Archive for August, 2016

The Gigglers and the Twinkie Eaters

August 24, 2016

by John Furgele (228)

Back in high school, the pot smokers went to parties.  They used to bring their pot and then, after a few beers, or perhaps even the 1980s phenomenon wine coolers, it was time.  The time had come to gather a few friends, get out the bag of weed and head behind the shed or the garden to fire up a blunt and get the buzz going.  I always found the art of pot-smoking funny.  Because it wasn’t legal, there was a certain shame in it and because of that had to be enjoyed secretly.  Sure, the rest of the high schoolers knew who smoked, but those who did the smoking tried to be discreet.  For beer, there was no shame.  The 15 and 16-year olds drank openly—and illegally—in front of everybody.  But, pot, weed, grass and any other name was done behind the shed.

The potheads tried to be discreet, but they were lousy at it.  They would come back glassy-eyed and full of giggles and before long, would eat anything they could get their hands on.  Doritos, Fritos, Twinkies, King Dons, you name it, if they could find it, they would eat it.  The giggles were followed by the munchies.  Ah, those were the days.

I wasn’t one of those people.  I went to the parties, but I was usually the guy who had the pound of Doritos (in the days before stealth inflation,  you got 16 ounces, not 10.5) Everybody laughed at me at the beginning of the party,  but by the end, me—and my Doritos—were everybody’s best friend.  This was high school and I guess drinking and smoking by the river was a fun and a cool thing to do.

In college, there was plenty of dope to go round.  You know how college can be.  It’s very tough.  You have to go to classes, study a bit and do your best to get a 2.0 or even a C+ or two on the old progress report.  After a few days, the old college students had to blow off some steam with some cocktails and then some dope.  By Saturday night, the dorm vending machine was usually out of Ho-Hos, so those who needed food had to resort to extreme measures.  When I was freshman my mom used to send me care packages and in it, there were Twinkies.  I never really liked Twinkies, but mom sent them anyways.  There were two “dopers,” who lived down the hall and were always willing to buy my Twinkies.  For me, it was win-win.  Because I didn’t like Twinkies, I made a few bucks on weekends in old Morgan Hall.

Back in the day, pot was a discreet drug.  I recall that even the fans of pot didn’t smoke it every day; they enjoyed it, made it last and used it more periodically.  Today, pot seems to have taken over the world.  It seems like everybody acts like pot is legal in all 50 states, when, in reality, it is legal in four states and a few cities.  That means that the drug is still illegal in 46 states.

I always thought that people grew up and out of smoking pot.  It was something to do in high school, in college to enhance the educational experience, but soon, when it was time to go to work, get married and have some kids, the pot-smoking “daze” would be gone.  Why, would a 9 to 5er continue to smoke pot?  I equated smoking pot to those who pre-determined that they were going to get drunk on beer days in advance.  But, drinking 15 beers at a fraternity party on a Saturday night usually was replaced by going out to dinner with your spouse and some friends where a couple drinks would suffice.

I was wrong.   Pot smoking might be more popular than ever.  Grown adults at adult parties continue to drift away from the mainstream and go somewhere away from others to get stoned.  It amazes me because I still think of pot as a little kid’s drug.  Not pre-teens, but high school and college kids.  Pot is now rationalized by those who smoke it.  The defenders argue that pot is no more harmful than beer, wine or other forms of alcohol.  Most of these people still drink in addition to smoking pot.  So, instead of dismissing pot as “something they did when they were young,” they continue to flame up and enjoy the buzz that goes along with it.

Athletes love pot more than ever.  They love smoking it.  Michael Phelps liked a bong or two with others using gas masks to get the full effect of the cannabis.  Most athletes think pot should be legalized, so when they get caught (test positive), they say they’re sorry, but beg their respective leagues to take pot off the banned substance list.  There are some NFL players that are so addicted to pot that they are thinking of taking action to make it no longer a punishable offense.  The NFL knows that they can’t do this because as we mentioned earlier, pot is still illegal in 46 states.  But the players vow to keep working for a solution.  In the meantime, we see players like Josh Gordon, Marcel Dareus, Lavion Bell and recently released running back Karlos Williams continue to use and get caught.  In the NFL a four-game suspension indicates a second positive test.  Browns receiver Josh Gordon loves pot so much that he was suspended for 4, 8, and then 16 games—an entire season—because he liked to get baked.

