Athletes Gone Bad

One of the regular readers of these rants is also a long-time friend. We went to high school together – – back when I had hair on my head and the Huns were at the gates of Rome. This otherwise gentle soul has an intense and visceral dislike for Terrell Owens and has sent me missives in the past none of which had anything flattering to say about T.O. None of those communiqués in the past even came close to the vitriol in last week’s note as reports of the “love triangle” among T.O., Tony Romo and Jason Whitten flew. It was filled with superlatives the most flattering of which included “dumbest”, “worst” and “most heinous”.

He concluded with the assertion that Terrell Owens had to be the athlete who had squandered the most good will that he once enjoyed with his fans. [Trust me; I have sanitized the actual comment to make it presentable for family reading.] And that got me to thinking… It would be way to difficult to name the single athlete who had gone from the highest esteem to the lowest but if I were to develop a pantheon of such folks, who would be in there?

Let me organize it by sport – – and I’ll start with football since my friend’s “Terrell Owens spewing” is what got this started in the first place.

Of course, T.O. is in the pantheon. He has had difficulties with three different QBs now and he has run afoul of three coaches – Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid and Wade Phillips – all of whom have coached teams to the Super Bowl. [I know Phillips was defensive coordinator with the Bills in the early 90s and I believe he was also defensive coordinator for the Broncos in one of their earlier Super Bowl appearances.] Owens’ apparent narcissism is indeed annoying and seemingly boundless.

One of T.O.’s current running buddies, “Pacman” Jones has to go into the pantheon too. Once viewed as an exciting playmaker, “Pacman” seems now to have descended to the level where people expect him to sign with the Raiders on his way down to an unpleasant existence for the rest of his natural life.

Let me not omit OJ Simpson here. Moreover, perhaps we can put OJ’s memorabilia in the pantheon right next to Rae Carruth’s. Carruth is not nearly as famous as Simpson – because he was not nearly as good a football player – but Carruth must be included here for one single act. He hired someone to kill his pregnant girlfriend; he was at the scene of the “hit”; he watched it go down and then left. How swell. In addition, he gets bonus nincompoop points for hiring someone who didn’t actually succeed in killing the pregnant woman allowing her to call the police and file charges.

Lawrence Phillips has to be here too. In addition to a less-than-laudable history of assaulting women and girlfriends, Phillips assaulted some kids playing pick-up football because he participated in a game and did not win. Problem is that he assaulted them with his automobile – – intentionally. Tom Osborne and Dick Vermeil tried to turn this man-child into a functional adult; neither succeeded.

Even though I am not a dog lover and have never owned a dog in my life, Michael Vick is a despicable person. He is in the pantheon.

Don’t forget the magnificent duo of college QBs who had a ton of hype and less than a shred of personal fortitude to go along with the hype – – Art Schlichter and Todd Marinovich. While we are at it, if I put statuettes of these two over to the side of the pantheon, why not put one of Ryan Leaf right there too?

The last person I want to put in the football grouping would be Maurice Clarett who started off his descent from fame and adoration with the filing of a false insurance claim and got caught doing so. His descent continued to the point of showing up at the Denver Broncos training camp with a bottle of vodka as his training aid. He used to live in a dorm room at Ohio State; now he has a room at the Ohio State Pen. I do not remember what he is in there for, but as I recall carrying a concealed weapon was part of the deal.

I will leave Plaxico Burress out of the pantheon for now – – only to pay a modicum of deference to the concept of due process in the legal system. However, this pantheon is not part of the US legal system and Plaxico can be added at any time should he decide to do something socially offensive like start to go on a PR tour of the morning TV talk shows or schedule an interview with Barbara Walters.

I will also leave out Brett Favre – although I will nominate him for Diva of the Decade if anyone will second that motion. Also on the doorstep but not allowed in are Nate Newton (not famous enough in the first place), Joe Namath (merely a pathetic sot and not an evil person), Ricky Williams (more of a flake than a miscreant) and the duo of Ben Roethlisberger and Kellen Winslow II (who were obviously auditioning for roles in the sequel to the movie Wild Hogs.)

