Tag Archives: sports commentary

Linfield’s identity crisis

Hey ’Cats. After two years of being blessed with a weekly column in The Linfield Review, time constraints are finally catching up to me. With two stressful, busy semesters on the horizon for my senior year, I had to finally acknowledge that there are only so many hours in the week.

Hence, this is the last column I’ll ever write for the Review. Some of you might find it sad, but mostly, I expect jeering remarks across Facebook and online from those who I’ve somehow offended in the last two years. If that’s what you wish to do, so be it, and I don’t bear you any ill-will.

Two years seems like a pretty long time, but in the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t. That’s only about 24 football games, 100 softball games and a dozen or two track meets. Life seems shorter when you measure it in games rather than days and weeks, doesn’t it?

In the span of those games, I’ve learned a lot about Linfield’s rich sports culture, and it’s through writing this column for the Review that I was able to identify something rather interesting that I was only able to put my finger on as early as last Friday.

Theatre arts professor Janet Gupton, a mentor and role model to me, made a peculiar comment while discussing a theater alumnus that has been openly gay for many years. She said that Linfield wasn’t always the easiest place for members of the GLBT community, which baffled me. Linfield is a small, private liberal-arts college in the middle of Oregon. Everything about this place, from the accepting faculty, to the many green initiatives, to the liberal flavor of Linfield’s culture would at face value seem to be a welcoming and supporting environment for such people.

Despite the attempts of Linfield public relations to pitch our beloved college as epitomizing the liberal arts experience, that’s really not what Linfield is at its core. Because alongside all these proclamations of the joys of the liberal arts education there exists a deep-seeded, deeply entrenched sports culture that lives in constant combat with these values and ideals. Linfield is, to put it bluntly, a college in crisis.

I don’t mean to say that these two different groups are universally mutually exclusive, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the world of sports and the world of the liberal arts have some glaring differences in core fundamentals. Consider the GLBT community and its relationship to sports programs. Do you really think that a homosexual male athlete is going to be welcomed by every single one of his teammates with open arms? How often are the words “faggot” and “homo” used as trash talk among “the guys?” I can’t say with any expertise that such language is used in locker rooms at Linfield, but I can say that I hear it pretty often from athletes around campus in casual conversation. That’s not uncommon in the world of male sports, but for a private liberal arts college it’s appalling.

And what about the idea of the role of the press? In a liberal arts setting, journalism by students would strive to achieve levels of excellence and accuracy akin to a professional publication. This means reporting the truth, whether people want to hear it or not. Yet at Linfield, I wrote one critical column last spring that caused a firestorm of hateful speech on the Internet.

For daring to presume that the softball program isn’t perfect, I was advised by one player to stick to things a theatre major is good at, such as “chess or math team.” Other students went further, saying I ought to stick to “watching Harry Potter” and “jacking off.” Athletes from other sports joined in recently, with one graduated football player saying to me online that “Dude, you need to figure out that whole writing in a school newspaper thing…dogging on your own team isn’t really the way to go.”

It’s true that history and success breed many positive words, which each program absolutely deserves when their achievements on the field merit it. However, in a sports-centric college environment, athletes fall into the trap of feeling that they are entitled to nothing but glowing reviews from their student publications due to their consistent success and rich history. This  is of course nonsense but explains the hateful speech directed my way after that column more than a year ago. In a sports-dominant culture, this kind of thing would make sense: attacking someone who undermined one of the school’s programs. In a liberal arts setting, not so much.

While that attitude is playing out among athletes on the field, the Review continues to strive toward the liberal-arts ideal of honesty and professionalism. It’s a minor miracle a major mess like this didn’t happen far sooner, because with two vastly different mindsets rooted in different student groups, this tension is always bubbling right below the surface, ready to burst when somebody like me stirs the pot.

These are only two examples of the greater problem I’m trying to get at, but I hope it illustrates the point well enough. Linfield is not really the liberal arts experience it’s billed as, nor is it only the rich sports culture. The two halves can co-exist well enough for a time, but every so often when something emerges that seems jarringly out of place in one culture or the other we’re reminded that maintaining balance among them is not an easy task.

To be honest, I don’t think we’ve done it yet. Neither sports nor the liberal arts deserves a universal claim to define Linfield’s culture, no matter what each may think, and both have concessions to make in order to achieve a more cohesive, balanced college experience.

Hopefully the next generation of students and athletes can succeed where we have yet to. Until such a time comes, Linfield remains a college with a glaring identity crisis.

Chris Forrer/
Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can  be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.

Records, streaks and playoff berths in spring

Hey ’Cats. There’s been a whirlwind of activity in the last few weeks as spring athletics wind down and begin getting geared up for the playoffs. An impressively high number of Linfield spring teams have captured post-season berths or remain close in the hunt, so I’d like to dole out a few shout-outs and take a look at who’s playing through and who’s staying home.

