The Mighty Pirlo Retires

22 years, 5 months, and sixteen days after his first professional game, Andrea Pirlo has announced his retirement from football. Pirlo leaves the game with:

  • 832 games played
  • 6 Serie A titles
  • 2 Coppa Italia
  • 3 Supercoppa Italiana
  • 2 UEFA Champions Leagues
  • 2 UEFA Super Cups
  • 1 FIFA Club World Cup
  • 1 World Cup

An incredible career and an absolutely phenomenal player. Enjoy seventeen minutes of his best bits. 

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No Pirlo, No Party

“I lifted my eyes to the heavens and asked for help because if God exists, there’s no way he’s French.” – Pirlo before taking a penalty in the 2006 World Cup Final

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The Young Guns

England. Every major tournament, we watch in frustration at the men’s senior team’s inability to succeed. We fly through qualification – usually – against small teams from Eastern Europe who have only been countries for a few decades then when we’re met with quality opposition, we’re stuck. When the summer rolls by and England head off to the World Cup in Russia, will it be a repeat of previous competitions where the spectators throw away 90 minutes of their lives watching the dullest football possible? Possibly. But we’ll get to that in a few months time.

2017 has been a success for English football. The men’s senior team did qualify for the World Cup, and although it is generally expected, it’s still an achievement. The U20s team won their respective world cup with a 1-0 win over Venezuela then the U17s won their world cup in India with a stunning 5-2 win over Spain.

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A new golden generation. That’s a lot of pressure to be piled on so early in advance, don’t you think, Gary? England are notorious for failing to live up to expectations. The senior team have only won one major trophy and that was fifty years ago!

There are many reasons why the senior team fails to perform; lack of cohesion is a key factor and the effect of strong cohesion can be seen within the German teams from 2010 and 2014, as well as the Spanish World Cup winning team in 2010. Many of these players had played together every week in their clubs; Barcelona and Real Madrid made the core of the Spanish side, Bayern Munich and Dortmund formed the bulk of the German squad. We can argue that in England there’s a few from Liverpool, few from Manchester United, a couple from Leicester, but it’s not enough. They’re footballers – surely they can play no matter who they’re on a team with.

Before they get to that point, these young players need to mature. What is important now is that these “golden” youth teams are provided with a chance to grow – to make mistakes – and develop. They need time to move up through the youth ranks and have the opportunity to represent their senior side. Too often, young players are not given the space to learn in a senior side for fear of losing league points – and in the Premier League, every point matters (unless you’re Manchester City who are running away with the league this season).

Many will argue that bringing in foreign players, removes the opportunity for home grown talent – and whilst I don’t completely agree with that statement, I believe club managers do need to let talented young players into the senior squad, even if it is at the risk of them making a mistake. If we do not make mistakes, we do not learn.

If nobody took a chance on the class of ’92, we wouldn’t have Beckham, the Nevilles, Butt, Scholes, and Giggs.

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Exercise & Multiple Sclerosis

Continuing on from the previous post, this will focus on exercising with multiple sclerosis  (MS). MS is a neurological condition that affects three times as many women as men. The physical symptoms include problems with vision, balance, and the bladder, dizziness, stiffness, muscle spasm, tremors, and fatigue. It can also affect memory and mental health. Research has found that people with MS have lower qualities of life compared to people without MS across all domains investigated – physical health, psychological and environmental adjustment, and social relationships.

One study has found that activity levels were correlated to lower levels of pain, depression, fatigue, and the disability itself. It was also correlated with higher social support, self-efficacy, and quality of life. However, it is unclear from this study whether exercise led to these improvements or whether the participants who did exercise had less severe symptoms of MS and therefore could be more active. Petajan (1996) carried out an exercise intervention to investigate just that and following a 15 week aerobic training plan, there were improvements in bladder and bowel function, social interaction, and emotional behaviour. There were also mental health benefits in the form of reduced levels of depression, anger, and fatigue. Further, Marck (2014) argued that as a majority of studies on MS do tend to use people who have mild forms of the disease, they are not applicable to those with more severe forms. Marck then recruited over 2000 people with MS to complete an online survey and found that generally, those who exercised were younger, male with low BMIs, and mild forms of MS – as expected. Reflecting previous results, as exercise increased so did physical and mental health, social functioning, and overall quality of life. A crucial factor though was not the severity of the disease; individuals with severe MS who exercised 5 times a week had a higher quality life than someone with mild MS who did no exercise.

The take home message is exercise is accessible to individuals with disabilities and should be accessed for the numerous benefits it yields.

Exercise and Amputations

Around 19% of people in the UK have an impairment but exercise in this population is very low. Less than a quarter of people with multiple sclerosis regularly exercise and over 30% of people with MS are overweight. Only 13% of disabled children meet the daily exercise recommendations; that’s 87% of children with a disability who are not exercising enough.