Moving over to baseball, I will restrict myself to recent ne’er-do-wells and not try to dredge up memories of bad folks from the past such as Ty Cobb. Suffice it to say that Cobb was not a wonderful human being and one of his many lowlife achievements was to go into the stands to assault a heckler – – who was handicapped and only had one hand. There are plenty of “modern day” baseball players to populate the pantheon.

How about Roger Clemens and his fall from grace? Not only is he implicated in the steroid controversy, he explained away some of the “evidence against him” by saying it was his wife that was on ‘roids. Then came the Mindy McCready mess. Anyone want to invite Roger to speak at a local high school commencement any time soon?

Barry Bonds is in my pantheon for a couple of reasons. The most important reason is that I am the one who makes the decision regarding who is in and who is out. The second most important reason is that I personally believe that Barry Bonds has been a steroid user and that his use of those substances has caused him to break a bunch of records he would not have broken without them.

Now, since I am thinking about steroids, let me make room for Rafael Palmiero in the pantheon for his finger waving denial to the Congress that he had ever used steroids. As Big Daddy Pollitt says in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,

“There is a whole lot of mendacity out there.”

I need to make room for John Rocker in here. Even though he has a guaranteed right to say the things he said about Mets’ fans, it is so incredibly low-rent to say them that he belongs in this pantheon.

Denny McLain has to have a prominent place in the pantheon. He was the last 30-game winner in MLB back in the late 60s; his career took a detour when it was reported that he and a friend had been part of setting up a bookmaking operation. Post-baseball he has been in and out of jail for things like racketeering, drugs and embezzlement.

Pete Rose is in the pantheon. Anyone who saw Charlie Hustle play baseball from about 1965 to 1985 had to appreciate his grit and his fire and his ability to hit a baseball. Since that time, Pete Rose’s life has not only circled the drain, it has become covered in the sludge at the bottom of the septic tank. If you want an example of “penthouse-to-outhouse” go read a good biography of Peter Edward Rose.

Over to the side of the baseball cluster, we need a separate grouping to commemorate the drug users – not steroids – who squandered talent and myriad chances for rehabilitation. No one could possibly argue that Steve Howe, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry belong side by side by side there.

Donnie Moore would not have been in the pantheon if all he had done were to commit suicide because he never got over blowing the final game of the ALCS against Boston in the mid-80s. However, Moore in the process of killing himself also shot his wife – who survived the incident – and did all of this in the presence of his teenage kids. Enjoy your stay here in the pantheon, Mr. Moore.

On the doorstep but not allowed inside would be Steve Garvey (philandering is not admirable but not nearly as bad as murder/suicide for example) and Steve Carlton (buying into weird world domination conspiracy theories isn’t good but since he’s a hermit that makes him harmless),

In basketball, I have to set a place for Latrell Sprewell. He choked out his coach – who may or may not be a royal pain in the ass but that does not justify the choking – and then haughtily dismissed a contract offer of $7M a year saying he could not feed his family on that. Since turning down that contract, he has had a boat repossessed, defaulted on a mortgage and has at least one tax lien going for him. Good thing I’m not charging rent on the space in the pantheon; Sprewell probably cannot afford to pay and that might make him choke me out.

Josh Howard will also have a prominent display area. Let me see; Howard admitted to using illegal drugs on a radio show, defied his coach’s order not to go partying during a playoff series that the Mavericks ultimately lost and then disrespected the national anthem. That is behavior that might lead some to believe that Josh Howard is really “The Fourth Stooge”.

Jayson Williams also has to be present here. Even in the most positive light of all, what happened was that he was having a party at his house and was then “playing around” with a shotgun that went off and killed his limo driver. Allegedly, Williams and others there then set about trying to destroy evidence and cover up the circumstances that surrounded the shooting. Nice…

Maybe I need an “Isiah Island” here to make a space for Isiah Thomas and Isiah (JR) Rider. Thomas has been a failure at every venture he has been involved in since retiring as a player; Rider has been accused of domestic violence, kidnapping, drug use and evading arrest amongst other things that I could probably find if I went looking and was not doing this from memory.

