In November 2022 – just a scant three years from now – comes the next World Cup, in Qatar. This will set up one of the extraordinary, epic collisions in recorded human history:
The global game meets global warming.
(I know what you're thinking: Why can't I write about Baker Mayfield shaving his handlebar mustache or LeBron James' triple-double frenzy, or at least preview which nations are favored to win the World Cup? You want that stuff, go subscribe to The Athletic or marry Skip Bayless.)
(Do the words "existential threat" mean anything to you? I have been inspired by the 16-year-old Swede, Greta Thunberg; it's time to get up, get out and shout about something other than College Football Playoff rankings.)
Qatar is hot, baby. And getting hotter.
Temperatures in its capital city, Doha, have risen five degrees since 1962. Earlier this decade, during what can only be described as a particularly unforgiving heat wave, they recorded an all-time high reading of 122.7 degrees.
The average high temperature is Qatar in June and July – when the World Cup is typically played – is 108 degrees; the average low is in the mid 80s.
So, why oh why, we might wonder, would FIFA, soccer's international governing body, grant the World Cup to you-could-cook-an-egg-on-that-soccer-pitch Qatar?
Oh, I know, I know, I know!
(That's the worldwide symbol for "lots of cash changing hands illicitly.")
Speaking of which, let's take a moment to celebrate FIFA, the IOC and the NCAA, the Mount Rushmore of autocratic, predatory, dystopian sporting warlords. For those of you new to the pillage-and-plunder game of monolithic athletic officialdom, IOC is short for International Olympic Committee, NCAA is short for National Collegiate Athletic Association and FIFA is short for Corrupt to the Core.
Anyway, upon further consideration, FIFA decided to push the 2022 World Cup back five months, to the milder climes of November and December.
It's still no picnic made in the shade then.
Several weeks ago, Doha hosted the world track and field championships. The start time of the women's marathon was moved to midnight, but with temperatures still near 90 degrees, 28 of the 68 runners failed to finish. First-aid responders literally outnumbered the competitors.
So when watching the 2022 World Cup, please note: They're not flopping, they're collapsing.
The next World Cup slogan is "Expect Amazing."
It should be: "Expect Amazingly Non-Ambulatory Athletes."
To combat the heat, Qatar is taking an unusual tack – it is air-conditioning the outdoors. Besides forced air cooling the playing fields, there will be vents under each stadium seat to comfort fans.
Now, I'm no rocket scientist – heck, I am barely a sports journalist – but while air conditioning relieves us from increasing heat, it is one of the causes of warming the planet, no? Qatar, by the way, is the largest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, three times as much as the United States and almost six times as much as Stephen A. Smith.
If FIFA had any conscience – I realize this is a fantastical notion – it would tie the 2015 Paris Agreement to World Cup qualifying. If you are not part of that climate accord, you cannot participate in the World Cup. Now, that would be a game changer. Sure, current U.S. officials might not care much about climate change or the future of the planet, but they definitely would not want to miss on a chance to kick some Ukrainian butt on the soccer pitch.
You think I'm kidding here? We often make a big deal about sports making a difference and leading the way to societal change. Well, what better spot to be a leader than saving the Earth?
More realistically, Couch Slouch has two easy solutions to alleviate World Cup health dangers:
1. Play the games with a running a clock.
2. Reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy, change what we eat and buy, consume less and waste less, travel smarter.
What, they already have a running clock? Dang. I guess we better do the other thing!
Ask The Slouch
Q.You seem to question student-athletes' rights to earn. Didn't you make money in college as a sportswriter? (M.J. Hunter; Naperville, Ill.)
A. I was a student-journalist at Maryland and got paid for my work in the campus newspaper – $6 for news articles, $4 for sports articles. This, in fact, jeopardized my amateur journalist status, but I chose to take the quick cash and dash my Fourth Estate Olympic dreams.
Q. If you put half the effort towards your column as your readers do when posing their thought-provoking questions, how much improvement would you see in your writing? (Jack Drury; Cumberland, Md.)
A. Uh, dunno.
Q.Politics is a blood sport in Washington, D.C. Keeping with this theme, will the impeachment hearings be commentated by Joe Buck? (Vince Banes; Silver Spring, Md.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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Entering week eight in the NFL, the Houston Texans are in second place in the AFC South. At 3-3, I wonder how many people actually saw them entering week eight with a legit shot at winning the AFC South? Be honest. There were very few people who thought it was possible. The most hardcore fans would say they had a shot, but I wonder how many of them truly believed? Now that we've got about a third of the season as a sample size, it's time to rethink things.
Watching the development of C.J. Stroud is the primary factor in this reconsideration. He's grown into the franchise guy. I'm talking about the leader this team needs. Dare I say, the face of the franchise? Any time a team leans heavily on the pass game, it's typically from a vet. For a rookie to do what he's doing is beyond impressive. If the run game ever gets going, this offense will be really scary.
The defense has some work to do, but you can see the vision. Will Anderson Jr and Jonathan Greenard are a nice tandem off the edge. The safety play of Jalen Pitre has been a revelation since he stepped on the field. Christian Harris has the athleticism, but needs more reps. All these guys are still on rookie contracts. All of them seem to fit DeMeco Ryans' system very well. Getting Derek Stingley Jr back and healthy will be huge. His play will be another major key.
Looking at the division, the Jags (5-2) were picked by many to win the AFC South. In yards per game, they have the 4th ranked run defense, but the 31st ranked pass defense. The Texans are pass heavy right now, so this feeds into their plans. This series historically belongs to the Texans. They lead the 43 game series 29-14 and are 10-1 in their last 11 vs. the Jags. To say the Texans own them wouldn't necessarily be untrue. They share them with Shad Khan actually.
The team just behind the Texans in the standings are the Colts. Their hot shot rookie quarterback, Anthony Richardson, is out for the season after shoulder surgery. While they have the best defense in the division, their offense just lost a dynamic playmaker at the most important position. Sorry, but Gardner Minshew and Sam Ehlinger do not strike fear in anyone. If either of those guys were that good, one of them would've been starting over the rookie. That, or they'd be starting somewhere else. And that vaunted defense isn't as scary this year either, giving up over 350 yards per game.
Then there are the Titans. At 2-4, they're resting at the bottom of the barrel in this division. Derrick Henry was the subject of trade rumors in the offseason. He's responded with a 4.3 per carry average, only a tick below his career 4.7 average. They brought back Ryan Tannehill after drafting Malik Willis last year and Will Levis this last draft. Willis is the backup and Levis is the emergency guy. Neither could beat out Tannehill, and he was expected to be cut in favor of one of those guys. That tells you all you need to know about the Titans. They're terrible and the Texans should beat them up.
While the Texans are still putting their team together and have a few pieces left to fill, they clearly have enough to be able to win this division. The Jags are good, but aren't scary. The Colts don't have enough firepower and their defense isn't as good. The Titans are awful. They can't fight their way out of a wet paper bag. If the Texans can hold it together, they can win this division. The Jags are their main competition and they own them. Once this team figures out a few things and add a few pieces, it could be their division for a long time to come. They'll have to keep pace with the changes their division makes, of course, but I like where this is going. You have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you can run. The crawling starts with having a winning season and winning the division for the first time since 2019.