The men’s golf team wrapped up a fourth Northwest Conference title in the past five years April 22. Senior Alex Fitch putted his way to first place in the tourney, his staggering seventh individual tournament title this season. A pair of promising freshmen in Connor Mangnuson and Taylor Klopp also netted fourth and sixth-place finishes, respectively. The team will take its talents to Orlando, Fla., to play for the NCAA title later in May. On the other side of things, women’s golf played hard at the NWC tourney but couldn’t climb any higher than fifth on the second day.

On the same day that the Linfield softball team dropped the NWC tourney crown to Pacific Lutheran, the women’s tennis team took its 13-0 conference record into the NWC Championship match against Whitman and got swatted 5-1. Besides ending an impressive 13-game conference winning streak, it also put the team in jeopardy of staying home for the playoffs despite its solid overall record of 13-5. The NCAA’s most recent release of regional rankings has Linfield slotted at eight, with senior ace Abby Olbrich individually ranked eighth and her doubles team sophomore Caroline Brigham ranked sixth. Keep in mind that the top 12 teams will be selected for regional berths. The regional selections will be announced May 6 for tennis and May 7 for softball.

Meanwhile, senior pole vaulter Catherine Street has captured another record, this time breaking the Division-III national record for outdoor pole vault with an impressive clear of 13 feet, 9.75 inches. The clear secured her fourth consecutive NWC crown and earned her a chance to claim the NCAA outdoor crown to go with her previously earned indoor championship earlier in the semester. While Street was soaring, sophomore Anna LaBeaume tossed her way to a repeat title in the shot put and a first-time championship in the hammer throw. Overall, the ’Cats finished third in the NWC meet and have a few opportunities to qualify individuals and the team for the NCAA championships in May.

Finally, the Linfield baseball team appears to have hit free-fall mode. The team is 2-8 during its past 10 games and currently sits on a five-game losing streak heading for what looks to be its final four games of the season. At fourth place in the NWC and with a 21-15 overall record, things aren’t looking so great for a regional berth. Last week, Linfield dropped out of the NCAA’s Top 30 rankings as well as www.d3baseball.com’s Top 25.

With only a few precious games or meets left on the docket, now is the time to get out for some Linfield sports. Our men and women will be on the road come playoff time, so give your love now while you still can.

Good luck in the playoffs to our post-season qualifiers, and congrats to all for a successful spring season.

Chris Forrer/
Sports columnist
Chris Forrer  can  be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.

Mental toughness will make or break softball

I hate to say I told you so. I really do. But unfortunately, Pacific Lutheran handed the Linfield softball team two more home losses and broke an eight-year streak of Northwest Conference titles. In both cases, PLU’s pitching unit was just too much for the ’Cats to overcome. Just as I wrote about last week, we seem to be unable to beat them at home.

I was informed of the first defeat Saturday night by a friend of mine, Walt Haight, husband of Linfield professor Dawn Graff-Haight. I shook my head, saying, Well, I guess I’ve got my column for tomorrow. PLU has just got its number this season. Walt looked at me and, with a grin, asked, why? Why do they have their number? Is it pitching? Hitting? I couldn’t answer. There’s your angle, he told me.

Well Walt, when you’re right you’re right. I looked at the box scores of all three defeats and it took time to find any consistent pattern. In the first PLU loss this season, the Lutes piled it on
early and then late to out-score the ‘Cats. In the second, it took until the seventh-inning for PLU to find a six-run outburst to bury Linfield. This time, two close games came down to the final inning and Catball just couldn’t come from behind a 3-0 deficit late.

I’ll admit that I’m not the best at reading softball box scores, but I did eventually manage to find my answer for Walt. In three losses to PLU before Sunday, the ’Cats were averaging 3.3 errors per game opposed to their overall season average of 0.7. That’s a staggering 2.6 errors more against one opponent! And in the NWC match on Saturday, all three of the Lutes’ runs were scored on Linfield errors.

It’s clear to me now that the answer to Linfield’s PLU struggles is 100 percent in the mind. The Lutes have gotten into Catball’s head and shaken the mental toughness that was so key in last season’s championship run. The grit, the focus, the mental fortitude has been rattled by a pair of come-from-behind home losses to a dangerous team in March.

What I saw from PLU this weekend was swagger. They oozed confidence and looked like they were salivating at a chance to send the ’Cats packing in their own house. It looked familiar; it looked like us last season. And they rode that confidence straight to the house for a 3-1 record against Linfield in the NWC tourney.

Here’s the thing though. Sandwiched between these two heartbreaking PLU losses were two impressive wins. A tough 4-2 victory over Willamette was followed by a cardiac-inducing, come-from-behind thriller over the Lutes in which Catball scored the tying and winning runs on their last out in the bottom of the seventh.

When I got to the field at the bottom of the sixth, you could have heard a pin drop in Del Smith Stadium. It was utterly lifeless in the dugout and stands, at least among those wearing purple. It was the first time I’d ever seen this team truly scared.

