Friday, May 15, 2009

Drug testing is proving to be an inexact science

By Jayson D. Henry

Manny Ramirez failed a drug test and was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball, or did he?

A report published by the Los Angeles Times now says that the supposed drug, HCG, was not actually found in the slugger’s system. Instead, it was a prescription for that drug which landed the somewhat eccentric outfielder on the MLB bad list.

Now one thing that has to be pointed out is that even though Manny’s system did not show any HCG, his synthetic testosterone levels where far higher than those of an average man. The experts who have looked over the report say that even though the initially reported HCG was not present, the Dodgers’ star was still in violation of the league’s drug testing policy.

The problem is that apparently Ramirez did not actually have the drug in his system that he was originally suspended for. While he was in violation, the initial report was still in error prescription or no prescription.

What if the next guy to get suspended is not actually taking anything on the banned substance list? If a mistake was made in first place who’s to say there won’t be a mistake made the next time? And the next time that guy may not conveniently be guilty of something else.

Speaking of banned substance lists, that brings up the case of an organization that bans its competitors with no list at all, or at least not a public list anyway.

NASCAR recently sent driver Jeremy Mayfield to the garage of shame for failing its drug test. Trouble with this case is, NASCAR won’t tell what he tested positive for. For that matter, they won’t even say what it is a driver can take that will cause him to be banned.

Ryan Newman, among others, has said he’d like to see a list. Greg Biffle says he didn’t take some prescribed medications after a boating accident because he was afraid of a positive test.

Because of NASCAR’s secrecy, all sorts of rumors have been flying around as to Mayfield’s plight. Many out there in internet land seem to be convinced the drug Claritin-D was at the heart of Mayfiled’s positive test.

The conspiracy theorists are convinced that NASCAR won’t release the name of the drug because Claritin is a NASCAR sponsor and they don’t want to bring embarrassment to one of their partners.

Well, it’s not like NASCAR has any sort of history of playing favorites or anything(sarcasm alert).

The bottom line in the Ramirez case and the Mayfield case is that the testers are behind the drug creators. It will always be that way because the tests are often created as a reaction to a drug that is already out there. In other words, it is impossible to create a test for something that has not yet been invented.

This is not meant as some sort apology or defense of those using banned substances in sports. Anyone who believes that the sports world is pure and clean is living in a fantasy world. However, it would be nice if the testers would at least get the tests right or not attempt some sort of Watergate style cover-up.

At best, drug testing is an inexact science. At worst, it could all be a bunch of guesswork and cover ups.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's time for another case of Ailurophobia to hit Augusta

By Jayson D. Henry

Ailurophobia is the fear of cats. I could not find a word for the specific fear of Tigers so this phobia will have to do.

This weekend professional golfers from all over the globe will head to Augusta National Country Club to experience one of the four ‘Major’ cases of Ailurophobia they will get this year to go along with numerous bouts of lesser cases of the condition.

It’s not enough that Tiger Woods is simply better than every other professional golfer. Not only is he better but he strikes fear, no make that absolute horror, into the hearts and minds, and bladders, of his opponents whenever he strolls up to the first tee.

There are other very talented golfers on the PGA Tour. However, the biggest difference between Tiger and the rest of the pack is that he burns to win. Winning is everything to him. There is no such thing as a good Top 10 finish.

Many of the other golfers out there seem content to take their six-digit paychecks for 4th or 5th place and head home in their private jets. Woods is not happy unless he is taking a trophy, or a green jacket, with him.

Like so many other sports such as NASCAR, and even football, basketball and baseball, big money has taken away the competitive drive and replaced it with contentedness.

Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino not only wanted to win, they needed to win. Players couldn’t Top 10 their way to multi-million dollar status back then. Now, they can.

So, when Tiger takes to the course with his desire and talent along with him he has a big advantage over those who have become content. That’s why it is so obvious he is going to win even when he enters the last day of a tournament several strokes behind.

