Sunday, November 13, 2011

College football--a tarnished institution

I’m reviving The Fritz Blitz this week. I had planned on reviving my general news blog, Fritzburgh An’at, but the most important story of the past week is also a sports story.

So much has been said about the child sexual abuse scandal* at Penn State that it seems that there’s nothing new to add—at least until more victims come forward. Pedophiles aren’t known for stopping in the single digits.

The scandal is not just sports news—it’s world news. Everybody seems to have an opinion on it—even people who could care less about football.

The reactions will be predictable. Colleges will tighten their regulations about reporting sexual abuse, as they should. But the scandal has everybody asking—how did this happen? How was Jerry Sandusky able to rape children for years while losing nothing but the keys to a locker room?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember, with all the prestige that comes with their positions, that college football coaches are, or are supposed to be, teachers. They are considered professors in their respective physical education departments, and many of them teach classes.

Suppose a professor of English or biology—or even a coach of a less popular sport than football—had been caught raping a child in a classroom at Penn State. Would it have gone unreported to the police for nine years? I doubt it.

What makes the difference? The stakes are much higher in the world of college football than they are elsewhere on campus.

At the elite schools, college football is a multi-million dollar industry and the people involved in it have an enormous amount to lose if things go wrong. Many head coaches make seven-figure salaries and rank among the most powerful people on campus. When Penn State is mentioned, many people—before the scandal, and, no doubt, for many years to come—will think of Joe Paterno. And as such, the Penn State scandal has given a black eye to the university as a whole, even though only a small percentage of its students are directly connected to the football program. To many people, Penn State has become “that college where…” For comparison, when I was growing up in Ohio in the ‘70s, “that college where…” was Kent State.

So you have a powerful organization whose goal is to win on and off the field—where a few individuals are revered and even considered infallible as long as they keep winning—and where nobody wants to rock the boat, lest they lose their jobs or kill the cash cow. It adds up to the perfect place for someone to commit one of the most heinous crimes and fly under the radar for years.

I wonder what other scandals are going on at other big-name football programs. We know about the recruiting violations, unscrupulous boosters, and players who trade their jerseys for tattoos that come to light from time to time—but those are mere violations of NCAA rules, not disgusting crimes that shock the conscience.

How many other Jerry Sanduskys are out there hiding behind the power and prestige of an elite college football program because nobody wants to speak out and tarnish the program’s reputation?

Maybe it’s time that college football took a good look at itself. Has it become too big and too dependent on winning and making money for its own good?

*And please, let's stop calling this a "sex scandal." Bill Clinton was a sex scandal. Herman Cain is a sex scandal. What happened at Penn State was the rape of children--one of the most horrible crimes imaginable.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Playing with Passion

(Published in Western Pennsylvania Mensa Phoenix, April 2011)

You know about one champion professional football team in Pittsburgh, but you might not know that there’s another one—which has a Mensan in its ranks. Michele George plays linebacker for the Pittsburgh Passion, a women’s football team that has played since 2003.


The Passion, who won their league championship while going undefeated in 2007, will play in the Women’s Football Alliance as they begin their season this month. They play their home games in George K. Cupples Stadium on the South Side and practice at The Club Sport and Health in Monroeville. Owned by Head Coach Teresa Conn and Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris, the Passion has been in the forefront of women’s football throughout their existence. In addition to their national title and two divisional championships, the Passion have set league attendance records and become the first women’s football team to broadcast games on a major television network (Fox Sports Net).

Michele, a native of East Brady, tried out for the team last year even though she had not played any sports in almost 10 years. She had lettered in volleyball and track at Butler High School and competed in the long jump, triple jump and pole vault at Clarion University. “I knew zero about football,” she said. “Never paid attention to it, never played the game.”

“When I moved to Pittsburgh, I wanted to do all the things I always wanted to and couldn’t,” she said. “I just wanted to try out to see if it was something I could do.”

The financial analyst at PNC Bank could say the same for joining Mensa. While she initially took the test to add to her resume, she has found other benefits to her Mensa membership. She said that going to Mensa activities such as Lemongrowers in different parts of the Pittsburgh area has forced her to learn the city.


Michele started out as a wide receiver with the Passion. “I thought I was doing good at that,” she said, “but at wide receiver, you’re pretty defenseless as far as taking hits.” After sustaining a concussion in practice, she decided to try a new position. “I asked the coaches, ‘Where’s a good place not to get blindsided?’” she said.

In an intra-squad flag football league, she found out she was good at defense, so the coaches suggested she try linebacker. “I really liked it,” she said. “Your head’s up the whole time. You can see who’s coming at you.”

Michele has found that football has some things in common with activities that some might associate more with Mensans. “Football is like chess,” she said. “You run the offense where you think the defense is not going, and on defense, you think, ‘This piece is in this position.’”