Williams was a peculiar case.  In the offseason, he gained 50 pounds.  He blamed the weight gain on his fiancée’s pregnancy.  She got cravings and he decided that it would be wrong for her to eat alone.  He came to training camp perhaps a few pounds lighter, but then failed to show up for a drug test and thus was suspended for four games.  The Bills decided to rid themselves of the pot-addicted Williams and as of today, he has cleared waivers, meaning he and his one-hitter are free to sign with any team.

What has gone wrong?  Why is pot so prevalent among today’s athletes?  They say that it helps with pain management, but that’s just an excuse, a cop-out for not realizing that pot is for 16 to 21 year-olds and not for those who work in the real world.  Am I naïve for saying this?  Probably, but to me, pot is for immature people, not for NFL and NBA players who make millions of dollars to play a sport.  For these players, the desire to smoke pot outweighs the desire to get in tip-top shape, put one’s team first and play to the best of one’s ability.

Forgive me for not getting on the “pot should be legal bandwagon.”  Do I think people should be thrown in jail for having a dime-bag on them?  Of course not, but right now, the drug is illegal and right now, the respective sports leagues have to treat it as such.  But the real blame is on the players.  They have to grow up and stop taking a drug that required sneaking around in their younger days.  The time has come for the Josh Gordons and the Marcel Dareus’ of the world to say that pot is for little kids, not well-conditioned athletes who are paid handsomely to not smoke it.

And, while these athletes are at it, stay away from Twinkies, too!

 

Johnny Furgele remains the one and only 228.  Don’t get confused by wannabes.

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We All Assume

August 18, 2016

by John Furgele

We loved it—every minute, or second of it, 9.81 seconds to be exact. Usain Bolt’s 100 meter dash to glory electrified the stadium in Rio and millions more around the globe. And, while the world showed its adoration for the gifted Bolt, it also showed its disdain for American sprinter Justin Gatlin. One was feted, the other, scorned.  One cheered, the other roundly booed.

Why? The obvious reason is Gatlin’s doping suspension that lasted four years. The second is likely that at age 34, the 2004 Olympic champion is still running at a very high level. Once one is labeled a cheat, the label sticks—forever. As they saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Why would the world embrace a Gatlin only to have him test positive again down the road?  Are people convinced that he is competing clean in 2016?

This hasn’t happened and since 2010, he hasn’t been caught cheating but that didn’t appear to matter. And, even though Gatlin has admitted to his past mistakes, he still contends that he may have received steroids via massage, claiming that a therapist rubbed illegal cream on his body. Most people are selling this explanation because we all believe that athletes are so in tune with their bodies that they wouldn’t allow it to happen.

PED use is rampant in sports—all sports. And, athletes are reluctant to talk about it and them. When you get a bunch of athletes together and ask them point blank, “should drug cheats be given a lifetime suspension?” very few say yes. Most skirt it, others turn it into another question, with others like American sprinter Allyson Felix cite that “there are rules in place.”

Does that mean a Felix uses PEDs? No, but so many athletes use supplements and some of these may contain a banned substance. Others are prescribed medications that eventually end up on a banned list. For years, doctors prescribed Russian athletes melodonium. The drug is supposed to help people with angina or heart failure, but it also helps athletes increase exercise capacity and recover quicker. So, because somebody discovered this benefit, coaches were able to get doctors to legally prescribe it for athletes to use.

Melodonium is what got 5-time Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova suspended this past winter.   She was using since 2006—via prescription—but didn’t see that it was added to the banned list before she tested positive for it.

Adderall is used to treat ADHD, but because it is said to mask fatigue, pain as well as increasing arousal, it became a drug prescribed to numbers of athletes whether they had ADHD or not. It keeps athletes in the zone and several of them, including Orioles slugger Chris Davis and Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz have received suspensions for having too much in their bodies. Adderall is what led to Gatlin’s first “doping” suspension in which he received a one-year ban.

So, why wouldn’t people like Felix, swimmers and others call for a lifetime ban for positive tests?   The answer is complicated, but because most athletes take some type of supplements, they stay quiet. Today’s natural energy booster could be tomorrow’s melodonium.

