Week of November 28, 2020

Me and the boys at our last game of pickup before COVID hit, roughly 120 years ago.

RIP: Diego Maradona Diego Maradona died this week. Maradona was, in my opinion, one of the two greatest soccer players ever (along with his countryman, Leonel Messi). But in ways Messi has not and never will approach, Maradona captured the attention of soccer fans all over the world. His career mostly preceded my sports awareness (he peaked in the mid-to-late 1980s, when I was no older than 7). Still, I’ve seen clips. I’ve seen highlights. I watched the HBO documentary last year. The reason he was so beloved is not just his play. It’s his panache. His gravity. His Fuck You attitude. Just watch him warm up before the 1989 UEFA Semi-Finals. 

A master, at the top of his game, unbothered by anything else.  I will always love watching the way this very small man (around 5’5”) always seemed like the biggest person on the field. The Ringer’s Brian Phillips really captured it this week:

Many athletes bring joy to people, of course, and many athletes lead chaotic lives, and many athletes die too early, because many people do. But Diego was something else. I don’t know why anyone cares what a person can do with a ball; I only know that Maradona was able to do things with one that, when you saw them, made you feel like the universe was telling you a secret. The sight of him with the ball at his feet, this little guy with his hair streaming back, all chest and thighs and churning elbows, had a power that is given to very few people in any generation, the power to make a large part of the world hold its breath.

Every sports fan knows about The Hand of God goal in the 1986 World Cup. It is probably in the first paragraph of many of his obituaries.  He punched that thing in for the first goal of the game. It’s so blatant. It’s in the open. This tiny guy got up so high, extended his arm, and punched in a goal. And he got away with it. That’s pretty wild. But my favorite part? That incredible nickname, the Hand of God, was coined by Maradona himself, right after the game. He was asked if it was a handball and he said it was, “a little with my head, and a little with the hand of God”. I mean, that’s so funny. And it takes some brass ones. And there are levels to it – he kinda calls himself God there, doesn’t he? And, well, in Argentina at least, he was. Because minutes after the Hand of God, he sealed the World Cup victory with what was later called the Goal of the Century (and is certainly accompanied by the broadcasting call of the century!).

That goal is incredible – the skill, the poise, the creativity. The stakes. And those stakes cannot be overstated. This was no ordinary World Cup Quarterfinal. This was Argentina vs. England, just four years after the two countries engaged in a bitter if short war over the Falkland Islands, a small group of islands off Argentina’s southern Atlantic Coast. Nearly 40 years later, Argentina is still very angry about that war – you can imagine what that game meant to the Argentine people a mere four years after:  So when you hear that announcer lose control of his emotions, all that history is in there. An entire country of 30 million people screaming in catharsis. In 1986, and again this week. -TOB

PAL: I remarked about his passing to Natalie. She had no idea who Maradona was. I tried to explain, but then I just showed her The Goal of The Century instead. She was captivated. For someone who had no idea who he was or how much that goal meant, she got the draw of him in one clip. All the words we try to describe the greats, they fall short of whatever is transferred in the experience of seeing them be great. 

