RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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A different perspective on Fox Sports North Girls from someone who used to be one

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 4th at 2:04pm 302450501

jennytaftOver the weekend, I learned that Fox Sports was doing away with its “Fox Sports Girls” program. It started as a tip on Friday; on Saturday, a spokesperson for FSN confirmed it with a statement that read:

FOX Sports is constantly evaluating our marketing programs in an effort to keep them fresh and provide the most engaging experience for our viewers.  As a result, we have decided to end the FOX Sports Girls program to focus on other projects that serve our fans.

Since Fox Sports launched the “Girls” program in 2011, it’s been met with mixed reviews. The same could be said for the comments that followed this weekend after it was disbanded. Fans dislike the concept and like the concept for roughly the same reasons: there are pretty women on TV and at events.

“What’s not to like about that?” some fans say.

“It’s a sexist and demeaning concept,” others say.

I’ve always come down more on the side of the latter group, and I’m guessing there were enough viewers (many of them female, including my wife) who felt alienated by the concept that Fox was compelled for that reason to pull the plug.

In 2015, in my mind, the Fox Sports Girls — they had them for all the regional networks, just FSN, and all of them are going away — to be an antiquated concept that opened itself up to more criticism by calling the participants “girls” and by only referring to them by first name. They were somewhere between sideline reporters and cheerleaders — nice people caught in a strange assignment.

I have not, however, ever BEEN a Fox Sports Girl. But I did interview one of the original FSN Girls, Jenny Taft, for a 2013 story (when she was just “Jenny”). Back then, she encouraged me to replace “Girls” with “Ambassadors” when thinking of the role she and others played. That helped to a degree.

“We are trying to be a connection between fans and athletes,” Taft said back then, “and trying to get an inside look at teams and athletes from a fan’s perspective.”

Fair enough.

Taft, who played hockey in high school at Edina and lacrosse at Boston University (where she also studied journalism), was able to parlay her FSN Girls gig into a job with Fox Sports One as a reporter and host.

Reached Sunday, Taft (pictured above as both an FSN Girl and in her current job) said she had heard about the FS Girls program disbanding, though she had not heard an explanation as to why. But she did offer her own perspective on what it had meant to her.

“I enjoyed the job and I was very proud of the Fox Sports North Girls concept,” she said. “I worked with great people who were supportive and I believed in the concept. It also helped me start my career, so I was very lucky to be a part of it.”

Maybe Taft, who was given more on-camera responsibility by FSN as her time there continued, would have risen to her position at FS1 regardless, but so much of breaking into any industry, particularly in the media, is getting a foot in the door.

Maybe that foot in the door shouldn’t have had to come in a role that some would consider degrading, but Taft took it at face value. If the person doing the work doesn’t feel degraded, how do we ultimately judge it? That’s a bigger question that would require thousands of words to even begin to explain, but let’s end here:

Maybe Taft is an example, at least, of something good that came out of something many considered flawed?

Wild vs. Blackhawks feeling all-too-familiar in more than one way

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 4th at 10:33am 302420741

sharphawksStop me if you’ve heard this one before:

The plucky local team, filled with optimism and promise after a strong regular season, barrels into a playoff series against an opponent that might have a tendency to bicker or coast at times but that also has a rich recent championship pedigree, a ton of top-end talent and the ability to find another gear when the bright lights come on.

The local team plays well enough at times to win, poorly enough to deserve to lose at other times, while the strong opponent keeps the local team a arm’s length — making their fans feel like there’s a chance before crushing their spirit with turn-on-a-dime momentum switches.

You have heard this before, of course. This was the story of the Wild vs. Blackhawks two years ago and again last season. This is the story so far again in this year’s playoffs, with Minnesota down 2-0 after two losses in Chicago — one a well-fought heartbreaker and Sunday’s an all-around dud.

And this is also, unfortunately, the story of the Twins and Yankees in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010 — when New York went 12-2 against Minnesota and won all four series despite feeling like the Twins had a realistic chance to win at least a couple of times.

