Category Archives: Other Topics

Rebutting Chris Suellentrop’s “Hard Times in the Paris of the Plains”

 

I decided I really didn’t like this piece anymore, but I’ll leave it up since I wrote it and tweeted about it. Chris said a couple things on 610 Sports with Nick Wright that made some of what I wrote incorrect, especially the last part about the KU/MU thing so I’ve crossed that out.

About a month ago, Grantland.com launched as the brainchild of my favorite sportswriter, Bill Simmons. There’s a lot of back story to its genesis, but I’ll skip that – the point of the site, to me, is to cover sports and pop culture in a long-form manner that doesn’t get done very often in this era of TMZ, Twitter and instant analysis. So far, I’ve enjoyed the site a lot – it’s got a ton of talented writers covering all sorts of different topics.

Last week, the biggest Royals fan I can think of (Rany Jayzayerli of Rany on the Royals) wrote a Grantland column about the historical ineptitude of KC’s hometown team. Though a bit depressing for Royals fans, it was all true and can’t really be disputed.

Today, another column about Kansas City appeared on the site, written by Chris Suellentrop and titled “Hard Times in the Paris of the Plains.” Its intent was to discuss the failed attempts to bring a NBA team to Kansas City’s Sprint Center and how that feeds into the Midwestern inferiority complex that we (supposedly) have. Though Chris had some good points, I really took issue with a few things he said and want to offer my counter-opinion here.

“Currently the Sprint Center is home to an arena football team and not much else.”

While it’s true that there is no anchor tenant at the Sprint Center (other than the Kansas City Command, formerly the Brigade), the lack of a NBA/NHL team has probably helped the arena overall, as it was ranked by Pollstar Magazine (the concert industry’s leading trade publication), as the 5th busiest arena in the United States and 12th busiest in the world. From the Kansas City Star: “In 2010, Sprint Center hosted 17 of the top 20 North American tours, including Bon Jovi, Roger Waters, Michael Buble, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Billy Joel, Justin Bieber, the Black Eyed Peas, and James Taylor and Carole King.” Those rankings are for concerts only, so undoubtedly, Kansas City would not be ranked as high if sports events were included. However, the Sprint Center is home to the Big XII Men’s Basketball Tournament and has hosted event like WWE, PBR and others. The point is; the place is not sitting there unused like Suellentrop makes it sound.

“I didn’t know yet that if you want to do something reasonably creative for a living and get paid for it, pretty much the only way to do it in Kansas City anymore was to write for Hallmark cards.”

This is, without a doubt, the most untrue line in the entire piece and the only one that was truly offensive to me. Since you’ve been gone since the late 90′s, Chris, let me catch you up on the creativity of town you grew up in:

  • The Crossroads area fills up every month in a celebration of this town’s artists and other creative people called “First Fridays” – http://www.kccrossroads.org/
  • The American Advertising Federation – Kansas City (AAF-KC) is one of the biggest AAF chapters in the country. Just last month, its members won more National ADDY Awards than any market outside Chicago or Los Angeles. KC’s large marketing/advertising community is home to clients like McDonald’s, On the Border, Krispy Kreme, Gatorade, Ford (Canada), Kellogg’s, and many, many more.
  • Incredibly gifted photographers like rw/2, Ron Berg, Austin Walsh, Alistair Tutton, Nick Vedros and David Morris all call KC home.
  • The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art added on the architecturally-renowned Bloch edition a couple years ago and it, along with the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, are both world-class art museums.
  • Oh yeah, Hallmark is still the industry leader too.

“Though as a Kansan, I am trying to be mean to Missouri, even though I went to journalism school there. In Kansas City, collegiate rooting affiliations are bound by blood and soil, not matriculation. I root for the Tigers in journalism and for the Jayhawks in everything else.”

Where to start with this one? It doesn’t matter where you grew up; it matters where you went to school. A lot of Kansans used to do this split loyalty thing and say they rooted for Kansas State football and Kansas basketball. But splitting loyalties between KU/MU is far worse than that – sorry, Chris, but you forsake your right to cheer for the Jayhawks when you went to Mizzou. In case you didn’t realize, KU has a fabulous journalism school too, so the argument of going there for that program doesn’t really hold up. You’re a Tiger now, for better or worse, so please donate any Crimson & Blue you have to Goodwill and embrace your Tiger-ness.