Is the NFL Hiding Positive COVID Tests In Order to Play Games? We’ll get to the NFL – I promise. But first, as I’ve written many times here, college football is problematic – and my head knows that. But my heart loves it, and I just wish it could be made better. That was tested early this month when, after waiting months for Cal’s first game of the 2020 season, word came two days before the game that a single player had tested positive for COVID-19. As a result of players being isolated based on contract tracing, the rest of the entire defensive line was wiped out, despite testing negative numerous times. The game was canceled under the Pac-12’s policy allowing a team to cancel (and not forfeit) if they have less than 53 scholarship players, or 1 scholarship QB, or five scholarship offensive lineman, or four scholarship defensive lineman. The latter two categories are an issue of safety – you can’t run a bunch of undersized kids against an experienced offensive line, for example. But I was PISSED. One god dang positive test canceled a whole game!? And worse, it was Cal’s first positive test all camp. And worse than that, the following week’s game was in serious jeopardy because the players, who again never tested positive, had to isolate for 14 days. So, the first game was canceled. The second was in jeopardy but ultimately played, sorta. As it turned out, the 14th day was the following Sunday. However, Cal’s second opponent, ASU, suffered a large outbreak. So that game got canceled (as did ASU’s next two games after that), and Cal played a Sunday morning game against UCLA, in the Rose Bowl, on thirty six hours notice (UCLA’s original opponent, Utah, also had a COVID outbreak). EXHALE. But as this all unfolded, and college games get canceled left and right, I have been wondering: how in the heck has the NFL avoided this? I keep hearing news that NFL players test positive during the week, but it never seems to wipe out an entire position group. And the NFL hasn’t missed a single game. How? And players test positive during the week but somehow play on Sunday? And how come we seem to never read about last minute Sunday positive tests?  This had been bugging me, in light of what happened to Cal, and then I saw this interesting article from Defector’s Kelsey McKinney. Here, check this chart she put together (as she explains, the NFL began the season NOT testing on game days, but changed that policy beginning October 12, so she limits her data after that date): Uhh. You know that scene in Revenge of the Nerds when Stan wants to know why the Lambdas are selling so many pies? And then Ogre gets one of the pies, it’s just whipped cream? And then he eats it and it’s good but not great, and they wonder again why the Lambdas are selling so many damn pies? And then Ogre gets to the bottom of the pie and he sees the Lambdas have lined the pie tins with naked photos of the Pis (photos that were VERY ILLEGALLY taken, I might add), and then Ogre looks up and says – well, just watch (um, the last five seconds are NSFW):

That’s how I felt when I saw Kelsey’s chart. This why. Uh oh. But even that figure of four positive tests on Sunday is higher than the real numbers, as McKinney explains:

Two of the four players placed on the list on a Sunday were not playing that day. Dru Samia (OL) was placed on the list on Sunday, Nov. 15. The Vikings that week played on Monday. Baker Mayfield (QB) was placed on the list on Sunday, Nov. 8. The Browns were on a bye week. When I looked more closely, I only found two players in my research across all game days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) who were been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on a day his own team played.

I mean, wow. McKinney reached out to the NFL who claimed to have not known of this disparity, but explaining that the Monday announcements are based on tests on Sunday, because results aren’t available by game time. But as McKinney points out this means that, somehow, there have been just TWO Saturday positive tests for players playing on Sunday. Or perhaps better said, by McKinney:

Somehow, every week, players are taking COVID-19 tests on Saturday and not being placed on the list (be it for positive tests or close contact) on Sunday. By Monday, they need to be on the list. Someone with a conspiratorial mind might take that as evidence that the league is pulling some number of strings to make sure that the Saturday tests are being administered in some way so as to ensure their results won’t endanger the next day’s games. It’s perhaps more damning for the league, however, if the protocols are actually being strictly followed and everything is being reported above board. In that case, these results reveal just how little repeated testing can actually tell us about who has COVID-19 on any given day, and further demonstrate how inaccurate the NFL’s elaborate testing apparatus really is. If all these protocols are meant to prevent infected players from being around their teammates and participating in NFL games—and the numbers tell us that is clearly not happening, unless you believe all those Ravens players somehow caught the virus and tested positive for it just hours after the conclusion of Sunday’s game—then what is the point of the protocols?

The NFL sure is selling a lot of pies, though, eh?

Source: What Can The Distribution Of Positive COVID-19 Results Tell Us About The NFL’s Testing Program?Kelsey McKinney, Defector (11/24/2020)

Answering a Question Being Asked: Is It Ethical To Use A Fantasy Football Loophole To Start A Player Out Of Position? Yes. -TOB

Source: Is It Ethical To Use A Fantasy Football Loophole To Start A Player Out Of Position?Dan McQuade, Defector (11/24/2020)

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

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Week of November 20, 2020

“One step forward, two steps. One step. Two steps. Three. …” Last week, Chris Kikic became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run in under 17 hours (the cut-off). As inspiring as the accomplishment is, the story leading up to that finish line is even better in this story from Kurt Streeter.  The story details the challenges for a child with Down syndrome. The number of surgeries, the amount of time it took Chris to learn tasks that other kids would figure out in a day or two. For instance, it took him months to learn how to swing his arms when he ran. To learn to tie his shoes took years.  Sports was the one area he didn’t feel like he was reminded about the limitations or being excluded. He took part in the Special Olympics, and – after learning how to ride a bike, the idea of a triathlon came up.  Such a feat would not just put him in the record books. It would also prove to himself and those around him that he could, in fact, do big things. And if he could do big things, then maybe one day he would be able to fulfill his ultimate dream: to live independently and have a wife and a family of his own. So what did the family do? Made a plan. They found a coach, started in on the work. A kid who won’t quit on learning how to tie his shoes knows something about sticking with it, of grinding it out. They turned the dream into a plan on that big whiteboard shown in the photo up there. He trained for over a year. 