Dave Bliss was so heinous in his behavior that he will be the only basketball coach I permit in the pantheon. When one of his players was killed by another of his players, Bliss set out to get his assistants and the rest of the team to paint the dead player as a drug dealer and the shooting as being drug related. He is an evil human being.

On the cusp of getting in – but not quite making it – are Kobe Bryant (see comment on Steve Garvey above), Wilt Chamberlain (sexual promiscuity is not admirable but it is also not heinous), Len Bias (more of a tragic figure than a bad guy) and Billy Packer (who started out as a very good basketball commentator and became an pimple on the ass of basketball viewers every March).

In the “other sports” category, I probably need not explain to you why John Daly, Mike Tyson and Tonya Harding will have places to call their own in the pantheon.

But all this started with that note I got which said in part that Terrell Owens was “the dumbest” player on the planet [phraseology cleaned up once again for family consumption]. I do not think that is right; I do not even think he is the dumbest football player out there. Recall an incident when Gus Frerotte scored a TD for the Redskins and then head-butted a concrete wall, sprained his neck and had to go to the hospital instead of finishing the game. Head butting a concrete wall is dumb anywhere in this universe – – and the next one too.

Finally, I will let an item from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle explain why Marion Jones – and the other track stars like her – belong in the pantheon:

“Marion Jones didn’t know there was something fishy in the “flaxseed oil” coach Trevor Graham gave her? That’s like Bonnie saying she thought Clyde was using his ATM card to make all those bank withdrawals.”

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

Time For The Olympics To Go Away

When I was a kid, I read about the Olympics in the sports sections of the local papers. The first ones I remember on TV were from Rome; I think that was 1960. I eagerly watched some of the events like swimming and track and field even though the pictures were less than clear. The Olympics were a big deal to me; I liked them and I looked forward to them and I watched and followed many of the events that led up to the selection processes for the US team in the major sports.

Those days are gone, long gone. And I don’t see any way that they will be coming back in whatever time I have left on the planet. The Olympics are no longer fresh. Maybe the best thing that can happen is to put them on a hiatus for about another century and then try to start over when these memories have faded.

What is wrong? Lots of stuff is wrong. And in no particular order, here are a few of them.

First of all, the Olympics have added sports and competitions that are just stupid. Remember the motto of “Faster, Higher, Longer”? Now think about ballroom dancing and synchronized diving and trampoline tumbling and rhythmic gymnastics and all that crap. These events do not belong in the Olympics and need to be exorcized. Here is a first cut that the Olympic gurus can make if they care:

    If the sport requires background music as an integral part of the competition, then it is not a sport. Get rid of it. That applies to the Winter Games too which are even more densely packed with stupid events than the Summer Games.

Secondly, emphasis needs to be placed on events where the winner is objectively determined. It is not a mystery whose javelin went the farthest; it is not a mystery which wrestler accumulated the greatest number of points in a bout; it is not a mystery whose score in a shooting competition is the highest. But if you have to have a panel of judges make subjective judgments about form and style and then you average the scores and multiply by a degree of difficulty except when someone in the 3rd row of the stands emits projectile vomit onto the venue floor, then this is not a sport and you should get rid of it. Notice that boxing falls into this category.

Next, lots of people argue that the end of the Cold War has diminished the Olympics and the Olympic Committees need only to find some new important thing to build the Games around. Really; the diminished threat of planetary nuclear destruction is what reduced the stature of the Olympics? Then I guess the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and the subsequent 1984 games in Los Angeles must have been the pinnacle of the “Olympic Movement” (which by the way can probably be cured by a large dose of Immodium AD). The Games in 80 and 84 were both key elements in the foreign policies of both of the super powers that engaged in the Cold War. This kind of analysis is just plain silly and it attaches a level of importance and stature to games that is horribly inappropriate.

