Enemy Territory: Life in Boston as a fan of the other team.

The sun sets on Lansdowne Street at just about the same time that the Buffalo Bills faithful, affectionately known as Bills Mafia, begins to file down the street on their way to Bleacher Bar which has become a little slice of home for a diehard fan base. A primetime game brings them out in full force.

In 2009 the Bills Backers of Boston made Bleacher Bar one of their two official bars, and soon it began to feel like home. They had been meeting at The Harp (located across from The TD Garden) for years, but it was time to grow and Bleacher Bar was added to the list. What makes it home? Let’s start with the drink of choice for the fan base, Labatt Blue, which has been advertised as “The Official Canadian Import of the Buffalo Bills.” The beer is brewed in Ontario, but headquarters reside in Buffalo. Bartender Josh Millman has had the early evening shift at Bleacher Bar on Sunday for four years.  “We have more Labatt Blue in the cooler than you would believe,” he says, “For just one weekly event, it’s crazy. This crowd loves their Labatt Blue. That and Bills football.”

Mike Jorgensen has lived in Allston for three years, but his heart remains in Buffalo. Born and raised in the Buffalo area and a graduate of Syracuse University, Jorgensen feels like he is on the outside looking in around his new home city when it comes to football. That’s why every Sunday you can find him underneath the Green Monster in his Thurman Thomas jersey with surrounded by fellow Bills fans. “It’s a Patriots-free zone.” Jorgensen said,  “I’ve never had to deal with living outside of Bills territory, and for the past few years I have come here.”

The Bills lost to the Seattle Seahawks earlier this evening. A string of controversial calls, or lack thereof, by the referees mixed with the constant flow of Labatt Blue made the end of the night a bit testy. The three-game losing streak put their beloved Rex Ryan on the hot seat heading into the bye week.

Using the bye week to lick the wounds remaining from the Seahawks loss, Bills Mafia returned to Bleacher Bar two weeks later ready to go against the Cincinnati Bengals. This Bills came out victorious in this one, and the crowd was loving it. Jorgensen, back once again, said “This is why I don’t watch the games at my apartment, this environment is a lot healthier.  We have plenty of lows but enjoying the highs with Bills Mafia is the best. It’s just like home.”

Millman arrived as the game wrapped up. A win means the crowd will stick around well into his shift, a loss means a lot of closed tabs and unfinished wings. “The Bills-Patriots game, which was the same day as David Ortiz’s last home game, when the Bills shut us out,” Millman said. “Bills Mafia was going crazy. It was quite the atmosphere. Flip that and  you’ve got the loss to the Patriots a few weeks after. It was glum in here.”

It’s not that the outcome doesn’t matter. Whether your team wins or loses changes the overall experience  and how fondly you look back at it. Team specific bars for NFL teams are notable because of the lack of parity in the league. If you are a Cleveland Browns fan in the Boston area, you have The Crossing on Tremont St. If you are an Oakland Raiders fan in Boston, you have Sports Grille Boston on Canal St. That feeling of community in enemy territory evokes a feeling of closeness to home, even if it’s just for a few hours every Sunday, that can’t be replicated in any other way.

Outside of Bleacher Bar, you are quickly reminded that Buffalo is not as close as it feels. Overlooking the street is a gigantic billboard of David Ortiz, with the sounds of Lansdowne’s Sausage Guy, Dimitri, echoing off the Green Monster which ominously hangs over the sidewalk opposite the Ortiz billboard. After all, you are in the heart of Red Sox Nation. Most fall Sundays there is a little bit of Buffalo too, or as the Bills Backers of Boston website says, “a little 716 in the 617.”

It’s an atmosphere that sneaks up on you. “I had no idea what I was walking into,” Sean Henderson, a New England native who is new to the area said, “Me and my girlfriend came here for some apps and drinks, to check out the view of Fenway Park, but we didn’t know this was a Buffalo Bills hotspot. It was fun, I just didn’t tell anybody I was a Patriots fan.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wisconsin Basketball And The Hunger For More

New York Times –  The Wisconsin basketball players Nigel Hayes and Jordan Hill took a step behind their teammates during the national anthem before the ninth-ranked Badgers’ season opener on Friday. It was another in a long series of visible protests from one of college basketball’s most socially aware locker rooms.