Something was changing. He added muscle to his stocky, 5-foot-10 frame, but it was more than that. Everyone around him noticed that as he grew fitter he seemed mentally sharper, more attentive and confident.

Chris competed in the race tethered to his coach, and despite a run-in with some red ants and falling on a downhill on the bike, things were going well until mile 10 of the marathon, the last of the three sections of the race. Chris hit the wall and was barely moving. And that’s when the following scene unfolded. I’ve read it several times now, and the tears pool every time. “Nik Nikic clutched his son, drew him close and whispered in his ear: “Are you going to let your pain win, or let your dreams win?” Every time. I know it sounds corny. I don’t care. Maybe it’s because the idea of being a dad isn’t so abstract anymore. It must be such an incredible feeling to watch your child achieve something hard. Something they really had to reach for. Knowing that feeling yourself, and watching them experience it for themself. I’m looking forward to it.  As Streeter says, “Take a bow, Chris Nikic, for holding tight to your dreams, for your patience and hopeful perseverance and guts. We could use a little more of that in this world.” Such a powerful and inspiring story. – PAL 

Source: Chris Nikic, You Are an Ironman. And Your Journey Is Remarkable”, Kurt Streeter, The New York Times (11/16/20) 

TOB: Great story, great read. Incredible what he has achieved. Also, major kudos to the volunteer coach, who put in probably hundreds and hundreds of hours to help make this a reality for Chris. Also, to Chris’ parents. Raising kids is not easy under the best of circumstances. I can only imagine the nights they cried about how difficult things were. But they only showed him love and support, and this is the result.

PAL: Totally, TOB. Daniel Grieb is Chris’ coach who was his partner in the race.

Punting is Not Winning*

Just hours before this week’s NBA Draft, in which the Warriors would pick second overall, some ominous news started circulating on Twitter: Klay Thompson, who missed all of 2019-20 after tearing his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, suffered a significant lower leg injury during a pickup game. The details were scarce, but from the deepest bowels of the internet came bubbling that ugly word for every athlete: achilles. The Draft had to go on, and the Warriors took James Wiseman, a 7’1 freak of an athlete who has the potential to be very, very good. The choice was necessary – the Warriors are crazy short in the front court, with almost no depth, and their road to a title goes through a gauntlet of the best big men in the game, including Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic. Wiseman will face unfair expectations out of the gate, especially for a player who played all of two games in college before being declared ineligible.

But back to Klay. With the Warriors’ title window rapidly closing as Curry and Draymond get older, they cannot afford to run the ball out there with a lineup of Curry, Draymond, Wiggins, Wiseman and…I have no idea what else. The injuries to Klay and Curry last year gave them the benefit of an extended look at their other options, and for the most part, with the possible exception of Paschall and Looney, they head into the coming season with very little outside of their top 4, now that Klay is out. The problem, of course, is that it would seem difficult for Golden State to improve. They have no assets they can afford to give up that anyone would want in a trade for a star. And they have no cap room. They do have a $17M trade exception, allowing them to take back up to $17M more in trades than they send out. Certainly, this seemed useful – but it seemed they’d need to be willing to take one team’s bad contract in order to get a useful player along with them. 

The problem, even with that plan, is that the Warriors are so far over the cap that such a move would crush them in luxury tax payments. The Warriors are already paying a $66 MILLION tax bill this year, with the roster as is. Every dollar they take on at this point is taxed at 4x. No one would blame owner Joe Lacob for saying, “No, we’ll punt this year.” I feel confident saying every other owner in sports would have done so.