In addition, the Olympic athletes are no longer interesting. They are just a bunch of self-absorbed egomaniacal twits who spend their lives training when they are not preening. There is no longer even the pretense of “amateurism”. Remember in those “good old Cold War days” when people could and would wax philosophical about all that nonsense. Who cares if they are amateurs? Who cares if they are professionals? What I care about is that they perform and then either take the accolades for success with equal measures of jubilation and modesty or hit the road and keep quiet in the case of failure. But what no one needs to worry about is what the next level of self-indulgent display may be from these folks. Trust me on this, you don’t need to hear much of anything from any of them as is proven conclusively every time someone sticks a microphone in any of their faces. The only thing they know in depth is running or lifting or whatever. Now, just how long will it take you to plumb the depths of your interest to hear about the cosmological implications of lifting weights?

Add to all the above the issue of drugs. Moralists see the Olympics as a metaphor in the struggle against drugs. Politicians see this as a way to align themselves with all that is good and proper. The fact is that athletes have been using drugs for years and it ain’t gonna stop. Testing for real performance enhancers is costly and difficult so we emphasize testing for cold medicines and caffeine. Just look at the people walking down the street drinking something from Starbucks. Does that make them an athlete capable of great feats? But you can be DQ’ed from the Olympics for a double espresso. The drug question is ongoing and not going to stop because we’ve allowed it to dominate news coverage. But we don’t demand that there be sanity in any of the policies or the reporting and so it just becomes annoying and insulting to our intelligence.

Some people get caught up in the high falutin’ self-importance of the Olympics and assert that this whole drug testing business and the drug usage “scandals” are some kind of class warfare. Athletes from rich countries or ones with rich sponsors get to use the “big time drugs” but athletes from the small and poor countries are deprived. The playing field is uneven. Balderdash! Just remember the plight of the Jamaican bobsled team. It had nothing to do with rich or poor or anything other than latitude and altitude in Jamaica. Latitude and altitude – not economics or ethnic origins – conspire to make snow a rarity in Jamaica! If you want to find injustice, you can root around in anything and find a shred of something that you can use as the shaky foundation of some nonsensical thesis. This is not about class warfare.

There are people in the US who are in the business of setting America on the right course and eliminating the scourge of drugs from our society. Good luck to them. But they use the Olympics as a way to get their mugs on TV and they do that in the time-honored way of doing/saying something that is sufficiently outrageous as to be newsworthy. (Definition of “newsworthy”: a TV camera and mike are present and it goes on the 11 o’clock news to fill time.) This go-round it was General Barry McCaffrey and Donna Shalala who were out front and beating the drums about the evils of drugs and how they would be detected in these Olympics if anyone even thought about cheating. The rest of the world rightfully takes offense at all this preening – just like the preening of some of the athletes, by the way – and looks askance at the US drug testing protocols which are done anonymously for privacy reasons. And so when they have a chance, they take pleasure in poking their fingers in the eyes of these “public posers”. Why do you think CJ Hunter’s test results got leaked? He was not even an athlete in these games. It was just a way of telling the pompous and self-pumpulated spokesgoons in the US to shut up already about the drug evil.

Want to know one of the major steps that is heralded by the IOC as a reform measure aimed as reducing drug usage? They are putting athletes on the executive board of the IOC and that is the key to this reform measure. Not a chance that you have the fox watching the henhouse here, right? These athletes might not be bribed to tell what the new testing will be and how/when it will happen, would they? If not on the first day, they will learn the benefits of bribery from rubbing elbows with the other IOC moguls pretty quickly. These athletes may not be well mannered, but they are not too stupid to recognize a way to get an advantage.

Next, there is the TV coverage. First of all, there is far too much of it and that is mandated by the billions of dollars that NBC shelled out to have the rights to all the games until whenever. In order to come even close to breaking even, NBC has to do several things. It has to put multiple hundreds of hours on TV and cable TV to be able to fit in enough commercials to generate big time revenues. And they need to reach out for viewers beyond sports fans – like me – because we won’t watch some of the stuff they put on the air just because they say it is a sport. I’d rather listen to a Bach fugue farted in harmony by two monkeys than watch team dressage; you’d have to shackle me to the TV and prop my eyes open to get me to watch over half the events. So NBC reaches out to women and to people who appreciate the “softer aspects of sporting events.”

