John U. Bacon

Sports Commentary
6:00 am
Fri May 23, 2014

Advisers aren't doing Michael Sam any favors

Michael Sam, after winning his final home game at Mizzou.
Credit user: Marcus Qwertyus / Wikimedia Commons

When Michael Sam told his University of Missouri teammates he was gay before last season, it wasn’t a big deal. It’s a safe bet that NFL teams – who know what kind of gum their prospects chew – already knew this, too. But when Sam came out publicly, it changed the equation. 

The NFL has already had gay players, so that’s not new. But publicly declaring you’re gay is new – and so is the onslaught of media attention.

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Sports
3:28 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

Should college athletes be considered school employees?

Northwestern's Kain Colter is tackled during a game with Army in 2011. Colter has argued the players should be allowed to form a union.
Credit West Point / Flickr

Earlier this spring, the National Labor Relations Board made big headlines when it granted Northwestern University football players permission to unionize if they chose to. 

That decision has opened up a big national discussion and debate over whether college athletes should be recognized as school employees. 

So we wanted to bring in sports commentator and coach, John U. Bacon. His most recent book is Fourth and Long: the Fight for the Soul of College Football

Listen to the full interview above. 

Sports
10:47 am
Fri May 2, 2014

What did the NCAA teach Mitch McGary?

Credit Adam Glanzman / Flickr

When Mitch McGary played high school basketball in New Hampshire, he was one of the nation’s top recruits. Michigan fans were rightly thrilled when he decided to play for the Wolverines.   

In his first NCAA tournament, last spring, McGary played so well folks thought he might jump to the NBA. Instead, he returned for his sophomore year – then injured his back so badly, he needed surgery mid-season. The Wolverines weren’t doing much better at 6-4, with Big Ten conference play still ahead. It looked like Michigan might miss the NCAA tournament. 

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Sports Commentary
10:39 am
Fri April 25, 2014

A runner's long journey to Boston

Greg Meyers, running at Michigan. Before Meb Keflezighi's win at this year's Boston Marathon, Meyers was the last American male to finish first at the marathon.
Credit Bentley Historical Library / University of Michigan

John U. Bacon's essay about the Boston Marathon.

In 1896, the first modern Olympics in Athens staged a marathon. The next year the Boston Athletic Association followed suit. Just 18 men ran that day, with the winner finishing in about three hours – something office workers can beat today.

Most people thought the runners were crazy – if they thought of them at all.

Marathoners don’t care. After winning the 1952 Olympic marathon, Czechoslovakian Emil Zatopek said, “If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

Greg Meyer knows exactly what Zatopek was talking about. Meyer grew up in Grand Rapids, and enrolled at Michigan in 1973. That spring, Michigan got a new cross-country coach, Ron Warhust, a Vietnam vet with two Purple Hearts, and a hard-earned lesson: “The world doesn't stop because you’re scared.”

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Sports Commentary
7:10 am
Fri April 11, 2014

Remembering the quiet dignity of baseball's Hank Aaron

Baseball legend Hank Aaron
Credit user: Aaron / Flickr

You’ve heard of Babe Ruth. If he’s not the best known American athlete of the last century, he’s in the top five. He was more beloved – by Americans of all stripes – than probably anyone. Ruth loved the fans, and the fans loved him back.

 
In 1961, when fellow Yankee Roger Maris – a nice, humble guy – was approaching Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season, he became so stressed his hair started falling out.

When Hank Aaron started approaching Ruth’s career home run record, he had it worse, for two very simple reasons: 714 home runs was the record in baseball that even the casual fan knew. And second, unlike Maris, Aaron is black. Of course, that shouldn’t matter in the least – but it mattered a lot in 1974.

Aaron grew up in Mobile, Alabama, one of seven children. They say his wrists were strong from picking cotton, and also his unusual practice of swinging “cross-handed” – that is, holding the bat with his left hand on top, instead of his right, a habit he didn’t break until the minor leagues.
 
Aaron made it to the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, one of the first African-Americans to play major league baseball. According to Daniel Okrent, a best-selling author who invented fantasy baseball, this was baseball’s richest decade for talent, because every kid grew up playing baseball – not soccer – and, finally, everybody was allowed to play.

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Sports
9:09 am
Fri March 21, 2014

Powerhouse basketball programs in Michigan playing the right way

Tom Izzo coaches his players aboard the USS Carl Vinson in 2011.
U.S. Navy

On Sunday, the Michigan Wolverines faced the Michigan State Spartans in the final of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament.

After a decade of domination by the Spartans, John Beilein’s Wolverines held the upper hand the past few years. They surprised just about everyone when they won the regular season Big Ten title this year by three games. Now they had the rare chance to beat the Spartans three times in one season. 

Well, they say beating your archrival three times is almost impossible, and that proved true.

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri November 22, 2013

When football players boycott

Anderson Mancini Flickr

Listen to John U. Bacon's commentary.

