Salaries, Soccer, and “So, Are You Into Girls, or What?”

Soccer Moms Listen Up
Pro soccer is gaining ground in the U.S., but the heart of futbol still lies overseas. And believe it or not, David Beckham is no longer its most recognizable star. In Spain, FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo are soccer’s modern gods with stats that stagger (well, everywhere but in America).


Cristia…um, nevermind, I forgot.

According to Forbes, the two men have the most Facebook fans of any athlete (43 ad 55 million respectively), and are roughly the ninth and 11th highest-paid in the world. Messi, who just tied the record for most goals in the two teams’ years-long rivalry (think Red Sox/Yankees or Edward/Jacob) is considered the slightly better player, but Ronaldo’s model looks make the female fans swoon. Remember their names–you’ll see much more of both during the buildup to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. And for some fun, check out Messi and Kobe Bryant in this ad for Turkish Airlines (I admit when I saw it I didn’t know who Messi was either). 

900 Club Gets a New Member
Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer reached the historic 900-win mark Tuesday night as the Scarlet Knights defeated South Florida 68-56 at home. Stringer, whose record is 900-330 overall, joins Pat Summitt, Jody Conradt, and Sylvia Hatchell–who achieved her 900 mark with North Carolina last month. Three men’s coaches have 900+ victories: Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, and Jim Boeheim. (Krzyzewski began his career as a player and assistant at Army for Knight.)

Speaking of Krzyzewski…
It was an intense week for #3 Duke, whose team lost at unranked Virginia, then had to dodge Cavalier fans storming the court. With a number of major basketball upsets this season, court-storming has become a daily occurrence, and so far without incident. But Krzyzewski has had enough, demanding in a post-game press conference that home teams be courteous enough to let the losing team leave the floor first. I think Coach K is right—but also frustrated with an unstable season. You can’t control that kind of group exuberance.

Personally, I am more concerned with the evolution (?) of traditional student taunts beyond “Air Ball!” and into sexual and even cruel realms. Maryland students recently chanted something at Duke’s Mason Plumlee that even Richard Pryor wouldn’t type here. If you’re going to pay $50,000 for your kid’s college education, I hope you don’t have to see them acting like a jerk on national TV.

European soccer is currently so embroiled in controversy due to fan racism that AC Milan literally left the pitch on Thursday in support of their black players who were met with monkey chants. Monkey chants. In Twenty-Freaking-Thirteen. College students: you are America’s future. Let’s set a better example.

Anyway, Duke did end the week with a win, getting revenge against Miami on Saturday, 79-76, for a 90-63 thumping earlier this season.

Seniors at Ashburn, Va.’s Broad Run High School have launched a social media campaign petitioning Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to speak at their graduation ceremony. The school is near the Skins’ practice facility and even sports the same burgundy and gold. Hopefully Griffin, who earned a political science degree from Baylor in only three years, can take time off from rehabbing his knee (torn vs. Seattle in a Jan. 6 playoff game, thereby pretty much doubling DC-area AA attendance) to offer some wisdom.

Don’t Ask, Don’t…Just Don’t.
[Head banging sounds here.]

I don’t know why I’m surprised. After Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o (of the Facebook fake-girlfriend scandal) had a sub-par performance at last week’s NFL Combine tryouts, the conversation quickly expanded beyond whether the scam is affecting his performance to…whether or not he is gay. Reportedly, NFL representatives asked him directly about his sexual orientation; other players complained of the same.

Regardless of your position on gay rights, think of it this way: You are a BOY who finds a GIRL on Facebook. Turns out you are being digitally stalked, then are publicly exposed, at the very crux of your young career, for your naiveté (oh and you were a mere teenager when the dupe began). Then, because the stalker happens to be your same sex, your intimate life is suddenly questioned by those who could determine your future. Are smoking, drinking, and felonies less important to your highly-paid performance on the field than who you date? Because that’s what these types of questions imply.

Media can ask athletes whatever dumb things they want, but the NFL collective bargaining agreement prohibits such questions from its own employees. Legally, a hiring manager cannot ask you your sexual preference, if you plan to become pregnant, or if you have a disability, and the NFL Combine is, essentially, a job interview for young men who have worked their entire lives for this opportunity. Let’s hope some enlightenment comes out of this.

Salary Negotiation…Donation?
Springtime is when pro football re-evaluates its player contracts—even Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco must be analyzed (he’s doing just fine. The Ravens reportedly are re-signing him for $120 million over six years, making him the highest-paid NFL quarterback ever).

But even multi-million dollar franchises face limits in order for budgets to be fair across all 32 teams. New England got some help from a surprising place last week—its own QB, Tom Brady, who agreed to less money annually in order for the Patriots to meet the “salary cap.” But don’t worry about Tom either—the contract guarantees him a job through age 40 (at which most QBs don’t play anyway), and he’ll actually make more money in the end.

Center of (Unwanted) Attention
Indiana center Roy Hibbert was suspended (along with Warriors forward David Lee) after last week’s brawl between the Pacers and Golden State, centered around Hibbert (7-2) and Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (6-3).

Even more fascinating than poor Curry’s ragdoll treatment was the involvement of the NBA’s only female referee, Violet Palmer, who attempted to remove some bodies but eventually had to step away and let the boys duke it out. Still, Palmer is the first female ref to reach and establish a career in the highest level of a U.S. professional sport. Dee Kantner also briefly worked as an NBA ref in 1997. And last September, Shannon Eastin was the first woman to referee an NFL regular-season game, working as a “replacement” during a Rams-Lions matchup.

By the way, Curry redeemed himself in his next game vs. the Knicks, scoring 54 points.

Parting Shot
The Gonzaga University men’s basketball team has made history by being voted an overwhelming #1 in the AP poll for the first time. The Spokane, Wash. school has only 5,000 undergraduates (#2 Indiana has 90,000), but for the last decade has become one of the most feared and respected teams. We’ll see if they can carry the momentum into “Selection Sunday,” during which the NCAA Tourney brackets are set, 6 p.m. ET March 17.


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