I know you wrote some of this lightheartedly but it’d sure be nice if Kansas City wasn’t stereotyped and bashed nationally by a guy who thinks of himself “as a resident out-of-towner in New York.” Maybe it’s time you came back and saw some of what’s happening in this town – you might be surprised.

 

What’s Wrong with NASCAR…to me.

Last night, in my Packer win-euphoria, I was looking through my Twitter feed and saw a post from Steve O’Donnell, senior VP for Race Operations for NASCAR. You can see the comments back & forth below:

Steve’s Twitlonger post was, “@KyleRohde isn’t that what Super Bowl is? One game takes it all? I could certainly debate fairness of undefeated Pats losing just one game to a wildcard team…but that is why it is sport.”

I was a bit surprised that Steve engaged with me and, the more I thought about it, I felt like I should give him more than 140 characters of thought on this. So, Steve, here are my thoughts on NASCAR today:

I’ve been a NASCAR fan since late in high school, so about ten years now. Growing up in Wisconsin, I quickly became a fan of Matt Kenseth, who’s from Cambridge, WI (just east of Madison). I’ve gone to multiple races at the Kansas Speedway, a few in Milwaukee at the Mile and one amazing trip to Bristol, TN in 2006. I try to catch most of the races, but I don’t generally alter my schedule to do so. I’m probably a 6-7 on a 10 point NASCAR fan scale, so I think I fit right into the “light” fan category that they are probably struggling most to maintain right now. The die-hards are die-hards and the casual to light fan are more fickle.

Here’s the things I think NASCAR does right today:

  • Competitive nature of the races: though Jimmie Johnson has won five straight titles, just about every race can be won realistically by 15-20 different guys, or 35-47% of the cars in the race. Not bad.
  • Track experience: from the souvenir trailers and games outside the track to the pits and everything in the track, the experience is done well. Some tracks, like Kansas Speedway, for example, let you bring your own food & drink into the track – see how often that happens at an NFL or MLB venue.
  • TV Coverage: every moment of the NASCAR season on the track can be seen on TV, whether on Speed, ESPN, FOX or TNT. There’s more coverage than any sane person could ever want to watch.

And here’s why those things aren’t enough to keep me interested; these are the things I wish NASCAR would change:

