Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In defense of publicity stunt hires

The Process
Two stories over the transom in one of the worst days of the year in sports...

> Jennifer Welter, a 36-year-old female football player in the usual minor leagues for such things, got three carries at the goal line as a running back for the Texas Revolution against the North Texas Crunch. As Welter is 5'-2" and 130 pounds, and the holes on said running plays were not wide open, she was unsuccessful, but not injured. I'd show you the footage, but it's nothing you haven't seen in your standard kung fu movie, where a stunt women gets yanked backwards hard on wires. Let's just say that Welter doesn't look like she's a great candidate for starting work.

> Kevin Grow, a high school senior from suburban Philadelphia with Down's Syndrome, got a ceremonial 2-day contract from the Sixers, which allows him to practice and be on the sidelines for tomorrow's night game against Cleveland. This was in response to Grow getting into a game and going off for 14 points, with four three-point bombs following a courtesy layup.

Now, there's nothing relating these stories to each other; different sports, different motives, different people and situations. And yet, I can't help but feel a kinship, in that they are both teams doing stunt hires to make themselves look, I don't know, progressive or open-minded or not so serious.

The hard edge on such things makes you wonder when teams moved away from simply trying to win games with their personnel, and why we should be doing anything but ignoring it as an obvious attempt to curry PR favor... but that's not really looking at things in the proper light. The plain and simple fact is that the back end of any roster is mostly ceremonial and/or for emergency / show / practice, and graduating up from that is fairly rare. And when you get to the minor league part of the process, it's even more debatable.

But what isn't debatable is the message being sent by stunts like this, which is simple: there's no reason to limit the talent pool to the usual sluice. In the NBA, the Spurs do themselves incredible favors by drawing players from six continents. MLB has players from all over the place now, and the NFL is doing everything it can to welcome Michael Sam into the league, and green-light future gay players.

Sports is an imperfect meritocracy; you still need to be politically astute enough to get playing time, but after that, we can (and do) measure your worth to a pretty close degree. And while you can argue about the relative worth of such measurements, there's no one saying that a 50% three-point shooter or a 5 yards per carry running back is anything but a talent that belongs in the league.

Eventually, and it may take decades and occur in a society that we can scarcely recognize as our own, one of those players will be female, or challenged, or in some other way different from everything that has come before.

It is the way of such things.

And in the meantime, tickets are sold, and teams are thought of as Nice People by people who might spend the rest of their lives not thinking about such teams in the least. Hell, maybe someone even takes the moment and puts it at the core of some determined and successful drive to a real career. (I'm still of the mind that our first female in a major US sport will be a lefty sidearm reliever, kicker or end-game shooting specialist, but it's not as if  there are rules here.)

Play me out, Mahatna...

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