All articles are written by YJDP Student Sports Writers and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.
February might be the shortest month of the year, but when it comes to sports, there is no shortage of events. In the past five weeks (counting the first week of March), the NBA changed commissioners for only the fourth time in its history, the Seahawks routed the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVI, and the Russian Federation won the overall Olympic medal count for the first time ever (only counting the six Winter Games it has participated in since the fall of the Soviet Union). There are several lessons that the sporting landscape of February has to offer.
1. Defense still wins championships
Despite all the passing records that have been broken in recent years, despite all the rule changes favoring the offensive side, despite all the media hype surrounding Peyton Manning’s incredible season, it was Seattle’s defense that led the Seahawks to their first-ever championship. The method that Pete Carroll and company employed revolves around consistent pressure from the front seven, as well as physical, hard-hitting defensive backs. The scheme’s success has caused it to spread across the league, notably to Carolina, whose defense was a key contributor in its 12-win breakthrough season. Look for more teams to give this style a shot in coming years.
2. Syracuse is right at home in the ACC
Although Syracuse and Pittsburgh were the first to bolt, it seems as though the Big East basketball dynasty was due to come to a close sooner or later. Immediately, both teams embraced their new rivalries, as evidenced by the “Beat Duke” shirts that Syracuse started selling in September (and the “Beat Duke Again” shirts they started selling after the first game). This year’s ACC might not be as deep as the old Big East, but one thing is for sure: as long as Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski are coaching in the same conference, people will be circling on their calendars the dates they come to town.
3. There is hope for the Slam Dunk contest
It feels weird to say something like this after a contest that was a virtually unanimous disappointment, but the talent pool (three all-stars), the pageantry (which Shaq took care of by his mere involvement in McLemore’s dunk), and the finishes themselves (notably Wall’s reverse two-hander) have given the people hope that there are still original ideas out there. Next year, when the old format inevitably returns after such widespread outrage over this year’s system, the overall perception of the contest will once again rest on the quality and originality of the dunks, which is how it should be.
4. Olympic medals aren’t easy to come by
Most of the events in the Winter Olympics feature a very small gap that separates the best from the rest. On the bobsleigh track, for example, mere hundredths of a second are often the difference between winning gold and missing the podium. Other sports like figure skating are judged, and the athletes only have so much control over their final standing. Even in hockey, a single-elimination tournament means that one lackluster performance by the Russians can turn them from medal contenders into scapegoats. While several athletes were able to repeat their golden performances from years past, it surely wasn’t easy. This is just one of many lessons the Olympics had to offer, along with: Maybe a summer resort isn’t the best place to hold a two-week event that revolves around snow; always make sure the judges/referees are neutral; and $51 billion apparently doesn’t buy basic bathroom stall border technology.
5. Some things and athletes transcend sports
All the other topics I’ve written about here are significant only in the realm of sports. Jason Collins and Michael Sam, however, are bigger than that. As the two first openly gay athletes in America’s four major sports, they are making strides for society day by day. Both Collins and Sam hope to be known not as gay athletes, but rather as professional athletes who happen to be gay. Collins seems to be achieving this, as he has settled in with the Nets as a backup center. However, unlike Sam, Collins has already made a name for himself in the industry. He has started in the NBA Finals, played with his twin brother at Stanford, and gained a reputation as someone who could slow down a star center. Michael Sam, on the other hand, may have led the SEC in sacks this past season, but he is still an unfamiliar name in the eyes of the general public. It will be interesting to see how things play out for him in the coming months, and he may very well turn into a solid NFL player. For these two athletes, comparisons to Jackie Robinson and Monte Irvin are not far-fetched, although the primary difference is that while sentiments against blacks were still strong in the late 1940’s, homosexuals have been rapidly gaining acceptance in the past few years. As far as their athletic careers go, Collins has signed (and re-signed) with Brooklyn and Sam is likely to be drafted this April, but their impact extends far beyond simply making the team.