  • Race length: yes, 30 years ago it was a good marketing tool to have 500 mile races and show how durable the cars are. Today, it’s rare to see an engine problem and the cars are so far removed from anything resembling production cars that it doesn’t matter (we’ll come back to this). To watch a NASCAR race requires a commitment of around four hours. That’s four hours of a beautiful spring, summer or fall afternoon. The length of time wouldn’t be such a big deal if the racing was good, but it’s not for much of that time. NASCAR drivers have said on multiple occasions that middle of a race is frequently, for all practical purposes, a parade. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has regularly called for shorter races, most recently just a couple weeks ago. Formula One, the most popular form of motorsport on earth (but a very niche sport here in the US) has a two hour time limit for each race. That means I can watch Formula One qualifying (a more exciting qualifying than NASCAR) AND the Formula One pre-race activity and the race itself, in roughly the same time it takes to just watch a NASCAR race.
    • What I’d like to see: 3 hour time limit for all races, except the Daytona 500, Charlotte 600-mile and the Southern 500.
  • Season length: 36 races is a lot. Mid-February to mid/late November is a long season – NASCAR overlaps college basketball’s last 1/3, the last 1/2 of the NBA & NHL, all of MLB and the first 1/2 of the NFL season (we’ll come back to the NFL). My interest wanes as we get into the fall and I think that’s partially because I’m ready for football and partially because I’ve been watching NASCAR for six months already. Formula One’s season is almost as long in length, but they have less than 20 races so the issue isn’t the same. Many of those 36 races are duplicate races at the same track, some of which are not worthy of two dates – like Kansas Speedway. I live 15 miles from it, so I’m excited they got two dates, but that track is not worthy of it – it’s a generic, 1.5 mile track that’s very similar to a variety of other tracks on the circuit, with zero history. The only reason Kansas got two races is the Hollywood Casino under construction at turn 2 of the track. A casino owned in part by International Speedway Corporation (ISC), who also owns the track, and who is run by France family members (the same people that run NASCAR).
    • What I’d like to see: 26 race season with only Daytona, Bristol and Talladega getting two races.
  • Relevant cars: NASCAR got its start with production cars, and even into the mid 1970′s, still used cars very much like you could buy off the showroom floor (“Win Sunday, sell Monday!”). But that’s a distant memory, with cars nothing like anything available from your local dealer. NASCAR race cars still use carbureted, pushrod V8 engines. There hasn’t been a carbureted production car in probably 25 years in the US and most manufacturers have gone away from pushrods, though GM still makes fantastic motors with them (Ford stopped using them in 1996 in their V8s). They still have solid rear axles, only seen on pickup trucks, a few SUVs and the Ford Mustang. And the only significant technological innovation in the past decade was the safety upgrades finally done after Dale Earnhardt Sr’s death in 2001 (fantastic job on the increased safety NASCAR, sincerely). Formula One cars may look more different than street cars, but they continue to push the technological envelope and that’s brought us features like paddle-shifted transmissions and KERS (kinetic energy recovery system, which may be seen on production cars in the near future). NASCAR has created a car with such tight rules that it’s almost a spec series, which takes some of the fun out of it for me.
    • What I’d like to see: Open up the rules so manufacturers can have a body with an identity beyond stickers on the front of the car. Open up powertrain rules and have a power-to-weight ratio limit instead. Imagine how much more fun it would be to see, for example, a Ford EcoBoost V6 vs. a Toyota DOHC V8 and a GM pushrod V8.
  • More road races: only having two road races a year is sort of like dipping your toe in the water but never diving in. And NASCAR’s been dipping the toe for a long time.
    • What I’d like to see: Out of a 26 race season, I’d like to see 4 road races – Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Road America and Road Atlanta or Laguna Seca.
  • No more Chase for the Cup: I thought I’d like the Chase, I did. But it’s been eight years and it continues to feel like a gimmick, contrived to get people to pay attention to NASCAR when they’re all watching the NFL instead. Admirable, but the NFL is an unstoppable force and you need to stop trying to compete with them NASCAR (side note – more Saturday night races would be good during the fall). Yes, as Steve pointed out in this tweets to me, playoffs in other sports could be looked at as contrived too, but I don’t think racing should be like other sports. The entire season matters and you can get great championship battles without forcing it like NASCAR (see Formula One the past few years).
    • What I’d like to see: no more Chase. The season is 26 races long and the driver with the most points at the end wins.
  • Fix the Points: NASCAR just announced significant changes to the points, based on someone thinking fans were confused about the old system and that was a reason for declining fan interest. The system wasn’t easy to follow but I don’t think most fans care. We do care about drivers going for the win as hard as possible, because that creates great races. How do you encourage that? Give more points for winning. The difference between first and second in points is so small that points racing will continue to be the norm in NASCAR.
    • What I’d like to see: 50 points for winning, 35 for second, 34 for third and so on, down to 20th place getting 17 points, with everyone from 21 and back getting 15 points. No more hammering guys for getting wrecked and finishing near the back, which happens a lot due to no fault of the driver.

The past couple years, I’ve drifted away from NASCAR and towards Formula One, Speed World Challenge, ALMS and other road racing series. Why? The action is more exciting, the cars more relevant and the time commitment less. I want to love NASCAR again but it’s not getting any easier. I hope the upcoming rumored changes to the car in 2013 and other things get a bit closer to my vision above. Racing is becoming less & less important to young people, along with cars, and I hate to see it.

Steve, again, thanks for engaging with me on Twitter and for being on there in the first place. Not many VP level people at such visible companies are doing that. Hope all this feedback from an average fan helps in some way. Here’s to a great season – go #17!

Guest Post on ThisMayConcernYou.com

Damon Smith’s a really talented writer; he’s worked for the Kansas City Star and the Olathe News in the past and, among other things, has a great site called This May Concern You.  It’s a blog, devoted to letters written to celebrities, other people from his past, etc.  The letters are funny, cynical, thought-provoking, sarcastic and a lot more.  It’s become one of my favorite blogs and the amount of comments he gets consistently is amazing.  And when I watched Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame induction speech, it got me thinking about a letter I could write to MJ.  Damon was gracious enough to let me guest post, and my letter was posted today.  Watch the speech below, if you haven’t seen it, then check out my letter to Michael Jordan here.