Lacob, for all his flaws, does not punt. Instead of dredging the bottom of the barrel for bodies at the vets minimum, the Warriors went out the day after the draft, just hours after confirming that Klay Thompson indeed tore his achilles and would miss the whole year, and used that trade exception to land Kelly Oubre, Jr. – a talented, productive, young, and expensive player. The Warriors only gave OKC a heavily protected first round pick. But they gave a whole lot more.

Yes, that’s right: Oubre’s $14M salary will cost the Warriors an additional $68 million in luxury taxes, bringing their tax bill (so far!) to ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FOUR MILLION.

And this in a year where the Warriors will not have fans in attendance, the same week the City of San Francisco blocked Lacob’s attempt to allow a few thousand fans at each game. What’s crazy is that I don’t think this makes the Warriors a title team by any stretch – but it will make them competitive. That’s how much Lacob is willing to pay to ensure that. You may have wondered about the story title here. This is an old Rick Neuheisel reference. One year UCLA’s offense was so bad, Neuheisel started punting on third down. It was a total surrender. When asked about it at halftime, he said, “Punting is winning.” He did not last much longer at UCLA. Like I said, Joe Lacob does not punt. -TOB

PAL: I love a TOB original (notice there’s no link to a story on this one) Man, Lacob and the Warriors were banking on that brand new Chase Center in the Dogpatch to be cash machine, and then everything it was built to host was shut down to fans – sporting events and big concerts, namely. 

It seems to me that Lacob’s ambition is long-term with the Warriors, to build the Death Star Yankees of the NBA, and I wonder how much of that bravado comes from a lightning-in-a-bottle Warriors team from 2015- June 13, 2019 (KD’s achilles injury in the Finals). For a historically bad team, all of a sudden everything broke the right way for the Warriors, and we were asking if it was the greatest team of all-time. This injury to Klay comes at the absolute worst time. Steph Curry will be 33 in March, and Draymond will turn 31. It’s not a given that Klay (31 in February) will be fully healed in a year, and it’s not given that he’ll ever be the same player he was before the injury.

The end is easily visible through the windshield. While Klay and Steph will be able shoot until they die, the movement, the defense (Draymond and Klay), the pace with which the Warriors play is in jeopardy unless they fill some key roles with draft picks. Wiseman needs to hit. 

The Spurs run was so long and impressive because they were able to reload three times through non-lottery draft picks to put around Tim Duncan (1st, 1997) who then turned into hall of famers: Manu Ginobili (57th, 1999), Tony Parker (28th pick 2001), and Kawhi Leonard (15th, 2011). If the Warriors hope to extend their run, then they’re behind on the reload.  With all of that in mind, with their salary cap situation, the injuries, the empty arena, I wonder why they don’t punt this year, as much as it would suuuuuuuck to waste another Steph in his prime year. That is a lot of money for Kelly Oubre, but I wonder if the losing last year was that painful for a franchise that was historically great just two years ago. Maybe Lacob and Bob Myers have something up their sleeve. It better be a doozy. 

Kim Ng’s Journey To Making History This week, the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as the team’s next General Manager, making Ng the first female to hold the position in any of the major men’s leagues in North America. Many also consider her the most qualified first-time general manager. Tyler Kepner and James Wagner detail her journey in this story. This much is certain  – Kim Ng loves baseball and was determined to become a general manager.  In her 30-year career in Major League Baseball, Ng has worked as an assistant GM for several teams, oversaw scouting and player development, she’s worked in the league office, she’s negotiated contracts, and she was a chief architect on international signing protocols. She’s seen the game through more than a few lenses.  Ng, pictured with her four sisters and mother, is second from the left.  And the person that hired her – Derek Jeter – seems fitting, too. After she was hired, Ng showed her mom and sisters an old video: 

Ng played a video clip from 2000 on her iPad. On the screen, a young Derek Jeter, the star shortstop for the reigning world champion Yankees, presented Ng with an award from an organization for women in the business of sports. She was the Yankees’ assistant general manager at the time, and now, all these years later, the man in the video was giving her a chance at the top job with his own team. 

Of course, it shouldn’t have taken this long for a woman to be hired as a general manager for a major mens sport team, but we still ought to celebrate its happening, especially when the person seems so fitting of such an honor. 