He wants to win. He is not afraid to let it be known he wants to win and he is not happy with anything else. To the guys who are satisfied with anything else that is very intimidating. Knowing that Tiger will do whatever it takes to ‘seal the deal’ causes the other players to make mistakes. Then, the “I’ll still get a nice check for 2nd place” mindset starts to take over. It is written all over their faces every time it happens.

Tiger’s talent is immense. He is perhaps the greatest pressure putter ever. He can get himself out of messes better than almost any player the game has ever known, in the instances when he gets himself in messes. There is never a time when you can look at where he is on the course or the leader board and say, “He’s done”.

But even with the incredible skill he has been blessed with and has honed, it is his mind that makes him the greatest player in the game today, and quite possibly the greatest ever. His mind is set on that one thing, winning. Total focus and total energy on one thing, the only thing.

His talent is scary to the other players, but his mind is even more frightening.

So, you other golfers take your satisfaction and your big paycheck to the jet port as you leave Augusta this Sunday. But remember, Tiger will be leaving later than you and he will have more than satisfaction and a big check, he will have another green jacket.

Maybe the others can use those big checks to see a psychiatrist about that little case of ailurophobia they have.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What's the deal with Jeff Gordon at Texas?

By Jayson D. Henry

Jeff Gordon does not have many good memories of the Texas Motor Speedway. Of all the tracks that make up the NASCAR circuit, Texas is one of only two where he has never won. Homestead is the other.

There really seems to be no rhyme or reason for this. Gordon is one of the few drivers who can be considered a threat to win on any type track. He has wins on road courses, short tracks, intermediate tracks and restrictor plate tracks.

Yet, in 15 tries he has never been to victory lane in Fort Worth. He does have 6 Top 5s and 8 Top 10s. Those numbers would be outstanding for some drivers but for Gordon they are very ho-hum.

This Sunday he will again attempt to lead the pack to the checkered flag in the Samsung 500.

He has won on the similar tracks in Charlotte and Atlanta. Perhaps this will finally be the time he adds a cowboy hat and a pair of six shooters to his wardrobe.

Last year in this race he crashed early and finished last. Then, in the fall race on this 1.5 mile speedway he started on the pole and finished 2nd behind Carl Edwards. Maybe he has turned a corner of some sort and his Texas luck has changed.

Whatever the deal with Jeff Gordon at Texas, he would probably like to create some new memories of this place.

Bruce Pearl going to Memphis: Why not?

By Jayson D. Henry

One does not have to be much of a Psychologist to notice that Bruce Pearl is not as happy as he once was about being the head basketball coach for the University of Tennessee.

In recent radio and printed interviews Pearl has expressed dismay at the fact that the UT fan base has called his team’s most recent season a disappointment. After all, the Vols did win the SEC East…again. They played in the SEC Tournament title game. And, they were chosen for the NCAA Tournament.

However, Pearl’s problems are three fold in Knoxville.

First, he has set his own bar very high. The Volunteer basketball program has reached new heights while under his command. Sweet 16 appearances and regular season SEC championships have come to be expected rather than surprising. Now, any season short of reaching or exceeding all of those goals proves to be a disappointment in the ‘Vol Nation’.

Another thing that disappointed UT fans this year was that Pearl’s talent did not allow him to employ the fast paced, pressing style he has used in his previous years in Thompson-Boling Arena. Fans were not as excited about the half-court, methodical approach displayed in 2008-09.

And perhaps most importantly, Pearl has no doubt come to the full realization by now that football is king in Knoxville.

In his first years, his program has experienced increased enthusiasm due to the football team’s less than stellar seasons. Now, new coach Lane Kiffin has re-energized the Volunteer faithful in regard to their true favorite.

So, these factors now have to be considered by the popular coach. Will he stay with the Vols or will he head west for the fruitful recruiting fields of Memphis?
Consider all the advantages of going to Memphis.

Basketball is tops in Tiger land. There certainly will be no competition from football on his own campus.