Hayes, a senior who was named the preseason Big Ten player of the year, has lobbied for players to be paid, serving as a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking a freer market for top athletes and once showing up to an ESPN “College GameDay” set sardonically identifying himself as a “broke athlete.” Hayes has also posted about the Black Lives Matter movement to his more than 80,000 Twitter followers and recently joined other Wisconsin athletes in demanding university action after a fan appeared in a mask of President Obama and a noose at a Badgers home football game.

Hill, a redshirt junior, also writes provocatively on Twitter. And in September, Wisconsin’s starting point guard, the senior Bronson Koenig, traveled to support protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline, many of whom are, like him, Native American.


In a sit-down interview with three players from what the New York Times has labeled “College Basketball’s Most Political Locker Room”, the curtain gets peeled back a little bit on what life is like for these three guys who continue to put more responsibilities on their plate. Nigel Hayes has taken the role as the vocal leader of not only Wisconsin’s  basketball team, but for all Division 1 athletes who struggle to find their place amongst their fellow students.

Whether it is the fight for the right to be paid, taking a stand against police brutality, or protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, these guys are there and ready to use their platform to extend their influence.  But what will it really do?

I am skeptical of what immediate benefits these guys will be able to enjoy, but what is obvious is that they don’t care about all of that. The causes they are fighting for will never go away, but as they reach the tail end of their  college careers it is important to note that they are not simply falling in line. They are carrying the torch, and the spotlight has never been brighter.

 

Unreported Concussions: An Ominous Cloud Over the NFL

The RingerKuechly was sent sprawling before rolling over onto his stomach, writhing around with his appendages flapping. Players huddled around him. Voices hushed. Commercials happened. Kuechly eventually landed on the injury cart, looking decidedly less than superhuman. Was he really crying? Was something else going on?

I hopped on my iPad, Googled “Kuechly concussions” and learned that he had suffered one last season that sidelined him for weeks. This was his second. God knows how many undiagnosed ones he’s had.


 Whatever happened, Luke Kuechly went from “heat-seeking missile” to “hyperventilating, blubbering mess” in one play. The following morning, he appeared in this photo on Instagram:

 

… and that was supposed to make us feel better. Or something.


The NFL has upped the focus on concussions over the past decade or so and over at the swanky new offices at 345 Park Avenue in Midtown, maybe they think they are doing enough. In a recent conversation between The Ringer founder Bill Simmons and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, the future of the NFL is examined with Kuechly’s on-field breakdown fresh in their minds.

Simmons explains that had it been another time, he would have made a joke about Kuechly’s on-field display like he used to make jokes at Troy Aikman’s brains expense, but this is a new NFL and the rules have changed.

What really sticks out to me is that Simmons acknowledged that this was only Kuechly’s second reported concussion, but he places emphasis on the unknown variable of how many undiagnosed concussions he has had in his young football career.  While it is the big blows, the loss of consciousness on national TV that stands out to the outside world the repeated blows to the head on every play are a problem as well. The differentiation between a “major” and “minor” concussion is pointless. The NFL is driving an unstoppable train with thousands of lives on the line. If it doesn’t get control soon, it will derail.

Silence Should Not Be Rewarded

The Boston Globe – Sports and politics are both cutthroat competitive. They both revere history. They both inspire wall-to-wall coverage and hyperbolizing pundits. They both require energizing bases — fan and voter. In both, logic and viewpoint are often dictated by loyalty to a particular team.


Athletes have a right to express their political opinions and participate in the process. However, we shouldn’t assume their stances are more noble or informed.

Just because (LeBron) James is a franchise player that doesn’t mean he is qualified to tell people what to do with their franchise.

But the athlete who is willing to put himself or herself out there with a view that could alienate some of their fans and upset their brands has my respect. That includes athletes whose beliefs and opinions may not be ones I share.