So why are they not exercising?

BArriers

Firstly, there are issues relating to the facility itself; is the facility accessible and inclusive? Does it have any inclusive equipment? Are the staff knowledgeable and welcoming? Sometimes the disability itself can be a barrier as people believe exercise will be too difficult for them, others will discriminate against them, their condition may be exacerbated by physical activity or they will be too tired, or they simply cannot engage in exercise. Finally, body image also acts as a barrier to exercise.

Body image is your attitude towards your own body; how you see yourself, how you think and feel about the way you look, and how you think others perceive you. Poor body image is linked to social physique anxiety; people who are obese and have social physique anxiety can be scared to enter a gym environment due to how their body might be perceived by others, and how they themselves see their body. For people with disabilities, particularly visible ones like amputations, social physique anxiety can prevent them from exercising. Breakey (1997) found a correlation between positive body image and psychological well being in people with amputations – these individuals had lower levels of anxiety and depression, and higher levels of life satisfaction. Atherton and Robertson (2006) found that negative appearance related beliefs towards amputations contributed to distress and adjustment difficulties.  Interestingly, although body image is correlated to levels of activity, people with an amputation display high levels of social physique anxiety; that is to say although exercise will benefit their body image, there is an initial fear to engage in exercise due to lack of confidence. The research on this area is sparse; it could be that this is a population that would experience more social physique anxiety due to scarring, stumps, and prosthetics, yet it’s not really been thoroughly looked into. The goal of rehabilitation following an amputation is to get the individual mobile and self-dependent, often through resistance training and physiotherapy, but not focused on regular exercise programme.

Hockey Is Not For Everybody

The NHL is always keen to spout that their sport is for everybody – but it’s not.

Hockey is a far more expensive sport due to the costs of ice time, travelling, and equipment than soccer or basketball. This required wealth acts as a barrier to entry therefore hockey becomes accessible to upper/middle-class families and disadvantages those with lower incomes. Black people make up about 5% of the NHL’s population – when we compare this to the NFL (67%) and the NBA (77%), one has to question whether this is tied into socio-economic factors.

Hockey exists outside of North America, and although people will argue that European countries are predominantly white – black people still exist here too and do play hockey, for example Johnny Oduya who is black and Swedish. For argument’s sake, this piece will focus solely on North America. In 2013, the wealth of white households was 13 times the median of black families. That is a huge difference in expendable income and likely a reason why people black people are not accessing hockey.

Hockey seems to be stuck in a self-perpetuating loop whereby there are very few non-white players in the league therefore very few idols for non-white kids to look up to and want to emulate. It gets boring never seeing someone like yourself represented.  How many black boys are looking at PK Subban and imagining they’re him out there on the ice? The lack of diversity in the players is reflected by the fan base too; a pre-cursor to attendance at sporting events is previous exposure or experience to that sport. If you’ve never played hockey or ever watched it, you’re unlikely to want to be involved with it. The take home message is hockey has always been seen as a white sport and although there are people of colour in the league, not seeing them on a regular basis or being exposed that to reinforces that hockey is a sport for white people.

Black people are not a new commodity; Willie O’Ree was the first black player in the NHL and made his debut in 1958. He was celebrated for breaking the colour barrier and is often cited as an inspiration of non-white players, but O’Ree’s arrival didn’t open the floodgates to make hockey more diverse. It took twelve years before another black man entered the league.

Racial remarks from fans were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto or Montreal. I particularly remember a few incidents in Chicago. The fans would yell, ‘Go back to the South,’ and, ‘How come you’re not picking cotton?’ Things like that. It didn’t bother me. Hell, I’d been called names most of my life. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.

Racism existed then and it exists now. Val James, the first black American NHLer, had bananas thrown at him, and even a toy monkey in a noose was hung in the penalty box. In 2011, a banana was thrown at Wayne Simmonds. Heck, there’s a racist sat in the White House. Trump cannot condemn Nazi’s, but black athletes kneeling during the anthem to protest against police brutality? Sons of bitches.

As spoken about previously, the NBA champions declined to attend the White House. The Pittsburgh Penguins, however, continued with their visit to “respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House”. The team showed they were either completely oblivious or simply do not care about the struggles of minorities in America. Captain, Sidney Crosby, tried to explain the team’s decision:

I’m pretty aware of what’s going on . . . as a group, we decided to go.

Police might have killed 309 black people last year, and Trump creates racist atmospheres at rallies, and displays openly racist behaviour towards Mexicans, but it’s an honor to go to the White House and the team only had one black player, so what’s the issue!

Joel Ward, from the San Jose Sharks, expressed an interest in kneeling during the anthem however decided not to because the message behind the protest had been lost. Instead of a protest against racism and injustice, kneeling has become a way of offending a flag or a song.