The Grambling State University football team plays in the unheralded Southwestern Athletic Conference, in the division beneath the big boys. They had an 11-game losing streak, stretching back into the 2012 season.

In short, this was not a team that warranted national attention.

But the Tigers finally got some last month. No, they didn’t notch their first win that day – or even another loss. They didn’t play – and it wasn’t due to bad weather or a bye week. The players simply refused to take the field.

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Sports
8:51 am
Fri November 8, 2013

What could Michigan's loss to MSU mean for Brady Hoke?

Brady Hoke likes football a lot.
Michigan Football Facebook

Moments before the Michigan Wolverines introduced Brady Hoke as their new head football coach in 2011, Michigan fans had lots of questions. Why not hire a national star like Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh, who both played at Michigan? Who was Brady Hoke? Was he up to the task?

Hoke answered these questions by nailing his first press conference. He won over more Michigan fans in just a few minutes than his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez, had been able to do in three years. When a reporter asked Hoke if the Wolverines would be rebuilding, he famously replied, “This is Michigan, for godsakes” – and a star was born.

It was hard to imagine a happier honeymoon than Hoke’s. In his rookie season, the Wolverines beat Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State – for the first time in eight years. They won their first BCS bowl game since Tom Brady did the job in 2000, en route to an 11-2 record. From the fans in the stands to the team in the trenches, the love for Coach Hoke was universal.

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri October 25, 2013

What shouldn't be forgotten about Jim Leyland's baseball career

Detroit Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland
Detroit Tigers

A story from John U. Bacon

This week, Detroit Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland announced his retirement. He was an ‘old school’ manager, relying more on his guts than a spreadsheet. His decisions irritated some fans, but not his results. 

When you’re 68, working in a young man’s game, announcing your retirement is not a surprise. But there are a few underappreciated qualities about this grizzled veteran that are worth remembering.

Jim Leyland was a baseball man to the core. Raised in Perrysburg, Ohio, the son of a glassworker, he grew up wanting to do one thing: Play baseball.

He was good, very good, so the Tigers signed him up to play catcher in their minor league system. But just to get to the majors, you need to be great – and after seven years battling to get to the big leagues, Leyland realized he wasn’t great. Not as a player, at least.  

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Sports
8:00 am
Fri October 18, 2013

The Mudbowl takes us back to what football used to be

A picture from the 1946 Mudbowl game. In the center is the "Queen" of the bowl.
user Wystan Flickr

 

Tomorrow morning, one of Michigan’s oldest traditions will be on display. No, not at the Big House, but at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house.

That’s where they’ve played something they call The Mudbowl every year since 1933, the same season Jerry Ford played center for the national champion Wolverines, and Columbia University won the Rose Bowl.

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Sports
1:43 pm
Fri October 4, 2013

Creating a minor league for football and basketball could save college athletics. Here's why.

Fans at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

An audio essay from John U. Bacon.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said last week that football and basketball might work better if they had minor leagues, so players who didn’t want to attend college had somewhere else to go.    

I came to the same conclusion several years ago, though for different reasons.  Most of the problems with college football and basketball can be traced back to their beginnings.  Unlike most sports, football and basketball developed on college campuses.  When the NFL and NBA opened decades later, they didn’t have to start their own minor leagues, they simply used the college teams to develop their players. 

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri September 27, 2013

Who learned their lesson from Penn State's NCAA sanctions?

Penn State survived the NCAA sanctions.
user: wfyurasko Flickr

In November of 2011, Penn State’s former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on forty criminal counts, including the sexual assault of eight boys over a fifteen-year period, one of them in the showers of Penn State’s football building.

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Sports
6:25 pm
Thu September 12, 2013

Author and commentator John U. Bacon is worried about the future of college football

We're deep into the 2013-2013 college football season. Fans flock to the "hallowed ground" of their team's home stadium, be it The Big House for Wolverines, Spartan Stadium for MSU Fans or, maybe Kelly/Shorts Stadium for you Chips. Or, maybe, your pilgrimage takes you to other states. To Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley or Ohio Stadium or Notre Dame Stadium.

No one can argue the fact that, no matter which metric you use, whether attendance, TV ratings, revenue for the NCAA, money into the coffers of the college or university, college football is huge.

But, Michigan Radio's sports commentator John U. Bacon is deeply worried about the future of college football. He fears it may be losing its soul and, with it, the support of fans and players.

His new book is a deep-dive into the Big Ten during the 2012 college football season. It's called "Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football." Bacon sat down with Stateside host Cynthia Canty and spoke about his new book.

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Sports
7:00 am
Fri August 9, 2013

I loved baseball from the start – but it didn’t love me

Julian Carvajal Flickr

When I started in tee-ball, I was so short that if the catcher put the tee on the far corner of the plate, I couldn’t reach it.  Yes, I struck out – in tee ball.  


