NFC West: Dirk Nowitzki

Some race fans are running circles, perhaps even doughnuts, around Golden Tate after the Seattle Seahawks receiver offended them with a wayward tweet Wednesday night.

Tate questioned five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson as a legitimate candidate for the ESPY as Best Male Athlete.

"Driving a car does not show athleticism," Tate tweeted.

Tate quickly found himself on the defensive. Johnson himself re-tweeted comments from racing reporter Jeff Gluck calling Tate ignorant. Tate apologized, but the backlash against him continued. Gluck picked apart Tate's comments early Thursday.

Tate took the wrong tack in a debate that could use better focus. There's no sense in questioning whether Johnson or other drivers should qualify as athletes. Racing is a sport. Drivers must keep their edge while operating under extremely demanding conditions, risking their lives to a degree unimaginable in most other sports.

Instead of questioning athleticism, I'll propose the following distinctions between athletes for the purposes of this conversation:
  • The physical barriers to participation in the NFL and NBA are higher than physical barriers in racing. That doesn't mean NFL or NBA athletes could compete successfully at racing's highest levels. They would likely find the sport extremely demanding in ways unimaginable to them. But if the 100 best football players spent five years training as drivers while the 100 best drivers spent five years training as football players, I suspect the football players would be closer to competing admirably in their new sport.
  • It's possible for top racing drivers to remain competitive well past their physical primes. Mark Martin and Ronnie Lott are both 52 years old. Martin is ranked 19th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. Lott last played in 1995. Different sports place different physical demands upon athletes.
  • Tate scored points, I thought, for noting that it's easier to train a competitive driver than to train someone to run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds. That does nothing to disqualify racing drivers from consideration for "best athlete" awards, however. Dirk Nowitzki beat out Johnson for the ESPY, but athleticism wasn't the only measure. Quite a few NBA players are more athletic than Nowitzki. That did not make them better candidates for the award.

By the way, @popdirt gets the credit/blame for drawing me into this conversation. The subject interested me more than the latest labor news, however promising.

Your take?

Around the NFC West: Fitzgerald's laments

December, 15, 2010
12/15/10
9:44
AM ET
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Larry Fitzgerald wants to win more than he wants to make another dollar. These comments are relevant given that the Cardinals are not winning and Fitzgerald's contract expires after next season. The deal features a no-trade clause and a provision preventing the Cardinals from naming Fitzgerald their franchise player. Fitzgerald: "When you're playing on a team that isn't having any success, it isn't a lot of fun. This year has been physically grueling and psychologically grueling. The toughest year of my career, hands down." Update: The no-trade clause was removed for the 2011 and voidable 2012 seasons of the deal.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes, one of the team's more productive players this season. Rhodes: "My favorite pro basketball team is the Dallas Mavericks. And my favorite college teams, there's two. I've got to say Louisville, because that's my school and I have a lot of love for them. But my favorite college basketball team is the Duke Blue Devils. ... I'm a big fan of Dirk Nowitzki. He's a great player but he still catches a lot of flack for not getting that championship and I like guys who are in that position and have something to prove."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic looks at how the Cardinals have been getting John Skelton ready in case the team needed him to start at quarterback. Somers: "Skelton's days became a little busier a few weeks ago, when he started meeting with Chris Miller individually on Thursday and Friday afternoons for mental work. They went over plays, formations and adjustments. Skelton would go up the board and draw the whole thing out, including reads, progressions and other adjustments."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Arizona will continue putting its best players on the field instead of forcing younger backups into the lineup with an eye toward the future.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks do not regret parting with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch even though injuries have wiped out the receiver position. O'Neil: "Those were long-term decisions made with an eye toward developing younger players and building the roster for the future. But the subtractions carried a risk, too, and now Seattle is left waiting for Obomanu's right hand to heal so he can catch passes and Williams' left foot to recover. Neither was active for the last game, but both are expected to practice Wednesday, according to Pete Carroll." The Seahawks' record would be no better, in my view, had they kept either veteran receiver. It's possible their record might be worse if keeping those players diminished opportunities for Mike Williams.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are no more competitive now than they were when they fired previous coach Jim Mora. Kelley: "Carroll and general manager John Schneider cut and culled the roster. They brought in every ambulatory offensive lineman and every pass-catching body they could find. They turned over the roster like a couple of farmers turning over the soil and came up with ... the same old Seahawks. The same old results." The Seahawks need to get better on both lines. That was the case last season. The difference now: They have their franchise left tackle, Russell Okung, and a productive pass-rusher in Chris Clemons. They had neither a year ago. Seattle appears no closer to resolving its long-term quarterback issues. That is the biggest downer of the 2010 season from Seattle's perspective, in my view.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at a couple playoff scenarios for Seattle.

