Today I accidentally caught myself using “Dream Team” in reference to the USA men’s basketball team competing in the 2012 London Olympics.  I quickly corrected myself as the words sounded blasphemous the second they left my lips. 

The 1992 “Dream Team” is irreplaceable, not only because of the star-studded roster, but because that team was a historical first that will never be duplicated in Olympic competition as far as the U.S. is concerned.  It is, however, absolutely possible for the dominance and ferocity of the first NBA player-led Olympic team from the USA to be replicated. 

The 2012 men’s team has one thing the 1992 didn’t… an uber-talented, healthy roster from top to bottom.  Remember, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson may have been the most famous names on the Dream Team, but they were both at the end of their careers, serving primarily as figurehead fan-favorites and were no longer the most talented men on the basketball court.  Bird was in such poor health that he didn’t participate in practice and his teammates said he could hardly walk because of severe back pain.

That is not the case as the 2012 roster is deep with skill and talent.  Despite a lack of size without marquee players like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin, Team USA is still chalk full of hoops greatness.

So then what is holding the 2012 squad back from that top-tier where the original Dream Team resides?  Well, the guys have to play the games before we can crown them kings.  Period.

Team USA has looked great in two of three international games played thus far.  Brazil gave the guys a bit of trouble, exploiting USA’s lack of size down low but not enough so to beat the red, white and blue. 

If the Americans will be tested by anyone at all in London, Spain and Argentina will do the honors.  And they’ll have the pleasure sooner rather than later as the U.S. will face two of the world’s best teams for some pre-Olympics friendly fun within the next few days.

Interestingly enough, the exhibition games are being played at Palau Sant Jordi, the site of the Dream Team’s gold medal game in Barcelona back in 1992. 

The U.S. faces Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola on Sunday, the two NBA stars, leading an Argentine team that won the gold medal in the 2004 Athens Games.  Tuesday, the U.S. is up against a ridiculously stacked Spanish team that ultimately lost to Team USA, taking home silver in the 2008 Beijing Games.  If you recall, that game was no gimme as the U.S. could’ve been beaten by the Spaniards. 

Speaking of Spain, the national team has seven current or former NBA players, plus another two whose draft rights are owned by NBA teams, on the roster.  Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka headline the group that is incredibly talented, despite losing phenom Ricky Rubio to injury during the NBA season.

Back in 1992, Team USA beat opponents by an average of nearly 44 points per game in Olympic play.  But there was no Manu Ginobili playing for Argentina, or Pau Gasol representing Spain.  Instead, those guys were young kids inspired by the NBA stars they were watching in the Olympics on television.

The presence of the Dream Team in 1992 changed the course of history for international basketball, ultimately ensuring that no team could ever dominate at Team USA’s level again, by way of increasing the popularity of the sport worldwide. 

Could another American team come close to earning the “Dream Team” name?  It’s unlikely.  The 2012 team definitely has the star power, but do they have what it takes to dismantle significantly tougher teams than the Americans faced 20 years ago?  We’ll find out soon enough. 

Hockey Day In America.  Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  NBC is trying to change that as the network hosts its second annual “Hockey Day In America,” a nine-hour block of hockey-related programming across various NBC platforms. 

While hockey can’t seem to find a solid, widespread fan base in the United States, it’s as popular as ever in Canada and Europe and NBC, which owns the broadcast rights to NHL games, would love to see that popularity shift to the U.S. 

Lets dissect what Hockey Day In America will consist of before getting into why hockey isn’t, but should be more successful in the U.S. 

Starting at Noon ET, three different NHL games will be aired on NBC.  Depending on what region of the country you are in on Sunday morning, you’ll see either the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Buffalo Sabres, the San Jose Sharks at the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues at the Chicago Blackhawks.

Once the first round of games wraps up, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will take on the Minnesota Wild in front of a national audience on NBC.  The fun continues on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) with the New Jersey Devils at the Montreal Canadiens, also nationally televised, at around 6pm ET after the conclusion of Bruins at Wild.