 

EDIT: Damon’s site is not up as of 5/16/2011 so I’m reposting my letter to MJ below:

Dear Michael,

You became the hero of my youth sometime around age 8 (1990); I’d moved on from He-Man and, though you didn’t have a sword or a castle, something about you struck a chord and for the next ten years, I worshipped the ground you walked on.

On October 6th, 1993, I woke up, watched the news and could scarcely believe what I saw – you were retiring and I broke down in tears, barely able to go to school that day. Short of 4/20/99 and 9/11/01, it’s one of the most vivid days of my life.

You came back and those next three years were amazing, the stuff dreams were made of. You reestablished your place as the most famous, iconic athlete in history. And after you retired again, you had the whole Wizards comeback thing, which I wish had never happened but hey, I understood, you couldn’t give it up. And it’s not like you pulled a Brett Favre and went to play for the Pistons or something. Plus, you donated your salary both years to the 9/11 victims.

Besides the obvious, I loved & admired other things about you – you’re articulate and speak intelligently. You have no visible tattoos and never succumbed to the thug culture so many athletes feel compelled to be a part of. You had a gorgeous wife named Juanita and three beautiful kids – Jeffrey, Marcus and Jasmine – and seemingly had a great marriage, with no Steve McNair-esque issues or rumors. Your parents were still blissfully married and you were close to them, until your dad was tragically taken from this world. I read The Jordan Rules and, yeah, you went nuts and punched Will Perdue once, but that’s just your ultra-competitive nature coming out, right?

Then, you started doing things that showed the naivety of my youthful hero worship. You and Juanita separated and things got ugly. She ended up getting what might be the biggest celebrity divorce settlement in history and you moved on…to stupidity like this – really MJ, you’re the greatest basketball player ever, with your choice of women anywhere, anytime, but feel the need to get down with a couple college chicks
that wouldn’t stand out in any KU or MU bar? Then there was the Lisa Miceli thing too.

You failed miserably as the Wizards owner and now you’re doing the same in Charlotte. I read When Nothing Else Matters and started to see the MJ that never starred in a Nike commercial; I started to see the arrogant egomaniac you were behind the scenes.

Things went further downhill for me when I saw the Miami love shack you bought for your almost- 20-years younger model girlfriend, Yvette Prieto. I’m sure she’s smart, funny and really “gets you”, MJ, but couldn’t you have avoided becoming another aging celebrity going after some young piece of ass to recapture your youth? Even Burt Reynolds is embarrassed for you. Not to mention the rumors she’s pregnant with your fourth child.

All those things saddened me, thinking back how I worshipped the ground you walked on. But I was still looking forward to your Hall of Fame induction because that would be the night you showed the joyous kid inside you again. Your humble side would come out and you’d thank all the people who helped you accomplish what you did. But instead, you showed that six years of retirement has done little to quell your desire for attention and adulation.

In stark contrast to the humble joy of David Robinson and John Stockton, you felt the need to combat a slight that hasn’t existed for over 20 years. You took as much credit for the championships as you could, quickly mentioning Scottie & Phil, while leaving out Grant, Paxson, Rodman, Kerr, Tex Winter, Johnny Bach, Tim Grover, and the other guys that helped you win six rings. You gave Jerry Krause a few more sharp barbs, even though he was a far better GM that you will ever be, building six championship-winning teams, and a seventh that almost won one without you in ‘94-95. I don’t want to repeat what Adrian Wojnarowski said here but on a night when everyone came out to celebrate you, you still felt compelled to avenge every perceived transgression ever directed towards you. People were talking about having a separate Hall of Fame ceremony, just for you, and maybe changing the NBA logo to reflect your status as the G.O.A.T., yet you still felt a need for revenge.

I hope that you can learn from a guy like Magic Johnson, who has far more reason to be bitter than you, with a career ended too soon by a disease that will more than likely kill him one day. But Magic’s warmth still radiates any time he’s shown on TV, 17 years after being diagnosed with H.I.V. He’s become an ambassador for basketball, just as you should. As you age, I hope you can become that.

In the end, I’m disappointed, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, that you turned out the way you did – flawed and imperfect, bitter beyond reason and struggling to hang onto a part of your life that’s long gone. Like finding out the truth about Santa Claus, knowing that takes away a part of my childhood. You’ve come back down to Earth and, unfair as it is, I like you less for it. You were better than all that, MJ, in the eyes
of a 12 year old Wisconsin kid named Kyle.