We’re not at Twins/Yankees crisis level yet in this series or in this progression of yearly matchups. Game 3 is Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, and this can still be the series people want it to be if (as happened last season) the Wild is able to win the next two games in St. Paul.

But Chicago is 10-3 now in playoff games against the Wild over the past three seasons, and the Blackhawks are giving off a maddening Yankees vibe of looking vulnerable at times before leaning on a combination of skill and championship pedigree that Minnesota can’t match.

Maybe too much is made of the psychological edge in matchups where one franchise has owned the other, but in the case of Twins vs. Yankees it definitely seemed to be a factor. In 2004, the Twins had the best pitcher in baseball (Johan Santana), a huge edge in a five-game series. The Twins won one of his starts, blew another one and lost in four games. By 2010, the last of the four playoff matchups, the Twins had the home field advantage and a veteran roster every bit as good as New York’s, if not better. It didn’t matter; they were swept away.

The difference, you might say, is that the Wild has at least advanced in the playoffs to face Chicago the last two years — unlike the Twins, who were one-and-done in every series with the Yankees. To that, I’d say this: Each time the Twins faced the Yankees, they were two of the eight teams left in the playoffs — just as the Wild and Hawks were last year and this year. So really it’s the same spot.

The Blackhawks might not be in the Wild’s head. They might just be a better team. But if Chicago goes on to win this series, making it three in a row, there will be no doubt who the new nemesis in town is. And given how the NHL playoffs are structured to pit divisional teams against each other in the playoffs, it’s a foe the Wild is likely going to have to topple at some point if it is going to keep making progress toward the ultimate goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Lynx star Maya Moore shares thoughts on feeling less visible in the WNBA than in college

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 2nd at 5:18pm 302234281

Lynx forward Maya Moore is a two-time WNBA champion and was last year’s league MVP. In virtually every men’s pro sports league, that would mean her profile is at an all-time high — certainly higher than it was in high school or college.

But in the WNBA, it’s not. Moore writes for The Players’ Tribune about the feeling of being far less visible now that she is at the pinnacle of her pro career. It’s worth a read. Here’s a snippet:

After four years and two national championships, I went No. 1 in the 2011 WNBA Draft. That’s when I felt the drop.

There’s this unnatural break in exposure for the highest level of women’s basketball in the world. Wait, what happened here? That’s a question we as WNBA players ask ourselves. We go from amazing AAU experiences to high school All-American games to the excitement and significant platform of the collegiate level to … this. All of that visibility to … this. Less coverage. Empty seats. Fewer eyeballs. In college, your coaches tell you to stay focused on your team and the game — not the media attention. But you know you’re on national television. You know people are following you. You can feel the excitement. And then as a professional, all of that momentum, all of that passion, all of that support — the ball of momentum is deflating before my eyes.

Gone.

It’s frustrating on several levels. We professional female athletes are continuing to grow and evolve, and trying to make an impact on our communities and other young lives — all of those things we maybe didn’t have time for as student-athletes. And now, there are fewer eyeballs to even inspire or influence because the exposure to the players and our game isn’t as great. It’s hard. Somewhere up the chain of command — in companies that, in many ways, dictate what is “cool” — people are making choices not to celebrate the WNBA and its players. We have a great deal with ESPN — they renewed our contract to televise a certain amount of WNBA games, which is great. It’s a huge reason of why we’re going to continue being successful as a league. But engaged and invested cultural influencers and partners in corporate America are crucial in elevating the profile of the WNBA. We have a product worth celebrating.

Nuclear Wessel: If you're not a Chelsea fan, it's been a tough Premier League season

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 1st at 4:43pm 302219141

nuclearDana Wessel works at Go963 FM in Minneapolis and formerly worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car under their excellent corporate structure where *they* gave *him* the tools to be his own boss.

Welcome to one of the final Nuclear Wessels of the season!

The season — with the exception of the relegation battle — is wrapping up in rather anticlimactic fashion. It appeared all year we were going to have a great two horse race for the title with four or five teams capable of finishing 3rd and 4th. Now things are pretty much all sewn up with four matches still left to play.

Any supporter without the Blue shirt of Chelsea in their closet just wants this thing to end and for the summer transfer window open with the promise of better days.