How do they get these viewers? They get them with stupid events (these viewers love women’s gymnastics or “the Pixies” as they are called); they get them with the “up close and personal and in depth stories” about each athlete and the hardships that befell them on their quest to get here. There are way too many of these sob stories and way too many that are concocted. Every life does not have poignancy in it; every problem encountered by an athlete is not the result of a malevolent universe. Muffy Lardbottom did not have great burdens to overcome on her way to the equestrian team unless she had an accident that broke a minimum of 15 bones in her body at one time. Athlete’s foot is not a disaster; being born without any feet is a disaster. Halitosis is not a burden; asthma is a burden to be overcome; not breathing at all is a real problem.

So NBC loses sports fans with the “soft side” and then loses the other viewers when it puts on things like basketball or ice hockey or pole vaulting or things like that. And here is a little factoid that seems to have escaped many of the people who have yearned for more involvement on the part of the public when it comes to these noble games. Back in the 60s and 70s and 80s, there was little if any choice in what to watch. The summer Olympics went up against Ozzie and Harriet re-runs or The Ed Sullivan Show. Now viewership is fragmented because of the various outlets. You have cable channels that are devoted 24 hours a day to all manner of pastimes from shopping to golf to jock-itch. So with those choices, why stay and watch the Olympic silliness?

Finally, we can deal with the wonderful people that run the Olympics and the international governing bodies of the sports themselves. The IOC folks are clearly open to bribes – and don’t think that lots of those folks will be happy to stick it to the USOC specifically for letting that little secret come out into the open. They condone cheating as evidenced by the written records of the East German Olympic Committee who knowingly put men into women’s events. They posture themselves as wretchedly as our politicians do or as egotistically as many athletes do. The gymnastics overseers had four years to get the height of the vaulting horse right in the Sydney Olympics and they blew it. Then just like a modern politician, they accepted responsibility by declaring so and then moved on to the next event. You want to point your kids to a role model? How much bourbon do I have to pour in you until you come to Juan Antonio Samaranch on your list of people to consider? If you want to try this experiment, can you wait until I go and buy stock in the Jack Daniels distillery?

So let me get to the bottom line here. The games have been turned into a medley of events where most of the events don’t belong there in the first place; the athletes are merely a bunch of self-indulgent employees of some sponsor; the people organizing the games are about as noble as gun-runners; the television coverage is overdone and cloyingly sweet and pseudo-poignant. And they wonder why the TV ratings were lower this year when these events were on an 18 hour tape delay than they were in Atlanta when they were live. If you can’t see why, then you are suffering from rectal blindness.

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

Shut Down The Olympics

Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to shut down the Olympics. I’m not talking about anything that is partial or temporizing. I men it is time to cancel, negate, nullify, stop, cease and desist any, all, each and every activity that has to do with the Olympics. And the time to do it is now.

They were shut down for a couple thousand years and civilization managed to march forward somehow. Then the Olympics were resuscitated and civilization continued to move forward. No big difference here. Therefore, since the Olympics have become nothing more than a scandal ridden set of events run by a bunch of preening snobs whose only interest is self-interest, I say it is time to call another halt in the Olympics for another 2000 years.

I’m doing most of this from memory because – frankly – it is not worth the time and trouble it would take to go and look up all the recent articles on Olympics shenanigans and cheating and wastes of time and money. So there could be a name wrong in here or a date or something like that, but the idea here is to look at the overview. And the overview is that the Olympics are a giant mess of a scandal that costs billions of dollars to put on and provides nothing useful in return. So get rid of it entirely.

What are the Olympics good for? The glorification of amateur athletics? Spare me! There hasn’t been an amateur athlete competing in the Olympics since the 20s – and I may be very generous in calling those athletes in the 1920s “amateurs”.

Are the games good for international good will? Horse hockey!! In 1972 we had athletes murdered in the Olympic village. In 1980, the US would not send a team to Moscow to protest a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan – which continued to go on until 1989 so you can see how effective that boycott was. In 1984, the Soviets refused to send a team to Los Angeles to protest something the US did in terms of its foreign policy that they did not like. (It may have been our support for the Contras in Nicaragua; I don’t remember; I’m not a historian.) Since the Soviet Union does not even exist any more, you can see how effective their protest was and how useful the Olympic games are in terms of bringing the family of nations together.