Back to Bolt. We believe he’s clean, we think he’s clean and we certainly behave and act like he’s clean, but how do we know? Really know? Well, for one, he’s never failed a drug test. But, that hardly matters. Ben Johnson passed all the tests until the 1988 Seoul Olympics and then admitted to years of prior doping. And, never believe any athlete who says that they never took PEDs.   Remember the finger of Rafael Palmiero and of course, the years of denials by Lance Armstrong.

I must admit, I love Bolt and I am a fan. I want to believe that he’s never cheated and I don’t think he has. Unfortunately others have cast huge shadows of doubt and that’s not fair to the Bolts, Phelps (Lilly,) Kings and (Katie) Ledeckys of the sporting world. It’s the case of the innocent suffering because of the guilty—the few bad apples spoiling the bunch.

Many athletes convince themselves that everybody is “on something.” They use this to justify taking PEDs and as long as they don’t get caught, they can accept and live with it. When we see a Bolt run the 100 meters in 9.58 seconds, we want to be awed, but because of history, there is some doubt. For now, we have to hope that the process is fair and on the up and up.   If Bolt wins—and passes the tests—we have to believe that he’s clean. If we can’t, then why even watch sports anymore?

Tonight, we will watch Bolt get in the blocks for the 200-meter dash. We expect him to win and to put on a compelling show.  We want to be thrilled and ingest the good of sport. Let’s just hope we can celebrate for decades to come.

 

Johnny Furgele is the Original 228.  Don’t ever be fooled by impostors and impersonators

 

 

Did Horse Racing Do the Wrong Thing?

August 11, 2016

by John Furgele (The 228)

When a horse dies at Aqueduct, it is sad. When a horse dies at Saratoga, it is sad—and noticed. At this year’s Saratoga meet, nine horses have died while racing or training and the meet is not even at its midpoint. When this happens, everybody shows concern. Those that love the sport defend it and cite how rare racing deaths are. Those that think the sport is inhumane jump to criticize it with some even calling for it to be banned.

The question at hand is simple. Did horse racing do the right thing? Today, every sport says that they are concerned about their athletes. The NFL says that it is trying to reduce concussions by establishing protocol before a player can return to action. The movie “Concussion,” highlighted how CTE affects some that have played the dangerous game that is football. In the 1960s and 1970s, nobody cared about leading with your head so as long as the devastating hit was made. Times have changed.

Horse racing says that they, too, care about their athletes, but do they? In the early 2000s, it appeared so. Several tracks across North America replaced dirt with synthetic surfaces–either Polytrack or Tapeta–with the hope of reducing equine fatalities. It seemed to be working, but there was bellyaching. Trainers didn’t like it, owners didn’t like it and the claim was that neither did the bettors.   Places like Keeneland concluded that owners and trainers wouldn’t bring their horses to race there because synthetic was not the same as dirt. The Blue Grass Stakes, Keeneland’s Kentucky Derby prep race was diminishing in quality with star 3-year-olds taking their talents to places where the horses ran on dirt; at least that’s what was said.

For a time, it looked like synthetics would stick around. The California State Legislature passed a law that required all of its tracks to install a synthetic surface by the end of 2007 and they all complied.  Del Mar, Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Golden Gate Fields would now run on polytrack. It appeared that safety was placed first and foremost in the horse racing game.  In addition to the California tracks, Woodbine, Presque Isle, Arlington Park, Turfway Park installed either polytrack or Tapeta.

When a Barbaro gets injured and eventually has to be put down, it gets noticed.  His story was chronicled from the moment he took a bad step at Pimlico until he died from laminitis.  For the older set, the image of Ruffian collapsing in her 1975 match race against Foolish Pleasure still resonates.  When this happens, the question for the leaders of the sport is “what are you doing to make your game safer?”  The immediate reply was the installation of synthetic racing surfaces.