NBC chose some great match-ups as each game features star players and intriguing story lines.  From Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller in net for the Sabres to the Red Wings attempting to stretch their home winning streak to a whopping 23 games, there’s something for everyone to gravitate to, including the casual NHL fan and even someone who doesn’t know a thing about hockey.

But nobody is counting on back-to-back-to-back games to do the trick and convert your typical “any sport other than hockey” fan into an NHL sweater-wearing believer.  NBC is weaving the details of the game and its culture throughout the nine-hour telecast in the form of features and human interest stories designed to keep the television audience engaged and actually teach people a thing or two about hockey.  

While many of us think of hockey as a Canadian sport, the U.S. makes plenty of contributions to the game which will be showcased Sunday.  For example, a disproportionate number of NHL players come from two tiny high school hockey programs in Minnesota.   Located in towns with populations under 3,000, Roseau High School and Warroad High School will be featured on NBC as the rival schools  pump out professional hockey players at an abnormally high rate. 

Other tales to be told during Sunday’s telecast are those of a groundbreaking program created by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation which provides sled hockey for the physically challenged and “The Program,” which gives American kids interested in hockey a legitimate path to the NHL without having to leave the country for the Canadian junior leagues.  American-born players will be featured and interviewed throughout the telecast. 

The NHL had a small window of opportunity to increase its fan base during the NBA lockout, but in the end, there just wasn’t enough time to forge a grassroots movement to attract new viewers.   

I once had a conversation with a front office employee of a non-Original Six (Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs) NHL team about how hard it is for his team to grow its fan base.  He said the organization had seemingly tried everything to increase ticket sales and TV ratings but nothing would stick.  Putting butts in seats inside the arena wasn’t as much of an issue as the TV ratings, which he said were extremely hard to grow. 

It’s no coincidence that four of the NHL’s Original Six teams will be featured in “Hockey Day In America” as Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal will bring their strong fan bases with them and perhaps NBC’s presentation of the traditions and folklore of those teams can get others outside of those markets interested in the sport and its history. 

Sure, baseball is “American’s Pastime” and its roots run deep through U.S. soil, but football surpassed baseball as the country’s most popular sport years ago and basketball is beloved by Americans from every walk of life.  If only sports fans realized that hockey has the violence of football, the speed of basketball and the agility and skill superior to both, they would certainly fall in love with the NHL. 

They say “hockey doesn’t translate on TV,” and while there is some truth to that, once you learn the rules and understand the game, hockey is just as exciting to watch on television as any other sport.  Seeing a game in person is also a fantastic experience.

Being able to watch hockey on TV was in jeopardy after the NHL lockout as the league was dropped by the networks that carried the games before the 2004-05 season which was lost completely due to the labor dispute.  Luckily, NBC came along and partnered with the NHL (which I think saved the league from collapsing).  NBC got one heck of a deal as they did not have to pay rights fees for the games, instead, agreeing to simply split ad revenue with the league. 

The higher the TV ratings, the more money NBC and the NHL take home.  Unfortunately, this year’s Winter Classic game between the Rangers and Flyers had the lowest ratings in the short history of the event, in it’s fifth year.  It’s not all bad news though because the game was moved from prime time on New Years Day to mid-day on Jan 2 (competing against college football) due to weather conditions which is probably a likely explanation for the ratings drop.  The 2011 Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins drew the event’s highest ratings with help from HBO’s reality series “24/7” leading up to the game (the cable network also featured this season’s Winter Classic teams) and because the match-up featured the NHL’s top players in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. 

Given the massive programming block of Hockey Day In America, the NHL and NBC should be able to capitalize off a Sunday devoid football or baseball.  Plus, NBC has a full hour of hockey all to itself before any NBA or NCAA basketball games start.  That should be enough time to plant the seed and convert the non-believers into hockey fans, slowly but surely, beginning with nine hours of Hockey Day In America. 

   

- Former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky is charged with 40 felony counts relating to alleged sexual abuse of eight young boys, resulting in the firing of several school administrators, including Head Coach Joe Paterno.  The New York Times reports ten other alleged victims have since come forward. 

-Two adult men accuse Syracuse Associate Head Basketball Coach Bernie Fine of sexual abuse spanning more than a decade, resulting in Fine being placed on administrative leave.