Many of the events are rigged. Please don’t tell me that you believe that the skating scandal of last year was the first time that the outcome of an Olympic event had been pre-cooked. Far too many of the events are not sports; they are athletic exhibitions where the subjective opinions of people who represent national organizations vote on who should win. Let me be clear about this. These judges and representatives of national sporting organizations have a cushy job and the thing that they want to assure more is that they continue to be in a position of influence. The “integrity of the competition” is so far down on their list of personal priorities that it is in danger of falling below “rearrange my sock drawer”.

In the events that aren’t rigged – and in some of them that are rigged too – lots of the athletes are juiced. And the reason they are juiced is that they see it as a way to get an edge in the competition; that is the way they put it. Where I grew up, it was referred to as cheating.

The Olympics will spend somewhere in the vicinity of $1B (yes, that is one billion dollars) for security at the games in Athens. Why is that a good idea? If these games are so dangerous and are such a magnet for kooks and terrorists, why not just stop doing them? Even with that kind of expenditure, the US State Department is not certain that the Greek government has the will or the resources to provide a secure environment for the games. Remember, the State Department is in the business of never saying bad things about anyone and so this kind of negativism from them equates to someone else saying that the security at the next Olympics game will be as impenetrable as a screen door. The US State Department is providing the Greek government with “policy workshops” and “security training”. Nothing like a good “policy workshop” to put the fear of The Almighty into some kooks/terroists.

Remember, some folks will still cash $1B in checks for all of that. And that money comes out of your pockets because it is the US TV contract and the advertising on US TV that fuels all of this. Cancel the NBC contract for televising Olympic games and the IOC might be able to hold a ping-pong tournament in a low cost of living area of the world such as Mali. They probably have enough money left in “savings” that have not been paid out to consultants and officials and international conferences to afford hotel space in Bamako.

The people who monitor the games and seek to keep up the façade that they are trying to keep the games “honest” are so mired in processes that they make themselves look dumb. They need no one else’s assistance. According to a Washington Post story about a month ago, the IOC has just now begun to hold disciplinary proceedings against US Olympian, Jerome Young, for a positive drug test that they had on him in 1999. It has taken 4 years to get here; that is something that should take 4 weeks. Forget about all the “explanations” and all the justification that procedures need to be followed for the protection of the athletes and the games and all that crap. If it takes 4 years to figure out what to do about an athlete who failed a drug test, what is the incentive for athletes not to use the “banned substances”?

What you have is a bunch of people – organizers and sports federation officials – who are living a luxurious life off your money without doing anything that gives anything back to you. To a lesser extent, so are the athletes. Remember, your taxes fund the USOC and the training center and somehow provide enough support to athletes that they find a way to “acquire” some of these banned substances.

It’s time to call a halt to all of this and just pull the plug. The patient looks healthy, but he is rotting inside. If you want to see some good sporting events, just hold some world championships and let all the athletes come as drugged up as they want and you’ll get to see new records in track and field and gymnasts doing push-ups with their tongues. At least there would be no patina of propriety here; you could announce from the outset that these would be the real world championships and that the Olympics would be for the wusses who want to pretend to follow rules – but don’t really.

And to all of those people who moan that the poor athletes will destroy their bodies with all these drugs and steroids, I say, “So What?” Take out the nationalistic nonsense and they will be choosing to take those things; no one will force them. They are adults; adults make choices; choices have consequences.

The US Congress is considering several bills dealing with the restructuring of the USOC based on all the scandals and thievery that went on there. I’ll bet that none of those guys will come up with the solution of just shutting the whole thing down. Could it be that they have some vested interest in these games too? Makes you stop and think…

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

Nostalgic Football

About a month ago, my long-suffering wife was on a business trip to Europe and I decided to spend an evening at the local high school football game. My #1 son played football at the school and we used to attend all of his games, but I had only gone sporadically since he graduated. I had a really good time at the game and when I saw the coach after the game; he recognized me and we exchanged very brief pleasantries.

