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'In our opinion' for January

Periodically we post short opinions about the topics of the day. They are collected here when they come off the ESPN Commentary index.

Jan. 31: Fielder worth it

Prince Fielder

Much is being made of Prince Fielder's nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers because his deal comes as Detroit is trying to avoid a state takeover amid a severe budget crisis. Here's one take on it. Here's another.

As a lifelong Tigers fan, I say this: Yes, the city is in dire financial trouble, but team owner Mike Ilitch didn't create those problems and it isn't his job to fix them. In fact, by signing Fielder and making sure the Tigers remain competitive, he's actually contributing to Detroit's economic growth. Last season, they ranked 13th in attendance. With Fielder, the numbers are sure to climb, meaning more people will be spending more money in the city.

Of course, the Tigers can't single-handedly change Detroit's miserable economy. But by investing in Fielder, Ilitch is showing Detroiters that they deserve a championship-caliber team. And that alone is worth $214 million.

-- Jemele Hill

Jan. 30: Missing the points

LeBron James

One MVP misses two free throws with 22 seconds left, team loses. The other MVP, this one a two-time winner, misses two free throws with 17 seconds left, team wins.

Funny. Doesn't it seem as if Derrick Rose missing two free throws that possibly cost his Bulls the game on Sunday means more than LeBron James missing two free throws five seconds later, which almost cost his Heat the game?

Is it just because Miami won and Chicago lost? Or is it because we're surprised when Rose doesn't come through in the clutch. While with LeBron …

-- Scoop Jackson

Jan. 27: Good ol' days? Don't blink!

tennis racket

A world away from here just now, surviving several standing eight-counts, Novak Djokovic battered his way past Andy Murray and into the finals of the Australian Open. There he will play Rafa Nadal, who beat Roger Federer with lefts to the body the night before. Both matches had the look of canonical Scorsese: fast-cut slow motion violence like something out of "Raging Bull."

Consider: with just one exception, every Grand Slam event since the French Open of 2005 has been won by Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.

Still, suckered by our addictions to nostalgia, our modern habit insists we wrap the past in bunting and bright foil, and imagine a better, deeper, richer, more thoughtful world gone by. For ourselves and for everything in it.

In the meantime, the Golden Age of Men's Tennis is happening in front of us. Today. Right now.

-- Jeff MacGregor

Jan. 26: A man without a team

Tony La Russa

When Albert Pujols comes to the plate for the American League on July 10 in Kansas City will manager Tony La Russa pitch to him?

The star first baseman likely will be coming home for the All-Star Game -- Kauffman Stadium is less than 20 miles from his alma mater, Fort Osage High School -- and a reunion with his recently retired (but back for this one game and in the opposite dugout for the first time) skipper. The Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks and, yes, the Cardinals, can only hope La Russa manages against him with the home-field World Series interests of the National League -- and not home-crowd sentiment or friendship -- at heart.

Because in bringing back a man with no tie to any team or league, baseball has created a potential conflict of interest.

-- Matthew Friedrichs

Jan. 25: Spent values

Prince Fielder

Seems like just yesterday none of my friends and I were tweeting around the old hot stove that what the imploding American city of Detroit, Michigan, needs most of all right now is a $214 million baseball player. $200 million dollars being the exact budget shortfall confronting mayor and former Pistons shooting guard Dave Bing.

It isn't a straight-up equivalency, of course, and this isn't a knock on Prince Fielder. He's a nice guy and a fine hitter and he's worth whatever someone's willing to pay him. But in a city that can't keep its police stations open, can't fund its schools, and in which more than half its children live below the poverty line, his contract is further evidence of a nation gone off the rails.

State of the Union? America has long since lost its mind.

-- Jeff MacGregor

Jan. 24: When you're hot, you're hot

fire

There's something to be said about a team that grinds and struggles through the regular season but gets unbeatably hot at just the right time and carries it through the playoffs, through the very last game.

The Packers did it last year. UConn did it in NCAA hoops. The Mavs in the NBA. The Cards in MLB.

Now it's the Giants' turn. They're trending. On fire enough to win the Super Bowl. As recent history in sports shows: It's better to be hot at the right time than great when it doesn't matter.

-- Scoop Jackson

Jan. 23: Stand-up guys

Billy Cundiff

The nastiest word in sports: Goat. Similar but not synonymous with choker, it's as dirty as it gets.

Depending on your choice of definition, the Ravens' Billy Cundiff and the 49ers' Kyle Williams were saddled with both for their work Sunday. Fans in Baltimore and San Francisco won't let either forget. The immediate reactions -- thanks to the visceral stew of Twitter and talk radio -- were vicious. Disappearing acts like Michael Crabtree -- one catch, three yards, many indifferent routes -- will be forgotten while Cundiff and Williams get abused.

Here's the good part, though: Neither guy seems ready to be defined by what happened. They both stood tall. Cundiff talked about setting an example for his kids. Williams talked about the support of his teammates. Good for them.