 

While the above article was written in a world where Donald Trump was simply the Republican candidate for the Presidency, Chris Gasper of The Boston Globe perfectly explains why it is important for athletes to not shy away from their beliefs, and throughout the article Gasper draws parallels between sports and politics.

In a way, this is a continuation of my post regarding Tom Brady and his line stepping when it came to his inability to be public about how he supported his “good friend” Donald Trump.

It is understandable why an athlete that is on the edge of super-stardom might be less willing to be vocal about their opinions regarding real issues., especially on politics. While it might not be fair to discredit an athlete for remaining quiet, it is important to revere those who do not allow themselves to be simply another cog in the machine.

Gasper gives the example of Curt Schilling, who’s opinions are less than relatable for me. However, I agree with Gasper in the sense that while you can question his stance on certain issues, you can’t question his passion and willingness to risk his career in order for his voice to be heard. Silly, stupid, absurd. These are all words you can use to describe an athlete that you feel doesn’t see through the same lens as you.  But the discussion they provide in the public sphere is more important than the actual hot takes.

The People’s Right To Record

One topic that Paul Bass touched upon in his Skype discussion with the class was the right for people to record Police officers on their cell phones. This is a relatively new phenomenon which is due to the increase of quality in cell phone cameras as well as the accessibility that people have to them. Today in class, Bass said that the change is not complete, and the New Haven Police Department embraces the rights of its citizen’s but Bass does acknowledge that these rights are not always carried out. This has been a story for far too long.

In a piece covering  two settlements from 2014 where lawsuits were brought by citizens who were arrested for taking cellphone videos of police in public, written in April of 2015 for the New Haven Independent Bass writes,

Meanwhile, Police Chief Dean Esserman declared in 2012 that he couldn’t punish a cop for blatantly violating that order because the order’s wording is too “vague.” He vowed to rewrite the order.

Almost two years later, the city has not yet rewritten the order, according to Assistant Chief Al Vazquez (pictured), who oversees internal affairs and department values and ethics.

The attorney that lead the case for these citizens, Diane Polan, says that this is simply the Police Department dragging their feet. The right for citizens to record police officers is simply a way for the people to keep police in check, much like the police are there to keep society in check. With more eyes on the police, the work they do is expected to improve. It is peculiar why there is such push back.

A trip to the Sugar Bowl

img_20161107_114213

Located at 857 Dorchester Avenue on the southern edge of the Polish Triangle neighborhood in Dorchester, Massachusetts the Sugar Bowl Cafe simply gets it right.
With weekday hours of 6 a.m.-8 p.m. their regulars get a chance to grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich to start the day and end the day with a delectable dessert, while the weekend hours of  9 a.m.- 5 p.m. are a little more laid back. the address; the website; the days and hours; whether it is handicapped-accessible; and the closest T stop.

img_20161107_115157Steve Bernath, a recent graduate of UMass Boston who has lived in the neighborhood for three years, appreciates what the Sugar Bowl offers. He said, “This place is a staple of my weekends. You can always find me and my roommates lounging in the backroom on Sunday mornings.  I’ve gotten here before the door is unlocked on more than one occasion.”

img_20161107_171901A short stroll away from the JFK/Umass Red Line station (about 8 minutes), bring your laptop and enjoy the free WiFi while treating yourself to anything from their pastrami sandwich to the hot fudge brownie sundae (which maintains a superb brownie to ice cream ratio.)

“This is a hidden gem of mine,” Bernath said as he sipped his coffee and patiently waited for his breakfast sandwich , “I always make sure to bring friends from out of town here. You can’t sit in an armchair and enjoy yourself at Dunkin Donuts the way you can here.”

One noteworthy quirk is that the Sugar Bowl is a cash only establishment. But don’t worry, they have an ATM inside.

pano_20161107_171354

Final Project 

For my final project I will be focusing on the contingent of Buffalo Bills fans that congregate at Bleacher Bar for Bills games. I will focus on this bar because I particularly like the contrast of the bar that hosts the fans of a Patriots division for while being located inside Fenway Park, arguably the heart of sports in New England. 