Our first year of live pitching wasn’t any better. One game we were beating the other team so badly, they were about to trigger the “Mercy Rule,” and end the game. Coach Van pulled me in from my post in right field – where I kept company with the dandelions – and told me to pitch. I wasn’t a pitcher – I wanted to be a catcher, like Bill Freehan -- but I’m thinking, “This is my chance.”  I walked three batters, but miraculously got three outs. We won – and I figured that was my stepping stone to greater things.

I was surprised my dad wasn’t as happy as I was. He knew better – but he didn’t tell me until years later: Coach Van was not putting me in to finish the game. He was putting me in to get shelled, so the game would keep going. He was putting me in to fail.  

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Sports
10:20 am
Fri July 26, 2013

They come and go: On U-M equipment manager Jon Falk's retirement

Longtime University of Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk announced this week he will retire after the football season.
TEDxUofM Vimeo

John U. Bacon reflects on University of Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk's career.

 Jon Falk first met football coach Bo Schembechler in 1967.  Falk was a freshman working in the equipment room at Miami of Ohio, and Schembechler was the head coach. Schembechler seemed pretty gruff to Falk, so he avoided him. That was not going to work for long. 

Falk graduated from Miami in 1971 and stayed on as the football team’s assistant equipment manager. He lived at home with his mother and his grandmother and took care of them. In 1974 Bo invited Falk to interview in Ann Arbor. Falk had never lived anywhere but tiny Oxford, Ohio, so he was a little apprehensive about going to such a big place.

When he returned, he told his mother and grandmother that he was going to turn down Coach Schembechler’s offer because he did not want to leave the two of them by themselves. That night, around four in the morning, Falk’s mother came into his room, crying. She said it hurt her to say it, but he must go to Michigan. “I know Coach Schembechler will take care of you.”

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri June 28, 2013

Summertime isn't as easy as it used to be, as far as kids' games are concerned

Kids don't play just for fun anymore.
University of Exeter Flickr

Summer time, and the livin' is easy.

But not if you have children. Nowadays, you have to drive your kid to soccer camp and band camp, to this lesson and that clinic, to make sure they never have a single un-programmed minute of summer to themselves.

Yes, something is gained from all this -- like structure and safety -- but something is lost, too. You see a basket in every driveway, but no one playing on them. Without their own games, kids never learn how to settle their own arguments. Does any ten-year-old know what a "do-over" is?

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri June 21, 2013

Ten years later, Coach Lapper's anniversary

Hockey puck.
user seabamirum Flickr

I first met Mike Lapprich when I was an assistant hockey coach at Ann Arbor Huron High School, and he was just a ninth grader.  He was a big kid with a baby face, a shy guy with an easy smile – an oversized puppy. 

I came back five years later as the head coach, when Lapper, as we all called him, had just finished his first year as an assistant coach, at age 18.

When I met the returning captain that summer, he brought a list of talking points.  The first: “You have no idea what you’re getting into.”  The second: “Lapper’s our man.  He’s the guy we trust.  Keep him, and treat him right.” 

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Stateside
5:34 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

Has summer become too organized for kids?

user micah.woods Flickr

An interview with John U. Bacon.

There's a new traffic jam each morning at the end of my street. It began the week after school let out. It starts around 8:30 each morning: the stream of mini-vans and SUV's waiting to turn into the parking lot of a church to drop the kids off at summer day camp.

It's a scene being repeated all over Michigan. Kids being taken to one organized activity or another, from computer camp to theater camp to summer club swim meets, you get the idea.

Michigan Radio Sports Commentator John U. Bacon has a question: what ever happened to good old fashioned playing?

Listen to the full interview above.

Sports
1:00 am
Fri June 7, 2013

A history of unfortunate remarks, courtesy of OSU President Gordon Gee

The Ohio State University President Gordon Gee
Credit Ohio State University

Ohio State University president Gordon Gee’s ability to put money in the bank was equaled only by his ability to put his foot in his mouth.  Well, this week he was finally fired – er, retired, entirely voluntarily, of course, not pushed at all.  Nooo.    

Gee has delivered a seemingly endless stream of gaffes, slanders and just plain stupid comments, which culminated in his unexpected departure.  In politics, they say, when a man is shooting himself in the foot, don’t grab the gun.  In that spirit, I’ll let the man’s words speak for themselves.

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Sports
1:00 am
Fri March 1, 2013

A tip for amateur athletes: The pros are way better than you think

The Vipers were Detroit's IHL hockey team
www.bestsportsphotos.com

A lot of amateur athletes think they’re not that far from the people who play their sports for a living. 

Well, when Michigan Radio Sports commentator John U. Bacon tried out for Detroit’s minor league hockey team, he found out that just isn’t so – and he found out the hard way.

A few years ago – okay, a bunch of years ago – I bit on a bet I never should have touched. 

I was writing for the Detroit News, and a top minor league hockey team called the Detroit Vipers played at the Palace. 

So, I got to thinking: just how big is the gap, really, between the pros, and beer league players like me?

Good question. And even better if I didn’t try to answer it.  But, being the hard-hitting investigative journalist that I am, I had to go down to the Palace, and find out.

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