-- Tim Keown

Jan. 20: The longest season

February

A little more than 10 years ago when the World Trade Center towers were destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, football, appropriately, was placed on hold for a week. The pushback of the schedule gave us the first February Super Bowl. The New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams on Feb. 3, 2002.

Three months earlier, the Yankees lost in seven games to Arizona in baseball's first November World Series.

Major League Baseball has since come to its senses, ensuring that the World Series ends in October. But 10 years later, football still insists on unnecessarily elongating its calendar. Every Super Bowl but one since that Pats-Rams game has been played in February; this year's Super Bowl will be, too -- two weeks from now, on Feb. 5. Good thing the NFL didn't go to an 18-game schedule, as it apparently wanted to do. Otherwise, the Super Bowl and Final Four could be held on the same weekend.

-- Howard Bryant

Jan. 19: Eminent domain and the Mets

Mr. Met

My plan to make Mr. Met a ward of the state is at last coming together. On Wednesday, a public servant named Chris Christie -- apparently the Governor of New Jersey -- expressed an interest in becoming the Mets GM.

I'll welcome this if he convinces Andrew Cuomo, apparently the Governor of New York, to seize the Mets in the best interests of baseball and the peoples of the Weehawken-Rego Park Corridor. Jersey can then have the Mets on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other Sunday. The Jets they can keep forever.

This, I am confident, will prove a popular arrangement among fans of the Lincoln Tunnel, Jacobins, Twitterites, lunatics and members of the Society for the Cautious Advancement of Progressive Improvement. Anything Republicans, Democrats, the internet and sports writers can agree on must be good. So it's a win, win, win right down the line.

-- Jeff MacGregor

Jan. 18: The Colts' dilemma

Jim Caldwell

If you think it was about the Peyton Manning-less 2-14 season, you'd be wrong.

If you think it was about the decision -- one that the franchise still hasn't recovered from -- he made in 2009 to sit the starters and forgo a possible undefeated regular season, you'd be wrong again.

The Indianapolis Colts relieved Jim Caldwell of his head coaching duties simply because they knew he wasn't the coach or person with the right personality to handle the fiasco that is about to happen once they draft Andrew Luck with the first pick of the NFL draft.

Someone quiet and reserved can't handle what's about to happen in Indy. The Colts need a Cowher, a Ditka, a Tuna. A pre-MNF/video game king Madden. They need a personality bigger than the storyline and an ego bigger than each quarterback's.

Their problem: There may not be a coach with those skills willing to inherit the drama.

-- Scoop Jackson

Jan. 17: Problematic defense

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno gave his first interview since his world changed, and he portrayed himself to the Washington Post as an 18th century man forced to come face-to-face with the modern world. If you believe Paterno, he hadn't heard of child molestation before Mike McQueary showed up with news of Jerry Sandusky's behavior. ("I never heard of, of, rape and a man.")

The allegations were so far outside JoePa's sphere of influence that the best he offered his superiors was a tepid, "Hey, we got a problem, I think."

It's hard to believe any devout Catholic (like Paterno) or scholar of the Greek classics (like Paterno) could be unaware of child rape in 2002. JoePa's sick, broken and confused, but his own words are a cringing indictment of how far removed he evidently became over the years. It's sad when the best defense for this proudly successful man is old-man's ignorance

-- Tim Keown

Jan. 13: Unlovable losers?

Starlin Castro

As Cub fans gather in Chicago on Friday for their annual mid-winter convention, the marketing phenomenon invented by former Cubs president John McDonough could become a nightmare. Starlin Castro, the star shortstop, was to be the feature attraction.

Castro, however, will be responding to an investigation of a sexual assault accusation.

As difficult as the situation may be, at least Gloria Allred hasn't gotten involved, yet.

Ask Tiger Woods who was forced to settle with partygirl Rachel Uchitel after an Allred demand. Ask Mark V. Hurd, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who was forced to resign after Allred documented Hurd's two-year campaign to have sex with a soft porn star he hired as a "consultant."

The Cubs generate enough bad publicity with their play on the field. Now, worry about off-the-field issues is tempering excitement generated by new management, too.

-- Lester Munson

Jan. 12: Troll models

Manny Ramirez

Fool me once (Manny Ramirez reportedly tests positive in 2003), shame on you. Fool me twice (Manny dogs it to force a trade in 2008), shame on me. Fool me thrice (Manny flags another test with a women's fertility drug), shame on baseball.

Fool me a fourth time (Manny "retires" instead of facing a 100-game suspension for another flunked drug test), shame on … well, every damn one of us.

Sorry, Manny. I'm not buying Wednesday's I'll-be-a-role-model-this-time spin. Somewhere, even the late Steve Howe is laughing at that one. In the words of noted baseball sage Pete Townshend: "Won't get fooled again." Neither should any team in MLB.

-- Michael Knisley

Jan. 11: Inmates running the asylum

Barry Larkin

Congratulations to the latest Hall of Fame inductee, Barry Larkin. But with all due respect to my colleagues, I've never understood how working journalists got roped into selling tickets for an upstate tourist attraction.

