4/9/07 – Don Imus Steps In It – - Or On It…

Don Imus found himself in the middle of the sports news late last week. On his radio program, Imus made some incredibly stupid and insensitive remarks about the women on the Rutgers basketball team that I won’t repeat here. Subsequent to the remarks, he apologized for them and characterized them as “stupid” among other things. At least he actually apologized for what he said/did; he did not issue the weasel-worded apology that is all too familiar today along the lines of he is sorry if anyone took offense at his stupid and utterly offensive remarks.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have been a long time fan of Imus In the Morning. For a period of more than 5 years, I listened to the program for about two hours every morning; in recent years, I listen to about a segment or two every couple of weeks. The humor that I found attractive on that program in the past has diminished significantly and so I changed my listening patterns. Despite my “fandom”, I must say that his comments about the women on the Rutgers basketball team are indefensible; they were not said in any humorous/satirical context; they were not taken out of context; they were just plain outrageous.

More than a few commentators are calling for his head over this matter; some – like Michael Wilbon whom I respect a great deal – say that they do not think his apology is sincere and that he’ll do something like this again in the future. I don’t read minds so I have no idea if his apology is sincere or not; I assert that Michael Wilbon and others who have taken positions that are similar to his have no idea either. Nevertheless, what Don Imus said was off base and hurtful. I don’t know if there is anything in his remarks that might be actionable by the FCC in terms of fines for the companies that put him on the air; if there is such an avenue for action, the FCC should get moving down that path. But the cause of constructive dialog regarding this hateful situation does not move forward on the basis of assertions that can only be correct if those making the assertions have mind reading capabilities.

The interesting irony of this is that Don Imus has said that his goal in interviewing people is to get them to say something that will ruin their lives. I don’t know that this will ruin his life, but it just might…

The MLS season is underway. Depending on whom you listen to or what datum you happen to focus on at any given moment, this is either the dawning of a new era for MLS or it may be the season that sounds the death knell for the league. There are more than a few reports floating around that the NY Red Bulls – even with the sale of their naming rights – lost between $13M and $16M last year. On the other hand, more than half of the teams in MLS will be playing in new “soccer-only stadiums” this year; in addition, three more teams in the league are scheduled to move into their own new stadiums in the next two years. Philip Anschutz – through his corporate entity AEG – used to own/operate six of the franchises in the league; now, they only run three of them and there are independent owners with significant financial resources throughout the league. David Beckham will arrive this year; that’s the good news; But his contract cannot help but drive up the cost of doing business for every franchise in the league; that’s the bad news.

So what is the status and stability of MLS? I’m not sure there is sufficient clarity around all the numbers to make a call here. But the MLS Players Union is already making noises that could indicate that they will be very adversarial the next time collective bargaining negotiations happen. The Union sees the contractual structure of the league as an evil thing; all players’ contracts are with the league and all revenues come into the league such that any financial pain or pleasure is shared amongst the team owners. That structure makes it difficult for the Union to get access to sufficient data to decide if the individual teams and/or the league is making money hand-over-fist or is teetering on the brink of economic disaster. And if the Union decides the league is fat when it is really in financial danger and acts stridently on that erroneous belief, it could spell disaster for the league when negotiations open in 2010. The Union leadership has already said:

“The league … has gotten used to exercising complete control over everything. That’s a big problem for players and something that is going to have to change in the next deal.”

Why am I having flashbacks to the statements made by the NHL Players Association in the two years prior to their work stoppage that canceled a season? Soccer is similar to hockey in one significant way; there is not a broad national fan base for either sport; if there is a “strike/lockout/work stoppage”, the nation will emit a collective yawn and move on to the next item in the news.

Based on a story at ESPN.com, Samson Sor Siriporn enhanced her chances to get a parole from a Thai prison because she won the WBC light flyweight championship from a Japanese woman. Siriporn is in jail in Thailand – at a prison known as the “Bangkok Hilton” – as a convicted drug dealer but the report said that her victory and her status as a world champion “kick-started parole proceedings for her early release.” Here is another sentence from the ESPN.com report that caused me to shake my head and read it twice to be sure I got it right:

“Siriporn’s sparring partners also watched the fight, while transvestites in high heels and skimpy outfits were allowed out of their cells to parade around the ring with placards at the beginning of each round.”

I must confess that I’ve never had the privilege of serving on a parole board anywhere. But can anyone tell me why the fact that Siriporn won this fight “kick-starts her parole proceedings?” Why is she now more worthy of release and the freedom to move about in society than she was the day before her victory in a boxing match?

And what about the transvestites who served as “ring girls”? Shouldn’t they get some kind of reward for their participation in this winning event too? Uh, I guess not.

Speaking about things I do not understand, let me mention Stevie Francis of the NY Knicks. If you recall, the Vancouver Grizzlies took Francis originally but he refused to play in Vancouver and manipulated a trade for himself to Houston. He didn’t exactly lead the Rockets to glory and they traded Francis to the Orlando Magic who subsequently tired of his presence and found a way to unload him – and his outrageous contract – on the New York Knickerbockers. Along the way, he acquired the nickname, “Stevie Franchise.” But given his accomplishments and his teams’ accomplishments throughout his college and professional career, shouldn’t he start to be known as Stevie Franchise-Killer? Just how much more harm would he need to inflict in order to earn that sobriquet?

Finally, David Letterman had this to say on his nightly program recently:

“You know what happened yesterday? Elton John [turned] 60 years old. He celebrated by having his 60th concert at Madison Square Garden. And then he beat the Knicks 102-94.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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