Later, on another evening with nothing better to do, I went to one more game. The season is over now since the high school football season here in Northern Virginia ends relatively early except for a series of playoff games to determine various flavors of state champions. Once again, I had a really good time. And that got me to feeling nostalgic about attending high school football games and it started me thinking about why I enjoy high school football.

Obviously, the caliber of play and the athletic talents on display cannot come close to matching Division 1-A college football or Arena Football or the NFL. No one with a shred of analytical skills and a pretense of candor would even try to make that case. But as a spectator, the games are great fun and represent one of the great entertainment values in the community. But as I got to thinking about why that was the case, I came to some realizations about high school sports in general. Here are the results of my ruminations…

By definition, a local high school football game gives you an immediate reason to associate with a team. Call it a “tribal bonding” or a “roots experience” or some other feelgood phrase if you must, but that local high school is part of where you live. Maybe you went to that school; maybe your kids went there, or maybe they are still going there, or perhaps some will go there in a few years; in any case, that school has a connection to you simply on a geographical basis. There is a bond there. That’s why homecoming is a big deal for colleges; alums come from far away to rekindle the bond with the school they went to. When I go to a football game at a local college, I feel exactly nothing in terms of “bonding” or “connectedness”; both of my alma maters are 150 miles from here; these local colleges stir no visceral feelings in me. Pro teams give me none of those feelings either; I can root for one team over another one; but in the end, I know these are mercenaries and little else.

But for high school football, there is a feeling of intimacy in terms of a relationship between you and the institution and/or the team. That is one part of the experience from which I derive pleasure.

Here’s something else that makes me enjoy high school football. It’s the players themselves. Maybe some of them act like prima donnas in school and strut around as BMOCs, but to the fans, these are not like many of the “preening schmoes” in the professional ranks. And none of them would even dare score a TD and strike the “Heisman pose” in the end zone. These players go out and play football and that’s about it. None of them leaves school after their sophomore year to go and make money as a football player; praise to the Heavens, not a one of them has an agent or publicist. They play football because they like it and because they are good enough at it to make the local team.

And the players play hard because they have something to play for that seems to have gotten “very lost” at the top rung of NCAA football and at the NFL level. These guys are playing to win because if they win then they have pride in their accomplishments and can revel in the adulation of others. That pride and the adulation of others are sufficient for them; they need not try for global exposure. Maybe they can even derive some “bragging rights” from some of their victories if the victories come at the expense of a neighboring high school where players on both teams know each other in settings other than across a line of scrimmage. Such situations happen most infrequently at higher levels of football.

Just an aside here, but the bands that perform at high school games are also enjoyable for the same reasons. Forget their musical genius – most high school bands have little if any at all – the kids are out there performing for the same reason the players are out there playing. Pride and a feeling of accomplishment is what the band members derive from their participation – and no one leaves the band at the end of their sophomore year either to go to Julliard… So even with those few trumpet blares that are two notes off and which stand out like a prune in a sugar bowl, it’s fun to watch and listen to the bands.

The fact that there are bands at the games also means that there are no “deejays” in the stadium playing loud music that I really don’t want to hear nor are they shouting into the PA microphone trying to make a clever remark. Only in the rarest of circumstances are any such remarks made in the arenas and stadiums of higher levels of athletics even remotely clever. But that does not dissuade these loudmouths from continuously demonstrating their lack of creativity and comedic talent. May perennial laryngitis befall each and every one of those folks starting this moment!

The fans at a high school football game are fun too – except for the occasional parent whose ego needs to be stroked by the accomplishments of his/her kid. Yes, those people are officious jerks and most of them could use a quart of prune juice so that they’d be “otherwise occupied” for the second half of games, but it is very possible to ignore them and enjoy the others at the game who are there to cheer and sigh and have a good time. Go to an NFL game in a “state-of-the-art” stadium and you won’t have fan experiences like that. In fact, you’ll find some fans who aren’t even at the game to see the game; they are there to “be seen” at the game because such “sighting” anoints them as one of the privileged folk who has access to tickets. Those people are even more officious jerks than the high school parent who is living life vicariously through his/her kid.

