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Twining’s Take on the week in sports: walk-off World Champs, Summitt’s diagnosis, sports craziness

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It’s not crazy, it’s sports.

ESPN’s current ad campaign shows various scenarios of avid, some might say crazy, sports fans and the various ways fan allegiances infiltrate their daily lives. From Jimmy Johnson fans and their obsession with number 24 to a Detroit Tigers fan proposing to his romance-obsessed girlfriend at a baseball game to many, many others, most casual observers would agree these scenarios are, in fact, crazy.

Believe me, I understand sports obsessions. I’m a die-hard Seattle sports fan and anything competitive, yes that includes the WNBA (go defending league champion Seattle Storm!), captivates my attention.

That being said, I understand where to draw the line between being a crazy-obsessed fan and being a normal fan. Recently, certain events in sports have been more crazy than sports-related, specifically the felony-assault charges two Louisiana State football players face, a suicide by a Baltimore Oriole executive, and a drive-by, accidental shooting murder by a former NBA player.

I’ll try to avoid nothing but negativity in this week’s Twining’s Take because some other topics merit discussion as well, including Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt’s recent medical diagnosis and the walk-off single in the Little League World Series (LLWS).

You know what, I think that’s the perfect place to begin.

Walk-off World Champions

I wrote last week about how I finally understand the benefits of televising the LLWS. On Sunday afternoon, smack in the middle of coverage of Hurricane Irene’s East Coast destruction, sports fans witnessed the feel-good moment of the summer.

Little League World Series

Bases-loaded; two outs; tie game; bottom of the sixth. 12-year-old Nick Pratto, the coach’s son, steps to the plate, just hoping for a good pitch.

After two balls, Pratto got the pitch he was looking for and lined a game-winning single to center field, plating pinch-runner Eric Anderson and securing California’s second LLWS title in three years the the sixth United States title in the past seven years.

Winning the World Series in walk-off fashion against the defending champions is what most Major League Baseball players dream of doing. It’s the type of scenario little kids play over and over in their backyards, hoping to one day get the opportunity to win a game.

In a post-game interview on ABC with an American flag draped over his shoulders, Pratto said Sunday was “the best day of my life.” At 12 years old, this could become his best sporting accomplishment ever.

The ascent to the Major Leagues gets bottled-up near the top. Few Little League World Series standouts even make it to the Majors, let alone the Minor Leagues. Therefore, even with all the controversy surrounding the LLWS being televised and the hot-head coaches and fans, it’s moments such as this one that validate the televising of the LLWS.

Pat Summitt’s Curtain Call

At 59-years-old, the upcoming 2011-2012 college basketball season could be the final season Pat Summitt leads her Tennessee Lady Vols into the NCAA Tournament. It has nothing to do with her age, but more to do with her recent medical diagnosis.

Last Wednesday, Summitt announced she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, a prelude to Alzheimer’s disease. At such a relatively young age, it’s disappointing news for one of the greatest coaches ever.

Pat Summitt

Jemele Hill, of ESPN.com, wrote a great piece this past week detailing the fear that comes with Summitt’s diagnosis. In discussing Summitt’s courage and willingess to go public with the diagnosis, Hill also says “I’m fearful that we may see a legend decline right in front of us, and in a way that isn’t dignified.”

With all the Brett Favre retirement fiascos, the media loved to discuss the idea of aging players retiring gracefully. Superstars, it seems, struggle to give up the game that has defined their lives to that point. We’re quick to tell Tiki Barber to not pursue a comeback at age 36, and no team has signed him yet. We applaud MLB teams simply not resigning Ricky Henderson with he was on the high-side of 40 but still claimed he could be effective. When Michael Jordan came out of retirement to play for the Wizards it showed the inevitable decline in skills of the NBA’s best player.

Why then is it so difficult to tell, or even think of telling, coaches to retire. I’m not saying Pat Summitt should retire immediately, or that Tennesse should force her out the same way Florida State forced out Bobby Bowden. But what happens when, or if, Summitt reaches mid-season and her dementia has progressed and her effectiveness as a basketball coach regressed? Will Tennessee have the guts to tell Summitt to stop?

Going forward, I wish Summitt the best in her fight against this mentally debilitating disease, I just hope that when it reaches the point the she can no longer coach effectively she makes the decision to retire, not the athletic department.

Yes, it is crazy

Three stories surfaced this past week involving somewhat prominent sports figures and crazy occurences; two resulted in death, one in felony assault charges.

Last Wednesday afternoon, former Orioles pitcher, television announcer and top executive Mike Flanagan was found dead on his Baltimore County property from an apparent suicide. To take nothing away from Flanagan’s death, suicides are not uncommon in today’s society. However, committing suicide because of your role in a professional organization’s prolonged failure? That’s a new one.

According to WBAL-TV’s sports director Gerry Sandusky, via Deadspin.com, Flanagan was “despondent over what he considered a false perception from a community he loved of his role in the team’s prolonged failure.” A relative later confirmed that Flanagan had struggled with the perception of fans and colleagues alike of his role in the team’s failures.

Flanagan’s suicide, allegedly because of the Orioles inability to win in the AL East, is disappointing. You know what else is disappointing, the death of 22-year-old Jullian Jones, a mother of two, who was accidentally shot Aug. 19 in Atlanta.

Javaris Crintenton

Who faces charges in Jones’ murder? None other than former Los Angeles Laker Javaris Crintenton who infamously was suspended, along with Gilbert Arenas, when they pulled guns on each other in the Washington Wizards locker room.

Sure, I get the whole I’m-masculine-and-have-money-so-I-need-a-gun thing, but to drive down the street, stick a gun out the window and fire a shot because you are trying to get revenge for being robbed? That’s just not smart. Not only that, but if you are going to try and get revenge you should make sure you aren’t going to accedintally shoot an innocent woman.

Finally, the world of NCAA college football is embroiled in another scandal, this time involving two football players at LSU. Jordan Jefferson and Joshua Johns both face felony assault charges after a fight broke out at a local college bar.

The interesting thing is, the incident started with an innocent horn honk. Instead of a group of people standing in the street simply moving out of the way of the car, a couple guys chose, instead to pull the man out of the truck and beat him mercilessly. When a Marine tried to intervene and help the victim, he too was beaten, knocked to the ground and kicked in the face, allegedly by Jefferson.

Both players have been suspended indefinitely by LSU and I hope neither of them see the field this season. This is far different that the LeGarrete Blount punch following Oregon’s loss to Boise State in the season opener two years ago, at least Blount was taunted.

It’s just so disappointing that the bravado of these “famous” college football players outweighs the common sense that should tell them “hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t kick this guy in the face. You know, maybe I should use my “fame” to help break up the fight.” Instead they did the opposite

Photos courtesy Ruhrfisch and Staff Sgt. Christina M. O’Connell via Wikimedia Commons, and Keith Allison via Flikr.

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