Niagara Gazette

July 25, 2013

MROZIAK: Myths, marketing gaffes and PED pariahs

By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Some thoughts to offer as I watch the Porter Cup in person at Niagara Falls Country Club and think, “I could make that shot too, if playing Wii Sports...”

• The thought that competitive golfers somehow lead a silver spoon-fed life is more a myth, especially at the amateur level. 

While Michael Kim’s withdrawal from this year’s Porter Cup was a disappointment to organizers, his decision to back out is justified. He was held over by the USGA Public Links championship tournament by a day last week, a delay that threw his travel plans for the Porter Cup into disarray. 

We’re not talking about someone who has a rich bank account and a personal assistant who can book a new flight and hotel room on a moment’s notice. He is, lest we forget, still an amateur.

It was equally educational learning about some of those who did make the tournament, chatting with peers and family members while walking along the course at Niagara Falls Country Club. Perhaps you or someone you know is the sports parent, perhaps baseball, soccer or hockey, who travels from tournament to tournament, spends considerable amounts of money on hotels, tournament fees and other necessary expenses.

It’s not any different for golf families. Many of them are more everyday people than you think.

• The University at Buffalo’s athletics department, in its effort to grow its regional presence and raise its standing as a crown jewel in the State University of New York system, has taken yet another step toward that goal which instead minimizes the Buffalo connection. 

A few months ago, UB unveiled its new basketball court design which features an image of New York State behind the words “New York” in large letters while “State University of” and “Buffalo” appear in a much smaller font size.

The new football uniforms aren’t much different. Images of the jersey released online this week show a patch above the front numerals that features a similar scheme: “New York” in larger font, while “Buffalo” may as well be the fine print in a legal disclaimer.

For trying to raise SUNY Buffalo’s status, the athletics department is doing a fine job further blurring Buffalo’s place in New York State.

A high school classmate of mine recalled that while attending UB, her peers jokingly called it “SUNY Long Island,” where the significant population of downstaters only then realized that Buffalo is a lot farther away from New York City than they first thought.

I endured similar ignorance at my alma mater, Ithaca College. When I answered questions regarding where I went to high school, which was Grand Island, I sometimes got a follow-up question: “Is that anywhere near the Hamptons?”

I see this misguided marketing effort by UB as only creating more of the same, not only in terms of geography but in culture. 

Buffalo, and by extension Western New York, is truly a unique culture. This effort to create more of a New York state of mind works against that uniqueness of this region.

The athletic director thinks he’s positioning UB to be marketed as other major universities such as Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State are recognized. He should instead look to examples such as UCLA, Boise State or UNLV: all public institutions that aren’t afraid to put their locale front and center.

If the UB athletics department wants to raise the program’s standing, it needs to keep Buffalo front and center in its marketing theme.

Another thing, it might also help if the team could win.

I am not a teacher, but I have to give this new marketing direction an “F.”

• A few weeks ago I was willing to cut Alex Rodriguez some slack over his online announcement that he was cleared to resume playing ball. I felt Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who used his Twitter account to exclaim that A-Rod should “shut the (bleep) up,” owed A-Rod just one break, as anyone would be excited about the thought of ending a long rehab and getting back to work.

That’s about the only time I could support a guy who has otherwise historically been an arrogant jerk.

In the wake of Ryan Braun’s season-ending suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, A-Rod appears ready to put up a fight amid reports Major League Baseball could seek a lifetime ban, given the mounds of evidence they reportedly have on A-Rod’s alleged PED use and his lack of cooperation with the investigation.

Count me among the countless who have no sympathy for A-Rod.

Meantime, I’m also not shedding any tears for Lyin’ Ryan Braun. In fact, I’m enjoying the irony that he successfully appealed a drug test that would have resulted in a 50-game suspension only to find himself sitting out even more games now.

If only he would have had the guts to be honest back in February 2012, when he hosted a news conference to adamantly insist he was clean.

He could even have offered a cryptic apology as Jason Giambi did in 2005, stopping short of why he was actually saying “sorry.” For his effort to at least come forward somewhat, Giambi’s career resumed and, though in his early 40s and in the twilight of his playing career, remains respected in the locker room.

Braun would be lucky to get so much love. Retired players from Frank Thomas to Rick Sutcliffe, just to name two, have already publicly expressed their betrayal. Skip Schumaker of the Los Angeles Dodgers told ABC News he’s taking Braun’s framed jersey down from his wall so as not to set a bad example for his son.

Baseball may have a long path ahead to clean up its game. The reaction of players to Braun’s suspension, meanwhile, is an encouraging sign that those who would juice up to get a competitive edge may try to be the pacesetters but in the end will be the sport’s pariahs.

The late pitcher Satchel Paige said famously, “Never look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Look out, A-Rod. That something appears ready to pounce.

Follow Niagara Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter at MrozGazette.