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The tragic tale of Prince Fielder

Credit: Tony Gutierrez via AP

It's strange to write that someone who's made well over $200 million playing a game can be a tragic figure, but that word feels oddly fitting to describe Prince Fielder as his career comes to a sudden end. Fielder announced earlier this week that he was informed by doctors following his second spinal fusion surgery in three seasons that he will no longer be able to play baseball.

The slugger, who was as known for his violent swing and…robust physique as for his production in the batter's box, was one of baseball's most consistently healthy players until neck trouble robbed him of the 2014 season. However, he overcame that first surgery to win 2015's comeback player of the year award and it looked for a time like his career was back on track. Sadly, his numbers began declining after the all-star break last season and he put up some of the worst production in baseball for much of this year. Looking back, it's clear that the brilliant recovery and the hope it generated were merely the final breaths of what very well might have been a hall-of-fame caliber career.

So, when a hurting yet resolute Fielder walked to the podium in Arlington with his two sons, Jadyn and Haven, to formally announce that his time playing the game that he loves has come to a close, it quickly got emotional for everyone involved. Fielder visibly fought back tears as he thanked his teammates, family, and the organizations for whom he's played while those in attendance tried hard to do the same.

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Should military athletes be treated differently?

Credit: Gail Burton via AP

Should military athletes who are good enough to go pro have to fulfill their military service time first? After all, they signed on to attend a military academy with the full knowledge that it would mean a five-year commitment as an active-duty officer upon graduation. However, the Department of Defense recently changed their policy to allow such athletes to enjoy greater flexibility in how they repay that debt.

Previously, such officers were allowed to petition for early release after two years of active duty, serving the final three years as part of the Selective Reserve. The hope was that this leniency would "provide the DoD with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national recruiting or public affairs." For much the same reason, these athletes can now apply to serve in the Selective Reserve from graduation. And while each request is taken on a case-by-case basis, the decision has already made a difference for Keenan Reynolds, the former record-setting Navy QB who is now the Baltimore Ravens newest wide receiver.

Drafted in the sixth round this past April, Reynolds is currently in training camp competing for a spot on the final roster. And while he is grateful for the opportunity to continue his football career and for the support he's received from a number of Baltimore-area veterans, he knows there are some who do not think highly of the special treatment he and other athletes have received. As Reynolds recently told reporters after practice, "I understand how those who have served their commitment feel, and I respect their opinion . . . I know not everyone is going to feel the same way."

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Pete Carroll’s insights on connecting with others

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll watches warm up's before the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle.

Pete Carroll will begin the new NFL season as the oldest coach in the league. His Seattle Seahawks have been the darling of the NFL for the last half-decade, as their unique blend of smash-mouth defense and creative play-calling have vaulted them to the status of perennial conference favorites. Under his tutelage, Russell Wilson has emerged one of the best quarterbacks in the game, known for his blend of agility and accuracy.

When Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants was relieved of his coaching duties after the 2015 season, Carroll became the oldest coach in the NFL. He just signed a contract extension that will keep him in place for the next 4 years, so his shadow will continue to loom large over the Seahawks organization and their prospects for future success.

If you don’t know much about Carroll, he’s known for his unorthodox coaching style. He often brings in motivational speakers to energize his team, from Navy SEALS to pop psychologists. He also adorns team facilities with upbeat messages about the importance of team, hard work, and rising to accept new challenges. People that follow the game often say that teams mirror their coach’s particular style, so it’s no surprise that the Seahawks play with confidence and passion.

What the casual fan may not know about Carroll, though, is that he shares a close bond with General Manager John Schneider. While Carroll was signing his contract extension, Schneider was getting one as well, ensuring that they will work together to continue what they’ve built so far.

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Why we all need grit

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) takes the field before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, in Houston.

In Angela Duckworth’s bestseller Grit, she debunks the myth that talent is what causes people to have success in life. She proposes that instead of talent alone, you need to have a well-honed sense of perseverance in order to get past the myriad challenges that emerge in life. Right now, the major three American sports are all in various stages of relying on grit. We’ll focus on our attention on just two, however—football and baseball. Football players and coaches need grit in order to overcome distractions. Baseball players and coaches need grit in order to overcome fatigue.

In football, both the NCAA and NFL are not far from kicking off their new seasons. This is the dreaded part of the off-season that produces off-the-field headlines. The Dallas Cowboy’s new star running back Ezekiel Elliott has been accused of domestic violence. Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers faces suspension for violations of the league’s drug-testing policy. Added to these concerns, players such as J.J. Watt and Tony Romo are having to answer questions almost daily about their health after recovering from major surgeries.

The college scene is not much different. All of the major conferences are having their respective media days, where coaches and key players interact with local and national media. In the SEC, Alabama coach Nick Saban and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had to spend extra time answering questions about the integrity of their programs. The Big 12 is caught up in figuring out which other schools it wants to include in its new expansion goals. Meanwhile, the ACC signed a long-term television deal with ESPN worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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How the Russian government helped its Olympians cheat

Credit: Andy Wong via AP

The Olympic Games, which start in Brazil roughly three weeks from now, are supposed to be a time where athletes compete to win honor and glory for themselves and, more importantly, for the nations they represent. Unfortunately, the competition has been the last thing on people's minds with Zika concerns and a litany of other problems dominating the headlines in recent months. However, Rio is likely to get a bit of a break for a few days as a new scandal has recently surfaced. An independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found that Russia's "Ministry of Sport directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athlete's analytical results or sample swapping, with the active participation and assistance of the FSB, CSP, and both Moscow and Sochi Laboratories."

Essentially, the Russian government used the FSB—who evolved from the KGB after the fall of the Soviet Union—in conjunction with the national athletic commission to swap tainted, yet supposedly tamper-proof, samples from its athletes with clean ones before, during, and following the Winter Games it hosted in 2014. The FSB was also implicated in claims of intimidation and obstruction of the report's investigators as they attempted to discern the truth regarding allegations brought against Russia by its former anti-doping lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov.

Even prior to the report's conclusion, however, Russia's track and field team had been barred from participating in the upcoming Games because of separate reports of cheating. Now, in the wake of these new revelations, other nations have petitioned the IOC to ban all Russian athletes from this summer's Olympics.

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