I will also attempt to include local bars that host fans of some of the Patriots other rivals, while the Bills crowd will be the focus because of their notoriously passionate fan base. 

To begin my project I will be dropping into the bar during Monday Night Football for the Bills game tonight. Here I will lay down the groundwork for the project by talking to the bartenders and bar manager for some background. 

The story and the video portion will mainly be about the Bills fans and Bleacher Bar while the photo aspect will bring in the other bars around the city that host fans of rival franchises. 

Utter Fulfillment

Late one night while ignoring my need for sleep and mindlessly scrolling through Twitter one particular tweet from Chad Finn about the hunt for utter fulfillment caught my eye.

 

With Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians trading blows in the World Series this year the unbiased baseball fan, especially those who don’t buy into the whole “going to sleep at a reasonable hour” fad is being treated to a great series. Sure, there are things that the MLB could work on to make the games end at a reasonable hour, but you won’t see me complaining about run-times in the World Series. It’s the freakin’ World Series. Every pitch matters.

Now, back to utter fulfillment.  When I said that this series is a treat to the unbiased baseball fan I can guarantee you it hasn’t been so enjoyable for Indians fans or the Cubs fans. Make no mistake, for these clubs there will be no solace in heading into the Winter Meetings without a ring. And for the diehard fans, a good nights sleep will be few and far between after the final out of their season is made if they are on the losing end.

Think about it. You don’t know a Cubs fan who has seen a World Series win, that’s a fact. The same can be said about Indians fans, with only a little less certainty. The “careful-what-you-wish-for b.s.” that Finn refers too is purely a safety net, it’s the first step to reminding yourself that there is always next year. But when the final out is made and one of these championship-starved clubs is holding up The Commissioner’s Trophy, next year won’t matter. Next year will never feel as good as this year. That is the utter fulfillment that Finn was talking about.

 

p.s. What a lame name for the MLB’s championship trophy. Why isn’t it the David Ortiz Trophy yet?

 

 

Class Presentation: The Ringer

aaa54

For my source, I have chosen to focus on Bill Simmons’sThe Ringer. First I will talk about the now defunct Grantland, Bill Simmons’s old ESPN offshoot. Then I will go a little bit into his breakup with ESPN which lead to the creation of The Ringer.

Grantland was Simmons’s brainchild. While he was at ESPN he had developed into their biggest star, and the network gave him complete creative control over his own ESPN affiliated site. As “The Sports Guy”, Simmons created a persona for himself that ushered in a new era of web journalism.

With Grantland he created a pop culture site that dabbled in all aspects including sports, politics, music, movies, and television. It was created in the mold of Simmons and the stable of contributors that he was able to collect provided readers like me a consistent source of entertainment. They had Wesley Morris, Katie Baker, Zach Lowe, Bill Barnwell, Bryan Curtis, Chuck Klosterman and Charles P. Pierce just to name a few. Basically, Simmons had no shortage of talented writers waiting to work with him. That’s when everything went sour.

Simmons had a messy breakup with ESPN and when it became official it appeared that Grantland would live on without him. However, months after the breakup ESPN CEO John Skipper announced that Grantland would be discontinued.  When Simmons’s contract officially expired, along with his gag order, he came out and announced that he was starting a new venture. Thus, The Ringer was born. It quickly became Grantland 2.0.

The Ringer does a lot of things right. Simmons might be the best there is at identifying talent. Just like Grantland there is a deep cast of characters, a mix of old and new faces. When Skipper stopped Grantland he made a point to mention that it was operating at a loss, explaining that the quality of content wasn’t converting to profits. It is interesting to note that all of The Ringer’s content is sponsored, with Miller Lite being tagged right at the header. The images that accompany each article are created in-house. Each visit to the site is a new experience and there is a constant rotation of stories. Overall, the site is very lighthearted and easy to consume. Each article is accompanied by a projected reading time along with notes in the margins on the “highlights” of the article. The one downfall of the site to me is it seems that they have taken a focus on shorter “blog” style posts that are easy to consume.