The Passion’s roster includes players from all over western Pennsylvania, and even a player from the Cleveland area, even though there is a Cleveland team in the league. They will play eight games during the regular season, with the first three on the road. The opening game will be against Pittsburgh’s other women’s football team, the Force, at the Ambridge High School stadium Apr. 2 at 7 p.m. The Passion will host the Columbus Comets in their home opener Apr. 30 at 7 p.m.


The Passion will be looking to improve on last year’s 4-4 record, and Michele thinks the team’s extensive preparation should give them an edge.

“The coaches said we’ve been together longer than any of the other teams in the division,” she said. “We know what we need to do and when we’re going to do it. I just don’t know what our opponents are going to do.”


April 2, Pittsburgh Force, Away
April 9, Erie Illusion, Away
April 16, Cleveland Fusion, Away
April 30, Columbus Comets, Home
May 14, Pittsburgh Force, Home
May 21, Columbus Comets, Away
June 11, Cleveland Fusion, Home
June 18, Erie Illusion, Home
All games at 7 p.m.
2011 Pittsburgh Passion Home Game Ticket Sales
Individual Tickets:
Adult: $14.00
Senior / Military: $10.00
Children (5-17): $7.00
Students with ID: $7.00
Season Passes
Adult: $46.00
Senior / Military: $32.00
Children (5-17): $22.00
Students with ID: $22.00
Tickets are available at Individual game tickets are also available for purchase on home game days at the gate.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I think you're gonna finally understand

The problem with a blog like The Fritz Blitz is that there is just so much sports news out there that is available from much better sources. By the time Jamie and I get wind of something we’d like to write about, hundreds of people have beaten us to it, and they have access to much greater information on the topic than we do. By the time we gain insight on Troy Polamalu’s Achilles tendon or Ben Roethlisberger’s choice in karaoke songs, those stories have been across cyberspace and back again.

That’s why we often need to go beyond statistics or the results of any one game and get into what sports mean to us. So while other sports outlets are dissecting the many matchups in Super Bowl XLV—Roethlisberger vs. Aaron Rodgers, Polamalu vs. Clay Matthews, The Black Eyed Peas vs. music—I’m going to make this Super Bowl column more personal.

This is about how I became a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

When I was young, I was interested in the NFL in general, but I never had an allegiance to any one team. (The first pro football game I remember seeing on TV was an AFL game! Yeah, I’m old.) I think this was because I grew up in the middle of Buckeye country—where the most professional football team wears scarlet and gray. I remember wearing a Kansas City Chiefs windbreaker when I was a kid—not because I really cared about the Chiefs, but because I liked the colors.

NFL fandom in Columbus is split between the Browns and the Bengals, with a considerable number of Steelers fans. I went to a Bengals game with my brother when I was in college, and I thought it was cool that they made a couple of Super Bowls, but watching the NFL was mainly something I did when I had nothing else to do on Sunday.

This changed when I met Jamie.

When I visited her house before I moved to Pittsburgh, one of the things we did was watch the Steelers. We turned the TV volume down and listened to Myron Cope on the radio. I knew right then that I was watching much more than a football game. From Cope’s expressions like “yoi” and “um-hah” to the many years of lore behind the team, it was easy to be caught up in the Steelers phenomenon.

It’s no accident that I remember the day I moved to Pittsburgh—Nov. 10, 2002—as the day that the Steelers tied the Falcons, 34-34. Jamie and I saw our first game in person the next year. Not only was the game against the Chargers meaningless to the playoffs, the weather was quite cold (although Wikipedia says it was 38 degrees)—but you wouldn’t have known that judging from the crowd.

A Steelers game is something to see. It appears as if the whole town turns out for it—all devoted to their team and cheering on their favorites. And when there’s something important on the line—as there was in the 2005 playoff game we saw against the Jets—the upper deck of Heinz Field shakes. I have never seen such devotion to a team anywhere (and, yes, that includes the Buckeyes).

It has been fun watching the team build over the years, as each year brought with it new prospects that have become the team that’s playing in the Super Bowl now. There will be more than a team playing in the game tomorrow—there will be an entire city, and a great, big Steeler Nation, playing for a seventh Super Bowl ring.


Saturday, January 15, 2011


Today's a big day for sports in Pittsburgh. The Penguins play the Bruins at 1 PM. The Steelers battle the Hated Ravens at 4:30. And apparently, there's also a Pitt basketball game tonight. I only know because several people have mentioned offers of free tickets, which they declined. Poor Pitt. Don't worry. By the time March Madness rolls around, you'll only have to compete with the Penguins.

I haven't blogged here in a while because I am lazy, and I haven't had much to say. But I didn't feel it was right to let this momentous occasion pass without leaving a little positive mojo out there for my Steelers. I hope the game goes just like this one did.

Go Pens, Go Steelers, Go Pittsburgh!