Playing in Conference USA will almost assure a conference championship and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament every year.

And even though previous Memphis coach John Calipari recruited nationally, Pearl would, in reality, rarely ever have to leave the city limits of his own town to recruit a championship caliber club.

All of this has to be considered along with the fact that Memphis appears to be prepared to offer a significant amount of money that Tennessee may not be willing or able to match.

So, will Bruce Pearl leave UT for Memphis? Why not?

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Might UK and UT Athletic Directors share common fate?

By Jayson D. Henry

University of Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and University of Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton have more in common than their job titles. Their schools may be bitter rivals but both men have recently made moves that will define the tenures of each as the AD at their respective schools.

Barnhart has just done the most important thing a Kentucky AD can do. He has fired one head basketball coach and hired another. At UK, basketball is king and Wildcat fans expect the very best from their beloved program.

Barnhart has had the opportunity to go through this process already. Just about two years ago coach Tubby Smith left UK under intense pressure to take the coaching job at Minnesota.

After making a run at Florida coach Billy Donovan, among others, Billy Gillispie was finally chosen to lead the Wildcats. The short duration of his tenure speaks to the lack of approval the UK fans and administration had for the job Gillispie did. That short duration also indicates that Barnhart failed in his last basketball hiring.

Now, Barnhart has made a big splash by bringing in a big name. John Calipari will move from Memphis to Lexington to roam the sidelines of Rupp Arena.

For Barnhart, this is a make or break move. All indications are that Calipari will succeed at Kentucky. However, what if he doesn’t? What if, for some reason, the ’cats don’t live up to expectations? What if Calipari decides to give the NBA another try? What if there is some type of probation?

If any of those scenarios play out, Barnhart will almost certainly not be the guy to hire the next coach at UK.

Mitch Barnhart has to be John Calipari’s biggest fan.

Tennessee’s Hamilton is under the same type of scrutiny. In his case, he has made the same move but with a different sport.

During the 2008 football season, Hamilton made the decision to relieve long time head coach Phillip Fulmer of his coaching duties.

Unlike Barnhart’s call, the UT boss took quite a gamble. Fulmer still had plenty of support both within the fan base and the donor base. And, Fulmer was far more entrenched at UT than Gillispie at Kentucky not only due to his length of service but also because of the fact that he had delivered a national title to ‘Big Orange Country’ in 1998.

In a sense, Hamilton took an even bigger gamble than Barnhart. UK hired a proven commodity in Calipari. UT went with a young, and somewhat unproven coach by hiring Lane Kiffin to work the Neyland Stadium sidelines.

Just like Barnhart, Hamilton has been charged with hiring the leader of the school’s most important program. Football is king in Knoxville, much like the rest of the SEC.

The same questions facing Barnhart’s hire of Calipari face Hamilton in regard to his hire of Kiffin.

Both of these ADs have experienced success in the ‘other’ program at their respective schools. UT has reached heights rarely attained in their basketball program since Bruce Pearl was brought in to run the show. Rich Brooks has led UK’s football program to a more respected status over the last few seasons.

Mitch Barnhart and Mike Hamilton have recently been charged with re-energizing their school’s most important game. Each has now had the chance to fully place his own stamp on their departments. Each has experienced success to a degree in ‘other’ sports. However, no amount of success in the ‘other’ sport will save either of these two men should these hires not work out for whatever reason.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

This is why you should be rooting for Kyle Busch

By Jayson D. Henry

There are plenty of racing fans out there who hate Kyle Busch. That is pretty apparent every time his name is announced over the loud speaker at any track. That was certainly apparent in Martinsville on Sunday. Although the loudness of the boobirds and the number of obscene gestures seems to be declining since he had his infamous run-in with the ever popular Dale Earnhardt, Jr. last year in Richmond.

Busch actually is the representation of the things so many fans say they want to see in their favorite NASCAR drivers. He is not afraid to show his feelings.