Other than Manchester United, who are overjoyed to be back in the top four after a one year absence, just about every big club failed to live up to expectations. City once again exited Champions League with their tails between their legs and have now been left in the dust domestically. Arsenal are “a year away from a serious title run” for like the 7th straight season. They have a chance to win retain the FA Cup but nobody will be doing cartwheels over that. Liverpool showed that last year’s top-four finish was an aberration and not the start of another sustained run. And Spurs and Southampton once again proved they can’t hang with the big dogs.

Meanwhile, Chelsea supporters are all Oh my god! Greatest season ever! I love Mourinho! How about that funny Instagram video with the headers? lol!!! Boring boring Chelsea? I’d let Terry shag my wife!!! KING DROBGA 4EVER!!!!!

On to the matches!

No. 1: Liverpool vs Queens Park Rangers at Anfield

When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: These two last met at Anfield in May of 2013 with Liverpool winning 1-0 thanks to a Philippe Coutinho goal in the 23rd minute.

Brendan Rodgers is going to get sacked right? Yeah, Brendan Rodgers is going to get sacked.

On March 22nd, Liverpool had won five straight matches and had Manchester United at Anfield with the chance to leapfrog them for fourth place with a win. Steven Gerrard was subbed in the second half and got a red card faster than it took you to read this sentence and Liverpool lost 2-1.

You know when you have a delicious looking burrito and you take a bite of it and the entire thing comes unraveled and you just have a mess? That’s what happened to Liverpool after that. A 4-1 league loss to Arsenal, a 2-1 FA Cup semi loss to Aston Villa (denying Gerrard the birthday send-off in the final), a scoreless draw to West Brom and a 1-0 loss to Hull City.

YIKES! It was going to be an uphill battle for Liverpool this year but that is now you close things out.

The next few matches will be telling if Rodgers is back at Anfield next season. Jurgen Klopp’s name keeps getting thrown around (not just by Liverpool supporters, but by supporters of every team unhappy with their manager).

QPR are a team desperate for points right now. Liverpool are a team desperate to get to a beach somewhere. Lets hope Rangers can steal one or three and really make the relegation battle dicey.

No. 2: Chelsea vs Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge

When: Sunday at 7:30am on NBC Sports Network

Last year: Chelsea won this fixture last season by a 2-1 scoreline after goals from Fernando Torres (aww) and Ramires.

Well, not a whole lot to say about this one. A win and Chelsea are champions of England and get a big fun, trophy presentation at home. A loss or a tie and they’ll have to wait until next Sunday against Liverpool. Also, next Sunday being Mother’s Day in the US, it is imperative they do it against Palace.

Wednesday’s rally to win at Leicester City to set this all up was fantastic. Drogba scoring an equalizer and John Terry the winner with Petr Cech in net to put Chelsea a win away from winning the league. Is it 2005 or 2015? What a world. Sports are fun sometimes.

Brits Pub will be opening up early for Chelsea fans to watch. Come hang out. Maybe they lift a trophy? Sure would be neat!

No. 3: Tottenham vs Manchester City at White Hart Lane

When: Sunday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: City made fools of Spurs last season at Three Point Lane with a 5-1 throttling. Vincent Kompany scored the 5th goal in the 89th minute just to rub their faces in it.

Well, last ditch effort for Spurs here. They need to win out and hope City (or more realistically United) drop a ton of points. Spoiler alert: it won’t happen.

I hope Spurs win just to see City continue to tumble and offer the faintest glimmer of hope some gasoline gets thrown on the Champions League qualification fire. Plus, I can root for the Spurs because I am guaranteed to win my Chelsea vs Spurs bet against Channel 5 Sports Guy Chris Long (I spotted him a ton of points and still won).

Until next time, Nuclear Warheads! Enjoy the fourth to last weekend of the 2014-15 Premier League season!

Rocket's Red Glare: Real intelligence needed to pick NHL playoffs in haiku form

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 1st at 2:48pm 302198481

rocketThat was the most difficult headline I’ve ever had to write, not because it pained me but because distilling the things commenter Rocket wrote in his guest post into a smattering of words is not easy. He’s a complicated, hirsute man.

