Opinion: Sportsisms – Making sense of ‘ELITE QBs’ and ’1a starters’

Jon Lester Red Sox
Jon Lester is once again considered an “ace.” But he’s just a bad start or two away from getting that “1a” tag, again. Credit: Getty Images

Athlete-and-coach-Speak is something the media and fans make fun of on a consistent basis. For the uninitiated, what I’m referring to is how a player or coach says something to the media without actually saying anything. Examples?

How do you feel about the team? “We have to keep getting better every day.”

What do you think of Player X? “He’s just a great competitor.”

There’s no point of reference here, just empty words. And in case anyone’s wondering, I’m not sure if he invented it, but Bill Belichick most definitely sets the bar in this practice. There is no one better. Do you, Bill.

But here’s the thing: at least these guys have incentive to regurgitate vapid remarks. Why would they say anything? There is very little upside and enormous downside. It seems any time a sports figure lets their guard down to provide opinion, they get eviscerated (Richard Sherman, everyone!).


What I find fascinating is how consumers of sports have developed a set of terms that mask what we really mean. These sports euphemisms (sportsisms!) almost mirror the very same thing they poke fun at. So, without delay, I present to you four terms – one for each of the big four sports – that need to be banished from media-and-fan-speak.

Because, hey — like the great Danny Woodhead used to say, “LET’S GET BETTER EVERY DAY.”

NFL: “Elite Quarterback”
Definition: A quarterback who can lift his team to SUPER BOWL GLORY.
Synonym: “Franchise Quarterback.” (Assuming your franchise’s goal is to reach SUPER BOWL GLORY and not to maximize ROI.)
Antonym: “Game-Manager” or “Just Another Guy” (JAG … No relation to the Jaguars, whose roster is full of JAGs)
Example: Eli Manning wasn’t ELITE. Then the helmet catch happened and everyone decided he was, in fact, ELITE. Now the jury’s out again. Perplexing.
Why It Needs To Go: This is the Mecca of stupidity. I mean, come on – the idea that a quarterback can suddenly magically become ELITE, due to circumstances that have nothing to do with said-quarterback, is remarkable and speaks to how dumb the term really is. For instance, in the play shown below, Joe Flacco became ELITE when the entire Broncos secondary let Jacoby Jones get behind them in the divisional round 14 months ago.

If that major breakdown doesn’t happen, is Joe Flacco ELITE? Nope. He’s just another guy. This mostly comes down to “analysts” not wanting to go on a limb, which is funny because, well, cowards are funny.

MLB: “1a Starter”
Definition: A pitcher who’s really, really good, but not an ace.
Synonym: “Top-of-the-rotation guy.”
Antonym: “Back-of-the-rotation guy.”
Example: Jon Lester was THE epitome of a 1a Starter. At first this designation made sense. Josh Beckett was Boston’s ace; until he started being a malcontent, then things just got awkward. Plus, Lester has long been considered “clutch” (another legendary sportsism) because of his lights out performance in the close out game of the 2007 World Series against the Rockies. Anyway, after the Sox excommunicated the ringleader of Chicken, Beer and Video Games to Los Angeles, we weren’t ready to call Lester an ace. Lester’s journey to acehood was complete though when he led Boston to a World Series title last season.
Why It Needs To Go: Just say he’s a number two, unless you think otherwise. It’s OK to be wrong, or to simply acknowledge player improvement over time.
(Also: it’s annoying listening to media guys ruminate whether a pitcher is a “1 or 1a.” My God. Make. It. Stop.)

NHL: “Puck-Moving Defenseman”
Definition: A defenseman who is particularly adept at advancing the puck out of his own team’s zone.
Synonym: “Quarterback” (I’m serious. It’s all very confusing. I’m convinced this is why many women think sports are stupid. Frankly, I don’t blame them.)
Antonym: “Stay-At-Home Defenseman”
Example: Tomas Kaberle (Jusssssst kidding, Bruins fans)
Why It Needs To Go: The Bruins acquired Andrej Meszaros, a solid defenseman who isn’t considered to be a “Top Defenseman,” which we can assume means he’s not ELITE, I guess … yet? Wait. What, exactly, does the term “solid” imply? I’m confused. In all seriousness, I get why this term exists. I really do. And I don’t think it necessarily needs to go, but it’s just funny that we tend to pigeonhole these guys.

NBA: “Shoot-First Point Guard”
Definition: A point guard who looks for his own shot, instead of fulfilling the traditional role of setting up teammates.
Synonym: “Ball-Stopper”
Antonym: “Ball Distributor”
Example: That Jordan Crawford was listed as a point guard for the Celtics this season is fascinating. Bravo, Brad Stevens. You broke the Internet there for a minute.
Why It Needs To Go: Because the game has changed. Look at Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, and John Wall. Shoot-First Point Guards are not always bad. Sure, there will always be classic point guards like Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul, but floor generals can also be the go-to-guy on a successful team.

***
Look, it’s not that these sportsisms have no meaning or validity. They do. But if Andrew Luck doesn’t make it to the AFC Championship game next season – or worse, the playoffs at all – he’ll be typecast in some shape or form. Maybe he’ll be a “Great Numbers Guy” or “All Stats, No Rings Guy.” That’s crazy to consider, but it’s true.
While classifications can make sense in a vacuum, circumstances need to be considered. Just ask how ELITE Ravens fans think their guy Joe Flacco (one of the highest paid quarterback in NFL history) is after the team failed to make the playoffs following his aforementioned “magical” playoff run the season prior.

Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__



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