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest takes a closer look at the Wildcat play Seattle ran effectively against the 49ers.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former Rams defensive end Leonard Little has retired. Sometimes the league makes that decision for players. The phone stops ringing, or when it does, the offers aren't worth the player's time. Little: "I didn't want to leave there and leave a hole to be filled, but Chris Long started playing well last year, and I felt comfortable walking away from it."

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he offers thoughts on rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard. Thomas: "Let's cut to the chase on Gilyard. He was a fourth-round pick, not a first or second or third round pick. And right now, he's not good enough to play ahead of Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Laurent Robinson or Danario Alexander, regardless of the reason. I wouldn't, however, mind seeing him return kickoff once again. Keep in mind the last time he tried to return a kickoff -- against San Francisco -- he couldn't even catch the football. So I'm not sure the coaching staff has much confidence in him at this point." Some rookie receivers have a tougher time than others. It's not like Seattle is getting great contributions from second-round choice Golden Tate.

More from Thomas: The Rams and their Week 15 opponent, Kansas City, appear to be on similar tracks. Both teams' long-time owners died in recent seasons, and both teams are improving.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will define their season over the next three games.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the team is making adjustments heading into the final three games of the regular season. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "What I did talk about a little bit today was starting today it’s about getting ready for Sunday’s game. It’s about extra rest. It’s about taking care of your body; it’s about coming back on Wednesday with the determination to make sure we are not sitting here next Monday feeling the same way. I don’t think it’s status quo Wednesday, Thursday, Friday this week. I think everything has to go up a notch. I think they’ll come back that way, I really do."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers' linebackers are banged up. Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes have hand issues heading into the 49ers' game Thursday night.

Also from Maiocco: Under what circumstances could Alex Smith return to the 49ers?

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Willis has played well with hand injuries in the past. Barrows: "Patrick Willis scholars will recall that Willis played with a cast on his right hand during his junior season at Ole Miss (that protected a broken finger) and that he also broke a bone in his right hand in Week 9 during his rookie season with the 49ers. Not only did that injury fail to slow Willis down, he seemed to gain strength when the club was placed on his hand, and he led the league in tackles that year. (Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco -- he was still Chad Johnson back then -- dubbed Willis 'Bam Bam' for the reckless abandon with which he played while wearing the club.)"

Also from Barrows: why Fox played music during the Seahawks-49ers game Sunday. Fox executive Dan Bell says the network wanted to add a dramatic score to the game as part of an experiment. Barrows: "Bell said the intent was to give the game the same type of drama that a great musical score provides a sports movie like 'Rocky' or 'We Are Marshall.' He said that the 49ers-Seahawks game was the first time the music was unveiled (yes, you were the guinea pigs) and stressed that at this point it was still in the experimental stage. Bell said the network would continue to 'tweak' the concept this season but that he didn't know which future games would include it." Bell says the network thinks some sort of musical score will become part of watching games on TV.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with 49ers running back Anthony Dixon, who is seeking to refine his running style.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Michael Crabtree hasn't found a role in the 49ers' offense to this point.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Spikes might have to start picking off passes with one hand.

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