Another story this week about perseverance. – PAL  Source: Kim Ng Has Been Ready for Years”, Tyler Kepner and James Wagner, The New York Times (11/18/20)

TOB: When this news broke, I saw a lot of tweets from Asian Americans, and especially Asian American women, discussing how important it was for someone who looks like them to get a job like this. Representation matters. That is apparently hard for a lot of people, mainly white males, to understand. I was puzzling on why that is, in the shower of course, when it hit me: this should not be difficult for white people to grasp at all:

A great player, yes. But his popularity among white people in the 1980s was due in large part to the fact that for the first time in a long time, one of the best players in the NBA looked like them. This shouldn’t be so hard to understand.

Video of the Week (a year too late for TOB’s wallet): 

Tweet of the Week: 

Song of the Week: Willie Nelson – “The Man With The Blues”

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I think I’m being very clear what I’m asking. Would an average-sized rowboat support her without capsizing? It bothers me that you’re not answering this question.

-Michael Scott

Week of November 13, 2020

Chocolate Thunder shattered his first backboard on November 13, 1979.

Local Knowledge The Masters is a two laptop sporting event – one laptop for work, and one laptop off to the side streaming the tournament. It’s 80% Tiger watch for me. With the tournament upon us, I had to share this story about Tommy Bennett. Bennett, a local Augusta caddie, was on Tiger’s bag for the amateur’s first Masters appearance back in 1995.  There’s a few fascinating storylines to this piece: the history of Black caddies at Augusta National and the courses in the surrounding area, Bennett’s early baptism to Augusta National, the anecdotes about the regular skins games at the local muni between local Black caddies (Bennett’s putting has been slipping, and at 71 carries a 6 handicap), and Augusta National’s heel-dragging commitment to tradition and segregation. Above all, this is about Bennett being on the bag for the young phenom, his retelling and – for a week – his small role in Tiger’s ascension.  The idea of having Bennett on the bag for the Stanford freshman and reigning U.S. Amatuer champ, was local knowledge – something that’s less and less valued these days. Also, wasn’t his choice – he was assigned to the kid by the club. After deciding, as a 63 year-old smoker, he couldn’t carry the bag on the hilly course for his son, Earl Woods had a long walk and talk with Bennett early in the week. He essentially told Bennett that they’d see how it goes early on in the week.  Tiger played a practice round with Nick Faldo. Per Ian O’Connor: 

The oversized galleries couldn’t get close enough for their first look at the phenom, who gave them something to talk about on the 500-yard 15th hole when he blew his drive 70 yards past Faldo’s, hit a 9-iron to 4 feet and made the putt for eagle. “Faldo looked stunned,” Bennett recalls. Woods grabbed lunch, then turned his first day at Augusta National into a 36-hole day. He had beaten Trip Kuehne in the most dramatic U.S. Amateur comeback ever, erasing a six-hole deficit in the final, and now the runner-up wanted another crack at him. They agreed to play a $5 match. Bennett was reading Tiger’s putts, picking his clubs and telling him where to land his approaches. “Damn, you’re good,” Woods told him late in the match, when Tiger, down three, charged past Kuehne again by winning the final four holes.

And on Thursday of the week, when Tiger would debut as a teenager playing THE FRIGGIN’ MASTERS, Bennett still remembers this incredible bit:

Tiger played Wednesday morning with Norman and Nick Price but cut his round short when he felt a spasm in his back on the fifth hole. He got treatment on site, then played the Par 3 Contest with Gary Player before his father made it official and informed Bennett that he had passed the audition. After Woods caught five hours of sleep and went on a Thursday morning run, he met Bennett at the course for his 1:03 p.m. opening-round tee time with defending champ Jose Maria Olazabal. The caddie looked inside Tiger’s black leather bag and found a problem. “You’ve only got three balls,” Bennett told his player. “That’s all I need,” Woods responded. “Man, this is Augusta National,” Tommy told himself. It was a raw, rainy day, and Woods’ heart was racing on the first tee. He crushed his opening drive over the right bunker and then landed his sand-wedge shot safely on the green, 25 feet from the cup. Woods had prepared for Augusta’s lightning-fast greens by putting on Stanford’s hardwood volleyball court, yet when he hit his downhill putt too hard, he watched in horror as his ball spilled off the green and toward the gallery. Bennett had never seen that before at the Masters. He told Tiger, “Listen, we all get nervous. We’ve got a long week here. Just chip it back up there and make the putt.”