When his Nationwide Series crew cost him the race in Bristol he did not get out of his car and say it was a good points day because he finished in the Top 10. He got out of his car visibly upset.

The next day during a pit stop for the Sprint Cup race in Bristol he challenged his crew by saying, “OK, ladies. It’s time to man up now.” There was no politically correct there.

Also, Busch is not afraid to say what he thinks. If he wants to take a dig at Earnhardt, he does not veil it in some twisted language in the hopes that Junior Nation might not boo him the next weekend like so many other drivers do. He goes ahead and calls it like he sees it.

And the biggest reason of all to like him, he drives like a man possessed. He will go three wide to get through traffic where other drivers will sit back and wait a lap or two for everything to sort out. Those same drivers seem to never make the pass but instead get out of the car at the end of the day and blame their inability on the car and its being aero-tight in traffic.

Some may claim they don’t like him because he drives a Toyota. He drives a CoT like every other driver out there. That thing is no more a Toyota than it is an army tank.

Some say his ears are too big or some other silly remark about his looks. Most of those old guys everyone likes to remember so fondly from the good ole days weren’t exactly Brad Pitt either.

Busch is a winner. Now, I’m not sure why the collapse of last year’s Chase took place, but I’m betting it does not happen again.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Kentucky better get it right this time

By Jayson D. Henry

On Friday the University of Kentucky surprised no one by relieving head basketball coach Billy Gillispie of his duties. In two years on the sidelines of Rupp Arena the embattled head coach kept watch over a program that had slipped from the ranks of perennial NCAA contender to a team that couldn’t make it to the NIT semi-finals.

Of course, that downward spiral had already begun before Gillispie arrived in the ‘Bluegrass State’. Previous coach Tubby Smith had been so criticized that he opted for the bitter cold of Minnesota over Lexington.

The thing UK must consider very carefully is that they had better get it right with their hire this time around. Whoever they bring in to lead the Wildcat program better be a guy who will be willing to stay and who will be wanted to stay for several years.

Hard to believe as it may be, Kentucky could be on the verge of dropping to an also-ran status in college basketball. Just look at where they stand within their own conference, or in their own division in that conference for that matter.

Florida is within easy memory of winning consecutive national championships. Tennessee has made giant leaps forward since Bruce Pearl arrived in Knoxville. As it stands right now, Kentucky is only a good name away from being considered in the same class with South Carolina, fighting for third in the SEC’s East division.

That good name could be in jeopardy if this coaching hire goes badly.

Think of how Kentucky will be considered among the ranks of college coaches. Within the coaching ranks, Tubby Smith is well respected and he was essentially run out of town despite the fact that his teams were competitive and his players rarely got into trouble or embarrassed the university off the court.

Then, Gillispie was brought in to get UK back to the final four status fans in Lexington feel is there rightful place. He was only given two years despite the fact that Wildcat fans claimed the talent level had been allowed to slip below acceptable levels in the Tubby era. Two years is not very long to correct such a problem if such a problem really existed.

Also, many claimed Gillispie was not very sociable. In other words, UK fans have told any coach who might be considering taking the job that they might get rid of the him if he isn‘t likable enough.

Another short term coach and Kentucky may find itself scraping the bottom of the coaching barrel the next time around.

There will be plenty of names to surface over the next few days and weeks as to who will replace Gillispie. Travis Ford will be a name thrown around very soon. There will be those who will toss out a wish list with former UK coach Rick Pitino’s name on it. Who knows, perhaps Sean Miller or Jamie Dixon may even surface. And of course, former UK assistant and current Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s name has already surfaced in the rumor mill.

Again, whoever it is, Kentucky better get it right if they want to stay on the map of college basketball’s elite programs.

Think it would be impossible for a program with such history to fall into obscurity? Ask the fans of Alabama football if it’s possible. Which, by the way, made Billy Donovan’s ‘I’m not going to Kentucky’ declaration of Friday afternoon sound a bit Nick Saban like.

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