Monday's announcement from the Cooperstown wax museum should remind us that our vote is a reciprocal vanity. The Hall of Fame looks more important because we vote for it, and we look more important because we vote for the Hall of Fame. In fact, journalists still on the beat shouldn't be allowed to vote for any award in professional sports.
Too much -- or perhaps too little -- is at stake.

The trouble isn't only the conflict of interest. The recent statistical revolution illuminated another uncomfortable truth: Just because we've watched a lot of something doesn't mean we know what we're seeing. Let the Hall of Fame hire its own small Board of Selectors. Or plug the numbers into a spreadsheet. Leave us out of it.

-- Jeff MacGregor

Jan. 10: The Pats' fast, loose rules

Josh McDaniels

There's nothing in NFL rules that forbids just-fired St. Louis assistant coach Josh McDaniels from re-joining the Patriots on the fly as a "consultant" for their playoff game Saturday against the Broncos, who fired him as head coach after last season. But there should be.

Leave it to Bill Belichick and McDaniels, who both bent NFL rules before with their SpyGate and Son of SpyGate videotaping scandals, to exploit a loophole that should be closed. No more adding coaches at this juncture of the season, same as you can't trade for players. Imagine if the 49ers could pick up a cornerback before they face Drew Brees and the Saints. Might help, right?

So much for the Pats' going into the dance with the ones who got them there. Is Tebow mania that scary? Or is the galling first-round ouster of last year's 14-2 team and the Pats' seven-year title drought grinding on Coach Bill? I know this is big-time, big-boy pro football. But some guys really will do anything to win.

-- Johnette Howard

Jan. 9: Denver's future is now

John Elway

The way I see that game, John Elway's worst nightmare just came true.

The post-Tim Tebow Era in Denver was supposed to begin today. Elway needed the Broncos to lose. It was his last way out.

But instead, the "What should the Broncos do about Tebow?" conversation ended with that 80-yard overtime touchdown pass. Elway's hands are officially tied. There is no exit strategy now.

The "magic" returned and sealed his fate. It's Tebow going forward into next season and possibly beyond. And for Elway, that won't be pretty.

-- Scoop Jackson

Jan. 6: Dream job or nightmare?

Bill O'Brien

Three months ago it would have been possible, without hyperbole, to congratulate Bill O'Brien on winning the best job in sports. Head football coach at Penn State, in charge of a storied program at a great American university with a passionate fan base and a long tradition of success.

Instead, he inherits a haunted house.

To this moment, as a matter of crisis management and damage control, the school has done everything wrong. Everything. Its Happy Valley reputation now ashes, O'Brien's challenge will be to exorcise the past while guiding a high stakes football program into its future. All while enduring the ongoing felony investigations, years of graphic civil litigation, and the suffocating attentions of our vampire press.

They'd be better off shuttering the building for a few years.

Still, I wish Mr. O'Brien only good luck, and welcome him to the worst best job in sports.

-- Jeff MacGregor

Jan. 5: Lion in waiting

Matthew Stafford

You would think fifth all-time for most passing yards in a season would be enough to make the Pro Bowl.

It wasn't.

You'd think being in the top 10 in every major QB stat -- in what is his first season with 16 starts -- would land the 23-year-old on ESPN the Magazine's NEXT cover.

It didn't.

So if he's not now or later, what is Detroit's Matthew Stafford?

Try disrespected.

"He has Megatron" say the detractors, as if Tom Brady is passing to himself. Remove Calvin Johnson's 16 TDs, Stafford would only have four fewer than Eli's 29.

You might not know now, but Saturday in New Orleans, you're gonna find this out: Stafford's not good. He's elite. And when he walks by the cameras and smiles? Oh, he's saying "hi hater" to you.

-- LZ Granderson

Jan. 4: Owners with patience

Headset

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and Chargers owner Dean Spanos just avoided the kind of pillorying formerly aimed at the late George Steinbrenner, who repeatedly changed managers in his first two decades as Yankees owner.

Instead, Lurie and Spanos will have to endure an offseason of abuse from those fanatics convinced that anyone else in a headset could've pushed these two veteran teams closer to the Super Bowl.

Every NFL fan wants to win now. But the reality is that most NFL teams are either progressing or regressing toward .500, the magnetic center of the league. Anything else is an aberration.

The retention of Norv Turner in San Diego and Andy Reid in Philadelphia, two coaches whose teams got caught in that powerful pull and missed the playoffs this season, shows surprising patience. I applaud it.

-- Matthew Friedrichs

Jan. 3: Prima donna apologetics

DeSean Jackson

So now DeSean Jackson decides to apologize.

"I can admit to certain things affecting me during the season. I just want to apologize."

The words are too little and so late they're meaningless. The sentiment so prima, so donna.

He had all season to self-impose this attitude adjustment. To see the internal damage he was causing.

Yet he decides after "his" dream team misses the playoffs by one game, that it's cool to admit he was wrong?

So typical. So DeSean.

I expected better from a player with a last name like Jackson. I was so wrong.

-- Scoop Jackson

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