The Big Ten, On The Road

The Big Ten is tough this year, and road wins are especially hard to come by.  Just ask the Buckeyes — they lost two heart-breakers on the road.

That’s why last night’s win against Nebraska was so valuable.  Nebraska clearly is not one of the elite teams in the Big Ten, but this is a year when just about anybody can spring an upset at home.  You can’t take any game for granted — just ask Illinois, which lost at Penn State, or Michigan State, which fell at Northwestern, or Indiana, which got beat by . . . Nebraska.  The fact that the Buckeyes won comfortably at Nebraska means another bullet dodged and another step closer to being a legitimate contender for the Big Ten regular season title.

The Buckeyes remain very much a work in progress — and although progress is being made, there is still work to do.  Making your free throws and feeding the post aren’t crucial when you’re leading an over-matched opponent by 30, but there will come a point in a game against Michigan State, Purdue, or Wisconsin where being able to sink free throws with the game on the line will mean the difference between victory and defeat.  On the positive side, the Buckeyes have picked up the defensive intensity, and in the Big Ten the teams that play tough defense usually prevail.  Being able to maintain that withering defensive intensity will be crucial to the Buckeyes’ eventual success.  The Buckeyes also have been able to play a much deeper rotation this year, which may mean that the starters will be fresher for the challenging games to come.

As for the Big Ten generally, it’s a wide-open race with six teams within one game of the lead.  There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, and the teams that are still improving will be the teams that stay in contention as the season wears on.

Paterno’s Legacy

ESPN is reporting that Joe Paterno is dead at 85.  According to the story, he died this morning after fighting a two-month battle against lung cancer.

Paterno was a legendary coach who took the Penn State program to the pinnacle of college football, but his legacy will be forever tarnished by the alleged child sex abuse scandal involving long-time assistant Jerry Sandusky — and by Paterno’s apparent failure to respond appropriately to reports about Sandusky’s conduct.

By all accounts, Paterno was a generous man who gave huge sums to Penn State.  He was intensely loyal to that institution.  He was loved by players and fans and students.  During his long coaching career, he became a true college football icon.

I’m sure that many will argue that his many positive contributions far outweigh his what they consider to be his lapse in judgment about Sandusky.  That is a calculation that can’t be made today, tomorrow, or for some time — at least until after the criminal trials are held and the full story about the Sandusky scandal, and its impact on the poor boys who evidently were the subject of Sandusky’s attention and who were so ill-served by those in positions of authority, is told by witnesses testifying under oath.  The passage of time allows for perspective and understanding that is impossible to obtain when events are raw and recent.

It’s important not to forget Paterno’s good deeds, but it’s also important not to whitewash or overlook his missteps, too.  Human beings are complex and imperfect, and Paterno’s story is further evidence of that — as if we needed any.

Barbie, Our Cultural Ambassador

Barbie, the popular doll, has been the target of criticism over the years.  Many people think that Barbie’s improbable figure projects unhealthy concepts about the ideal female body for the young girls who love the doll.  Others say Barbie is too frivolous and clothes-obsessed.  Mattel, the maker of Barbie, has tried to thread the needle by offering Barbies with professional careers — like Barbie the architect — while at the same time selling the clothes and cars and houses that the pre-teen Barbie owners crave.

A recent news story, however, may help to rehabilitate Barbie’s reputation.  It turns out that the doll is the subject of a crackdown by the Iranian government.  It is removing the dolls from stores because they say that Barbie is a “manifestation of Western culture.”  In a benighted land where women must wear head scarves, interaction between men and women is strictly regulated, and opportunities for women are few, Barbie’s miniskirts, makeup, and general air of fun and freedom make the government uncomfortable.  So, the dolls are being confiscated — which won’t be easy because Iranian girls apparently love Barbie just like American girls do and have resisted previous crackdowns.

Who would have thought that a little plastic toy could carry so much cultural weight?  Anything that make the Iranian government feel uncomfortable — and might cause Iranians to see their government for the repressive authoritarian regime that it truly is — can’t be all bad.  Maybe, instead of architect Barbie, Mattel should introduce Ambassador Barbie.  Hey, or even President Barbie!