplary player with a checkered personal past, could throw away so many lives, including his own.
The sick joke here is that the Patriots knew they were gambling on Hernandez, who had failed a drug test at Florida and supposedly had gang relationships back in his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut, but everyone agreed “it’s not like he is going to kill anybody!”
And even though the Pats still have Belichick and Brady and are favored to win the AFC East for the fifth straight season, who the heck is Brady going to throw to? With Rob Gronkowski sidelined indefinitely and Wes Welker having gone to Denver to play with Peyton Manning, they don’t have a single receiver back who started a game last year.
Even the good news comes with apprehension. Yes, the Celtics parted with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce a year after Ray Allen signed with the Heat, and in return they wound up with nine first round draft choices over the next five years. But that’s FIVE YEARS! Who can wait that long?
And although young, bright Butler’s Brad Stevens is their new coach, why would Doc Rivers want to leave for the LA Clippers? And does general manager Danny Ainge really know what he’s doing with the storied franchise?
Hopefully, the Red Sox can hang on and return to the playoffs for the first time in three years. Remember, they blew a 10-game lead in September of 2011.
Everyone is talking, watching, wondering what will happen next. Not only here but everywhere in sports including back home.
Can Fedora’s offense score enough points and his defense stop anyone? What will Roy do with P.J. Hairston? Will Carolina ever be able to press the restart button with its athletic department?
Some crazy summer. And, where ever you go, it’s still raining.