I’ve read that anecdote several times now. Still can’t get over Tiger having three balls in his bag. And I love Bennett’s advice after he cooked his putt off the green. Both of those details stick with me. This is a cool story about a relatively anonymous guy working alongside a great. Of course these caddies aren’t executing the shots, but – hey – there’s only one dude out there walking the course alongside the player. They are a team out there – caddies and golfers – and for one week, Bennett was on the same team with the kid who would become the greatest. Definitely worth following the story link and reading the full piece from O’Connor.  – PAL  Source: The journey of Tiger Woods’ first Masters caddie, Tommy Bennett”, Ian O’Connor, ESPN (11/10/20)

Reasons To Run NYC Marathon  I was in the middle of training for the Vancouver Marathon back in March. The race was scheduled for early May, and – it’s laughable now – but I remember checking my email daily wondering if they were going to cancel the race. In October, the Twin Cities Marathon back home is a great reason to return home and run the marathons with some collection of my sisters. Obviously, that didn’t happen either.  I was also hoping to run a race with Natalie this summer in one of the national parks. Nope. Instead, we made a course in Oakland that Natalie ran with our friends, Basma and Chris. I was the course designer, and Natalie made race shirts. The shirts were great, my chalk markings on the course were not, much to the dismay of the (three) racers.  Throughout the pandemic, I’ve seen virtual marathons pop up. You can register, run the distance, get the shirt and fill check that box for the year. As well-intentioned as the idea came off, it wasn’t the real thing in my mind. Far from it.  And then I read this story about this year’s New York City Marathon. It was supposed to be the 50th anniversary, and this was the first time I felt the draw of one of these ‘unofficial’ races.  In 2019, there were over 53,000 runners in the race, each with their reasons to run. And the reasons people ran this year are similar to years past – to prove something to themselves, to process a loss, to meditate, to celebrate the city they love. If anything, for them to run this year is more inspiring without the banners, spectators and streets closed to traffic. I don’t know why this story and this race finally got that point across to me, but it did. These runners had an excuse to skip it this year, and they didn’t take it.  People like Kristina Nungaray:

Kristina Nungaray, who started the race in Brooklyn on Sunday morning, was singularly focused on reaching the finish line in what would be her first marathon. “Running for me in 2020 has been like this primal scream I needed to get out,” Nungaray said last week from her home in Jersey City. “When those unknowns become a little too oppressive, I would get out and run.” Two days after she signed up for the virtual marathon, she received a call from her family in Texas. Her father had Covid-19. During a run, she came to terms with the fact that her father might not survive. And it was after a run through Jersey City that she got a call. A nurse offered to read text messages to her father aloud. “Essentially that is how we said goodbye, via text message,” she said through tears. After going to the funeral and quarantining upon her return, she started running again. “It was one of those things that helped me breathe better,” she said. “And there was something in the back of my mind that reminded me, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re registered for this marathon.’” She has felt a pull to do a marathon in tribute to her father, in recognition of her city, in pursuit of herself. “I signed up for this race to push me out of my comfort zone once upon a time ago,” Nungaray said. “And now I’m doing this race to move forward and reconnect me to my comfort zone.”

I think I’ll have to add the NYC Marathon to my list. – PAL Source:The New York City Marathon Was Cancelled. Runners Ran the Course Anyway.”, Talya Minsberg, The New York Times (11/2/20)

Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: Warren Zevon – “Keep Me In Your Heart”

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[A] lot of the people here don’t get trophies, very often. Like Meredith or Kevin, I mean, who’s gonna give Kevin an award? Dunkin’ Donuts? Plus, bonus, it’s really, really funny. So I, you know, an employee will go home, and he’ll tell his neighbor, “Hey, did you get an award?” And the neighbor will say, “No man. I mean, I slave all day and nobody notices me.” Next thing you know, employee smells something terrible coming from neighbor’s house. Neighbor’s hanged himself due to lack of recognition.

-Michael Scott