-Former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach Don Peters is permanently banned from the sport and removed from the Hall of Fame after an investigation of sexual abuse involving two teenage girls.

And that was just in the last 10 days!

Whether or not such allegations are true or false, it’s been a rough week for the athletic coaching profession.  

The flood gates have officially opened as one person speaking out typically provokes bravery in victims who were once too afraid or ashamed to come forward with their stories.  A single accusation can also get the attention of fame-seekers who don’t care how many lives they ruin en route to those precious 15 minutes. 

Perhaps the scariest piece of this puzzle is the fact that coaches, the men and women who are supposed to teach and care for our children, might be child predators. 

I come from a family of teachers, some of whom have coached sports in public schools.  Most of my favorite teachers in high school were also the coaches of various athletic teams.  I have had nothing but wonderful experiences with the coaches I know.

Having said that, I stumbled upon some scary facts regarding coaches and sexual abuse. 

The Seattle Times published a story in December 2003 called “Coaches Who Prey.  The Abuse of Girls And The System That Allows It,” written by Christine Willmsen and Maureen O’Hagan.  The article covers several topics including different cases in Washington state of coaches being fired for sexual abuse, how many of these men were then hired by other schools, and how easy it is for offenders to become private coaches due to a lack of regulation. 

Here a some facts from the article:

- “Over the past decade, 159 coaches in Washington have been fired or reprimanded for sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape. Nearly all were male coaches victimizing girls. At least 98 of these coaches continued to coach or teach”

- “The number of offending coaches is much greater. When faced with complaints against coaches, school officials often failed to investigate them and sometimes ignored a law requiring them to report suspected abuse to police. Many times, they disregarded a state law requiring them to report misconduct to the state education office.”

- “Even after getting caught, many men were allowed to continue coaching because school administrators promised to keep their disciplinary records secret if the coaches simply left. Some districts paid tens of thousands of dollars to get coaches to leave. Other districts hired coaches they knew had records of sexual misconduct.”

- “In the growing field of private club teams, coaches can get a job or start a team with almost no regulation or oversight. Men who coach teams sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union have been convicted of such crimes as assault, indecent liberties with a child and drug possession.”

The article describes how the passage of Title IX in 1972 created a huge need for coaches in order to comply with the law and most of those hired to coach girls were men. 

According to the article, “As a profession, coaching has one of the highest rates of sexual-misconduct complaints, according to Bill Lennon, a Bellevue licensed sex-offender therapist and expert on sexual abuse by teachers.”

It makes sense for a sexual predator to use coaching as his or her gateway to children.  Coaches work with athletes for several hours at a time, have plenty of one-on-one interaction, travel together and go mainly unsupervised. 

"The Times analysis shows that Washington teachers who coach are three times more likely to be investigated by the state for sexual misconduct than noncoaching teachers. (Coaches who teach at private schools are not required to have a teaching certificate. Without public records, reporters could not include them in the analysis.)"

The article also cites a North Carolina study that found in schools, “the No. 1 reason for dismissal of a coach — accounting for 1 in every 5 firings — was not a team’s poor performance on the field, but the coach’s sexual relationship with a student.”

Okay, so after reading such nightmare statistics, what can people do to protect their children? 

Criminals exist in all walks of life and many will slip through the cracks.  It’s the sad, scary truth.  Not every child can be protected.  But hopefully the public outcry surrounding recent coaching sex scandals will scare the crap out of encourage school administrations to do their homework diligently before hiring any staff member. 

Hopefully with every survivor who recounts his or her story, millions of kids and parents alike will listen and learn how to recognize the telltale signs of a predator, preventing them from becoming future victims. 

Hopefully this public forum will release survivors from their shame and parents will feel more comfortable having difficult conversations with their children. 

From Pee-Wee to the Pros, there are probably a million athletic coaches in this country.  The vast, overwhelming majority of those men and women enjoy instilling values and teaching the games they love to kids.  It is sad that a few bad apples have managed to spoil the rest of the bunch of such an honorable profession.


To read the disturbing yet fascinating and important Seattle Times article in its entirety, click here:  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/news/local/coaches/news/dayone.html