It’s just been part of life that you always have to deal with, so when people get into Kaepernick and some of these other guys, saying that they’re disrespecting the flag, it’s not about just that. It’s about creating awareness about what people, like myself, go through on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s going to the mall or whatever.

Ward could have knelt. And if he did, he’d likely be ostracized by the team. If Trevor Daley had said to the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins “as a black man, I’m not comfortable meeting Trump” how many of his teammates would have been on his side? How many would support him and also refuse to attend? If Joel Ward took a knee, how many white teammates would have done the same out of solidarity? Devante Smith-Pelly, explained the situation in a sad but honest way:

Yeah, there’s a little bit of a lonely feeling. I mean, all of us are on our teams by ourselves: there’s not two of us together, or three of us together. So if one of us were to do this, and nobody else on the team jumped in, you’re really by yourself. I can go to Joel and say, hey — because he understands what I’m going through as a black man in America. I can’t go to anyone on my team and have them understand really how it is to be in my shoes. Just because I’m a professional hockey player: they just don’t understand. So it’s really lonely in that sense. You don’t really have anyone.

The only player to have protested so far is JT Brown. In homage to the black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, JT raised his fist. Although Tampa Bay Lightning released a statement saying they supported their players choices on political/social issues, he was dropped from the team for a short time and has since said he will no longer protest. Brown will be working with local police and community organisations to foster better relationships.

No matter what they say, hockey is not for everybody.

We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat – John Carlos

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President U Bum

It is traditional for championship winning teams from the big four sports to attend the White House and take their trophy to meet the president. Since Trump however,  some athletes have turned down this honour.

The latest is the current NBA champs, the Golden State Warriors. Point guard, Steph Curry, said:

I don’t want to go. [I] don’t stand for… the things that he’s said and the things that he hasn’t said in the right times. I don’t think us not going to the White House is going to miraculously make everything better, but this is my opportunity to voice that.

The team will visit Washington to celebrate equality, diversity, and inclusion, but will not attend the White House.

Trump, of course, waded into matter  on his Twitter (which I can’t believe is under his complete control with nobody vetting his tweets prior to being made public).

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And LeBron James countered: _97988986_a9ae6f71-85ec-4c37-b0f3-21345d6e8139

Colin Kaepernick famously took a knee during the national anthem in protest of the treatment of black people in America and has essentially lost his NFL career as a result – whereas players who are accused of physical or sexual assault continue their careers. Kaepernick’s act was not offensive; it was a peaceful protest. Kaepernick’s act of not standing for the national anthem garnered more outrage than the murders of countless black people at the hands of authority figures, however his act has paved the way for others to criticise the treatment of American people, and moreover the people in power whose beliefs are in direct opposition of their own. It’s not “unAmerican” – the practice of free speech is a basic human right and the first amendment.

Most recently, Bruce Maxwell, a rookie catcher with the A’s became the first MLB player to take a knee during the anthem. Maxwell was born on an army base to a father who was serving.

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Too often, athletes are told to stay out of politics, stick to kicking a ball, yet also be role models. How can athletes stay out of politics when their president can’t keep out of sports?

At a republican rally in Alabama recently, Trump has criticised NFL owners for not doing more against players who protest during the anthem.

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.

When you are more outraged that athletes are kneeling for the national anthem than the fact police killed 309 black people last year then you have a serious issue. The USA has experienced extreme weather conditions recently, with Puerto Rico and Florida battered by hurricanes, Houston flooding, and forest fires ravaging the West Coast. Trump is also engaged in a war of words with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. Surely the president of the United States has bigger issues to face than black athletes not wanting to visit his racist ass – but no, he will continue to throw his toys out of the pram because he’s not a president, he’s an egocentric bigot.

NHL Awards 2017

Hart Trophy: Connor McDavid
Most Valuable Player

Ted Lindsay: Connor McDavid
Best player as voted by NHLPA

Norris Trophy: Brent Burns
Best defenceman

Vezina Trophy: Sergei Bobrovsky 
Best goaltender

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews
Best rookie

Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron 
Best defensive forward

Lady Byng Trophy: Johnny Gaudreau
Most gentlemanly player (61 points and only 4 penalty minutes)

Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson
Dedication to hockey (took a leave of absence to care for wife fighting cancer)

Jack Adams Award: John Tortorella
Coach of the Year

General Manager of the Year: David Poile

King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Nick Foligno
Leadership/humanitarian (Foligno and wife donated $500000 to hospital that operated on new born daughter)

NHL Foundation Player Award: Travis Hamonic
Core Values of Hockey (Created D-Partner program for children who have suffered loss of family member, encourage them to be open in talking about grief/loss)

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award: Nick Foligno

Art Ross Trophy: Connor McDavid
Highest scorer

Maurice Richard Trophy: Sidney Crosby
Top goal scorer

William M. Jennings Trophy: Braden Holtby
Fewest goals scored against

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Congratulations to all the winners!