From 2009 thru 2014, it seemed like synthetics was working.  Equine fatalities are based on per 1,000 starters and during this time, dirt surfaces saw 2.07 deaths; turf (grass) saw 1.65 and synthetics saw 1.22.  At Keeneland, deaths went from 1.98 on dirt to only 0.33 on synthetic.  Joe Drape of the New York Times reported that field sizes didn’t decrease, betting didn’t decrease and on-track attendance didn’t either, but for some reason, that wasn’t satisfying enough. The thought of bucking tradition and not running on dirt was too much for many to absorb.

Drape also tracked Santa Anita.  He reported that in 2009, when Santa Anita ran on polytrack, there 0.90 deaths per 1,000 starters.  From 2010-2013 when they went back to dirt, equine deaths were 3.45, 2.94, 2.89 and 2.11.  Clearly, running on synthetics was safer than running on dirt.

From 2009-2013 there were 1.22 deaths per 1,000 starters on synthetics compared to 2.08 per 1,000 on dirt.  Those numbers don’t jump out at you, but there are significant.  In 2014, there was an average of 24 deaths each day at America’s thoroughbred race tracks.  For some, that’s 24 too many.

Summertime is the time where people head to race tracks.  Saratoga averages 25,000 fans per day and Del Mar is where the turf meets the surf.  Del Mar had dirt, switched to poly and now runs on dirt again; Saratoga, the oldest race course in America has always run on dirt.  That’s where horse racing went wrong.  If those tracks would have made the switch and explained to its droves the reasons why, then the sport would have moved forward with a much more accepting audience.

To say that horses die because of the surface is a bit unfair.  How many horses are not sound when they head to the starting gate?  The answer:  plenty.  How many horses are placed in claiming races with an injury just so the owner can rid themselves of it?  The answer again:  plenty.  But, I’ll make the conclusion that more injured horses ran on synthetic because it was perceived as safer.  Horses don’t offer any value if they don’t race. Sure, an American Pharoah won’t run at less than 100 percent in a big stakes race, but Old Senator will surely run in a $17,000 claiming race if it is physically possible. Because synthetics were deemed to be safer, my hunch is that a lot of horse that shouldn’t run, did and the number could have been lower than the stats indicate if proper protocol was followed.

The sport dropped the ball.  If all tracks would have switched to a synthetic surface, then the playing field would be even.  The Kentucky Derby would be run on synthetic, making the Blue Grass Stakes a viable option as a prep.  If all tracks would have switched, the number of equine fatalities might have dropped more.  The historians and traditionalists would have balked, stomped and cried, but the younger people–critical to the future of the sport–would have applauded the move without thinking of nostalgia. Today’s kids are much more aware of the environment and of safety than their moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas.   They grew up with seat belts, bike helmets and car seats; safety first is their only reference point.  They cry when dad kills a mouse because they actually feel bad for the critter that is eating through your attic walls.  The sport surely doesn’t want to have the younger generation see horses break down in races.

But, that didn’t happen.  The Breeder’s Cup wouldn’t award you their event unless you had a dirt track and as result, by switching back, Keeneland, Santa Anita and Del Mar have or will be hosting the two-day world-class event.  Woodbine, a previous host, knows that by choosing to replace polytrack with Tapeta, the Breeder’s Cup won’t be coming north anytime soon.  In a stunning development, Woodbine actually put safety ahead of monies.

There are five remaining synthetics remaining in North America.   In addition to Woodbine, we have Presque Isle (PA), Golden Gate Fields (CA), Arlington Park (IL), and Turfway Park (KY) as the last bastions of putting safety first.  The rest will enjoy their racing seasons, have their big races and if lucky, secure a Breeder’s Cup or two going forward.

If it appears as if I am ripping the horse racing industry that really isn’t the case.  What perplexes me is that the industry had a blueprint in place that was working.  Synthetics were installed and fatalities were decreasing.  One would think that it would catch on and more tracks would move to synthetics, but for many reasons that didn’t happen.  And, as a result, the industry has provided more fodder to PETA and those who despise the sport. To me, that doesn’t make sense.The Kentucky Derby is watched by over 10 million people.  Of that, 9,750,000 don’t know anything about the sport and couldn’t tell the difference between dirt or fake dirt.  Those are the people that the sport needs more than the 250,000 die-hards that watch no matter what.  When you get all of those new people watching, you want to be as safe as you can.  Synthetics was working and rather than expand it, they get rid of it.

Sad.