The upshot? He saw a movie and he picked the second round of the NHL playoffs in haiku form. Rocket?

————

Not so long ago, I got a hankering to see one of those moving picture stories that all the kids are talking about.  Rockette and I took the horseless carriage down to the local movie palace to take in one of these celluloid fantasies.  The name of this particular talkie was Ex Machina.

Like any work worthy of the title of “art,” the film has stuck with me (this is also the reason that Slap Shot is the greatest film in the history of mankind – nearly forty years after it was made and at least thirty years since I saw it for the first time it still makes me laugh just thinking about it).  It will not spoil the film to note that the questions that drive it are when will artificial intelligence be “good enough” and what would happen if we got it wrong?

Naturally the movie addressed the Turing Test and a theoretical capacity of a machine to mimic a human being effectively enough to fool actual humans.  The very nature of the Turing Test and the film’s treatment of its central conceit left me reflecting on the question of artificial intelligence and at what point it would need to reach to be “good enough.”

Eventually I came to a surprising conclusion: artificial intelligence will never be “good enough.”  This is not because I naively believe that we will never develop the sufficient technology – this is a patently absurd assertion that cannot possibly be made on a blog that you might be reading on your phone.  Rather, artificial intelligence will never be good enough because human intelligence has never been good enough.

Put differently, humans are defined by their faults.  We recognize that our flaws are the very things that which make us human.  The stories that we tell about ourselves and each other are not about the times when things go smoothly or as planned.  Rather, we seek to amuse each other with stories of when things went awry or were off-kilter or out of the ordinary.  We bond over the tough times or when we had to struggle.  And when we run across someone who only wants to talk about their successes, we consider that behavior to be their flaw.

And since we are defined by our faults, any machine that would be capable of passing the Turing Test would also have to be equally flawed.  Yet, such a possibility seems utterly and completely horrific.  Do we really want robots that are or can become jealous or depressed or schizophrenic or engage in domestic violence or homicide or genocide or any and all of the awful things that human beings continue to do to each other?  Because human intelligence is, by its very nature, deeply flawed – because we are not “good enough” – we can never make artificial intelligence “good enough” to pass the Turing Test.

This is, of course, an interesting, thought-provoking, well-written way of noting that I got a few things wrong in my last batch of predictions.  While I did get six of the eight series correct, including the Jets getting swept, I erroneously – and to my great regret – picked against the Wild.  On occasion, it is really nice to be human.

Here are the second round predictions, in haiku form:

Montreal Canadians v. Tampa Bay Lightning

Everybody knows

Carey Price is MVP

Yet his season ends

New York Rangers v. Washington Capitals

Even Ovechkin

Cannot escape the allure

Of Hank’s dreamy eyes

Anaheim Ducks v. Calgary Flames

Unfortunately

The sad ghost of Hakan Loob

Will not be avenged

Chicago Blackhawks v. Minnesota Wild

Wrong in the last round

My heart is making this pick

I believe in Doob

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Miami - D. Phelps 6:05 PM
Washington - J. Zimmermann
NY Yankees - C. Whitley 6:07 PM
Toronto - R. Dickey
Philadelphia - A. Harang 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Wood
Tampa Bay - J. Odorizzi 6:10 PM
Boston - C. Buchholz
Los Angeles - C. Kershaw 6:20 PM
Milwaukee - K. Lohse
Chicago Cubs - T. Wood 7:10 PM
St. Louis - C. Martinez
Oakland - J. Hahn 7:10 PM
Minnesota - P. Hughes
Texas - R. Detwiler 7:10 PM
Houston - D. Keuchel
Arizona - J. Collmenter 7:40 PM
Colorado - T. Matzek
Seattle - F. Hernandez 9:05 PM
LA Angels - M. Shoemaker
San Diego - T. Ross 9:15 PM
San Francisco - M. Bumgarner
Chicago 6:00 PM
Cleveland
LA Clippers 8:30 PM
Houston
NY Rangers 6:30 PM
Washington

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