Let’s talk about sports

Let’s talk about sports, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sports
Let’s talk about sports

OK, so that’s the PG-13/Jock Jams version of the classic Salt-N-Pepa song.

But the excitement that the female hip-hop trio had for fornication in their early ’90s hit is the same excitement I feel right now for sports.

This is one of my favorite times of the year. March Madness is reaching its climactic end. The NBA and NHL are gearing up for the playoff season. And most importantly, baseball season is just days away.

There’s something about the great American pastime that invigorates me. The fresh-cut grass, the dirt spraying into the air when a batter slides feet-first into second base for a double, the mental chess match between a pitcher and hitter before a 3-2 pitch, and the arduous grind of a six-month, 162-game season where your team hopefully ends up on top.

When baseball is happening, it feels like natural order is being restored. It’s the only major American sport without a clock, which, in turn, has been a source of controversy as of late due to the increasing length of game times (an issue Major League Baseball targeted this year when they eliminated the need for pitchers to actually throw the baseball during an intentional walk).

Mets

I can’t help but think of the quote uttered by James Earl Jones in the movie Field of Dreams, as the character Terence Mann, whenever I want to describe what it is that makes me love baseball so much:

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

When James Earl Jones talks about baseball, you listen.

Last year, I predicted my beloved New York Mets to win the World Series. Unfortunately, injuries derailed their season and they fell short, despite their best effort.

This year, they have nearly their full complement of young pitchers ready to go, and things look much more promising.

And even if things didn’t look bright, I’d pick them to win the World Series anyway. I will do it every year until they do. Hopefully, one year I will be right.

Baseball starts on Sunday. For many, Sunday is already a day of worship and reflection. For sports fans, it takes on extra meaning.

In other semi-sports related news, the North Carolina Legislature voted to repeal the controversial House Bill 2 today, also known as the “Bathroom Bill,” which required men and women to use public bathrooms that align with their gender at birth. Human rights advocates (and any one with any human decency) considered it egregiously discriminatory towards transgenders, which number more than 37,000 in North Carolina.

Tar Heels

The bill basically cost Republican Governor Pat McCrory his job, and cost the state from hosting the 2016-2017 NBA All-Star game, several NCAA March Madness games, and many other high-profile events.

The newly passed bill is not a straight-forward repeal, however, and as a compromise to right-wing hawks in the Legislature, it maintains a stipulation from the original bill that places a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances through 2020, and thus leaves the regulation of bathrooms to state lawmakers.

LGBT activists say it still does not provide the protection needed to safeguard an already vulnerable population of people.

They’re probably right, but with Republican and Democrat ideologies being as divergent as they’ve ever been in the modern political era, sometimes a compromise is a victory. Even if it’s just in the short term.

The timing of the repeal is even more significant given that the North Carolina Tar Heels are one of four teams left in the NCAA Tournament, where they will face the Oregon Ducks on Saturday. The other game is between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the South Carolina Gamecocks.

They promise to be some pretty damn good games, and as an added bonus, if South Carolina beats North Carolina in the finals, I win $650.

Go Cocks!

…I stand by it.

Villanova, North Carolina and Panama. Wait, what?

Well now that I’ve finished screaming at the wind like a senile old man, it’s time to move on to some more important topics.

Water cooler talk across the country this morning was dominated by the insane finish in Monday night’s NCAA championship game between North Carolina and Villanova.

After a gravity-defying, double-clutch three-pointer by North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, Villanova flawlessly pulled off a set play with under five seconds remaining to win the game, courtesy of a buzzer-beating three-point shot by junior Kris Jenkins.

It was the first buzzer-beating shot to end the NCAA’s biggest game in 33 years, and the first on a three-pointer.

And that’s just crazy. Every single boy in America has shot on the basketball hoop in the driveway of their childhood home, counting down in their head and imagining they’re taking the last-second shot in the country’s biggest game.

Villanova

To actually be able to sink it must be a surreal, dreamlike feeling. For one moment, the little boy in all of us lived vicariously through that final shot in Monday night’s game.

You know what else every little boy dreams of? Opening their own offshore bank account because they’re so filthy rich and powerful that they don’t even feel the need to pay taxes.

Well, plenty of those people are coming out off the woodwork too, thanks to what is being described as the biggest data leak in world history.

By now you’ve probably all heard of the Panama Papers, and either were interested enough to do a light Google search, or just don’t care at all.

Basically, they are 11.5 million documens of offshore banking activity conducted by famous celebrities, athletes, politicians — implicating the likes of Vladimir Putin and the U.K.’s David Cameron — and other important figures through a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca.

The papers were leaked by an unnamed whistleblower to a German newspaper, who then shared them with hundreds of journalists.

Now, having an offshore bank account is not illegal in of itself, but it’s commonly done forIceland protests.jpg the purposes of facilitating tax evasion or money laundering.

So if you’re just a rich person whose doing this, then god bless you. You figured out a way to sidestep laws and maximize your wealth, even if it’s at the expense of the middle class, who are legitimately paying their taxes.

But if you’re an elected official of a nation, and you’re involved in shady offshore dealings — that’s not good. Secret bank accounts are not the telltale sign of an honest politician.

And that’s what led to the demise of the first victim of the Panama Papers, Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugson, who resigned on Tuesday.

The Icelandic people protested the last couple of days after it was revealed that Gunnlaugson co-owned a shell company that, like most of Iceland’s people and businesses, went bankrupt after the country’s three major banks failed and the economy collapsed.

The shell company, called Wintris Inc., has since claimed more than $4 million dollars owed from Iceland’s banks — the very same institutions Gunnlaugson helped negotiate the recovery of following the 2008 recession, meaning he had a conflict of interest that he never disclosed.

No major Americans have been outed in the Panama Papers — yet. But, oh boy, they’re coming. Don’t you worry.

It remains to be seen what the overall fallout is going to be of this historic leak. But undoubtedly this is a win for truth. A win for journalism. A win for transparency and a win for anti-corruption. And Edward Snowden approves.

Until then, it’s just nice to see Iceland back in the news for the first time since their junior national hockey team lost in the championship game in D2: The Mighty Ducks, which undoubtedly, was the biggest sporting event of national intrigue since Villanova vs. North Carolina.

Don’t fact check that.