But by the end of the game, a complete change had come over the Wildcats. They were scrapping, fighting and struggling with every ounce of their ability. The focus was back. The mental toughness, the grit, was back, and the result was a victory for the ages. Sadly, it didn’t take more than two hours for PLU’s bullpen to pitch it back into submission.

Honestly, this loss doesn’t really matter in the scope of a playoff bid. They may have lost the NWC and this may hurt like hell, but they’re going, and that really hasn’t ever been in question. But if this loaded team with title aspirations wants to hoist the D-III title trophy for a second year in a row, they’re going to need to find that mental toughness and focus from last year and hold onto it for dear life. Catch the seventh inning of Sunday’s first PLU game in a bottle and drink it before every contest. Otherwise, it’s going to be a short post-season for Catball this spring.

Chris Forrer/
Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.

Head-scratching home concerns for Wildcats

Hey ’Cats. Remember last spring when Mac was so consistently rainy and wet that the softball team spent most of its “home games” at other neutral locations? Back then it was a reassuring thing to know that our team could win on the road, but I still bemoaned the lack of home games.

This year, I’d take the neutral games in a heartbeat. In fact, I think I’d go so far as to say both the softball and baseball programs would be better off spending the postseason on the road come May. Don’t get me wrong, both programs boast quality teams. But Catball has surrendered all three of its season losses at home and the baseball squad has dropped as many at home (5) as they have on the road.

The baseball team was overrated in the preseason. I think that’s clear by now. This club started the year at No. 2 in the nation and proceeded to go 20-10 through the first 30 games; not exactly a stellar winning percentage. The ’Cats have free-fallen 19 spots to No. 21 and left their postseason hopes muddled.

At second place in the Northwest Conference with nine games remaining, a conference title and automatic postseason berth is still possible. But only five of those games come against conference foes and none against top-ranked Pacific.

Winning out will help the team’s case for a regional playoff berth, as will the fact that they’ve been selected to host one of the Division-III regional sites for the fourth time in the past five years. But unless they can come on strong in the end of the season, I really don’t know that being home is a good thing. It would beat being left out and having to watch other teams play at Roy Helser field, though.

At the risk of igniting a firestorm around the Catball loyal, I’m also worried about three puzzling home losses and what it means for this team’s postseason odds. Yes, they are the top-ranked team in the nation; yes, they are a solid club from top to bottom; yes, every team loses games.

I’m just surprised and a bit concerned that the odds-on favorite to bag the national title has lost three home contests. If the comforts of home don’t bring in the wins, road games against the nation’s elite could be potentially dangerous.

On the other hand, I hear Willamette has a fantastic pitcher, and PLU has shown they’re worthy of an at-large bid for the D-III regional playoffs, so maybe I’m overreacting. Or maybe its a good thing the school’s bid to host a regional site was denied. We’ll see. Go ’Cats.

Chris Forrer/
Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.

Dirty tricks plague professional league

Football is a contact sport. It’s violent, it’s rough. At times it’s downright brutal. Those crushing hits and big-time sacks are a major reason why football is America’s most-watched sport and why the game has continued to grow in popularity season after season. But there are rules and lines that should never be crossed, even in a sport as physical as football. Recently, one story has made me question how solid those lines really are.

Last month, the NFL’s New Orleans Saints found themselves in a whirlwind of trouble when it came to light that head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had been offering cash bounties to their defensive players to put big hits on certain players from an opposing team during the course of the past three seasons. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis were also implicated and all four men received suspensions ranging from six games to a full year.

Then the rabbit hole got deeper. After being warned by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to cease their bounty program as it was under investigation again by NFL, Payton supposedly instructed Williams to avoid any “inappropriate conduct.” Williams apparently didn’t care. Last Thursday, an audio recording of a pre-game speech before the Saints’ playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers was released. The defensive coordinator calls for his players to lay hits to the head of a concussion-prone receiver, to target another player’s outside ACL and that he wanted running back Frank Gore’s head “sideways.”

I struggle to categorize how much of this is inappropriate rhetoric and how much is just a reality of the game. Calling for players to lay hits on an opposing player’s head, especially one who is concussion-prone, is the most cut-and-dry: the NFL has made it abundantly clear that hits to the head are illegal and subject to penalty by fine.

But what about targeting a part of a player’s body that’s been prone to injury? If you’re a defenseman heading in for a tackle against a player with a reconstructed shoulder, you’re probably thinking that a big hit on that shoulder could take that player out of the game. Is that wrong? You’re making a legitimate tackle in a legitimate way, and if you remove one key player from the opposing team you’ve just given your teammates an advantage.

As far as I know there’s nothing in the rule book that prevents targeting injured parts of the body. In fact, I’m willing to bet that whether it’s openly discussed in the locker room or not most teams have an understanding that it’s just part of the game. Whether you think it’s ethically acceptable or not, players are always going to do whatever they can legally get away with to gain a competitive advantage. That’s just the reality of sports.

If the NFL uses this development to create new legislation that bans any kind of targeting then it’ll be time to change our collective thinking. But until then, it’s just d-fense.

Chris Forrer/
Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be  reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.