How do you avoid these officious jerks at a high school game? It’s trivially simple. You move to another seat. You can do that because there are no reserved seats or special sections or PSLs or Club Levels. You pay your money and you go and sit wherever the hell you damned well please. If the people around you annoy you, you can just get up and go sit somewhere else. Is that great, or what? If you feel like it, you can be like Greta Garbo and go sit somewhere where you will be left alone.

Now let me tell you why all of this adds up to an evening of enjoyment that qualifies as the top entertainment value in my community. For a game, a ticket costs five dollars; a hot dog and a soda and a bag of chips gets me back change from another five; and parking is – hold your breath here – free. Try to get into a Division 1-A college game for that kind of price or park free a short walk from the gate. Yeah, that’ll happen sometime this year. In this part of the world, we suffer under the pro football ownership of Danny Boy Snyder who has connived with the local politicians to assure that no one can park conveniently at a Redskins’ game for less than a monthly mortgage payment over the course of a season.

I remember seeing a movie in my younger days – yes, it was a “talkie” and it was even in color! – called Support Your Local Sheriff. I think it’s a good idea to support your local high school sporting endeavors. I hadn’t been doing that often enough, but I’ll increase the frequency of my attendance in the future.

Now, before I get any snarky notes from people saying that curmudgeons are not allowed to be sappy in their commentaries, I merely want to say that I felt a moment of nostalgia at these games as I reflected on watching my son play football and on my attendance at high school football games when I was of that certain age. And if you don’t think that nostalgia is appropriate for curmudgeons either, then let me simply point out to you that nostalgia is not what it used to be…

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

Once In A Lifetime – – At Least

This missive is intended for fans of NCAA basketball.  If you are a sports fan in general and kinda like college hoops, this is for you too.  If you just hate basketball because of the noise of squeaking shoes on hardwood courts, you can stop reading now because none of this will interest you – not even a little bit.

You’ve probably heard about people who make “life lists” comprised of things they want to be sure to do in their lifetime.  Often, these lists contain adventurous items such as “climb Mt. Everest” or “be the first paleontologist on Mars”.  [That second one actually was once a goal for  #1 son.]  Sometimes there are noble entries on a life list list such as “curing hunger in the Third World”.  I’m sure that some of these life lists contain fantasy items such as “break Wilt Chamberlain’s putative record for sexual partners”.  I have one for all NCAA basketball fans to add to their “life lists” – if you don’t have such a life list at the moment, start one – that falls into the purely hedonistic realm:

  • Go to Las Vegas; park your carcass in one of the top tier sports books, and watch the first two rounds of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  That’s a four-day commitment to enjoyment.

Trust me on this; if you love NCAA basketball, this is something you have to do at least once while you take up space on this planet.

Picture this.  You are in a room with enough big screen TVs to make you think you are in Circuit City.  There are at least several hundred people there with you.  Everyone there is a basketball fan and everyone there has not only a “fan interest” in the games but also a “financial interest” in some of the games.  Every game is telecast in its entirety.

On each of the first two days of the tournament, there are sixteen games you can watch in an environment where every action in a game draws a reaction in the room.  Several years ago, I had ceased to pay attention to one game because the outcome was no longer in doubt and I had no wager riding on the game.  I don’t even remember what game it was now.  All of a sudden, the noise level in the room went berserk; there were people cheering and people booing; there were cheers of joy and woe all at the same time.  It involved the game I had chosen to ignore.

What happened?  One team was leading by 12 with 4 seconds to play; the team that was behind substituted all of its players so that the bench scrubeenies could all say that they had played in an NCAA tournament game; the ball went inbounds and one of these scrubeenies launched a 30 foot shot that went swish; they lost the game by 9 points.  That was the loudest cheer of the day to that point because the betting line for the game was 9.5 points.  People who had the favorite just lost what looked to be a sure winner and people with the underdog just got the Las Vegas version of “found money”.  I had to ask someone what had happened and then watch the replay to get the flavor of what happened.  The atmosphere in the room is electric and you have to pay attention all the time.

The next two days will seem tame because there will only be 8 games per day.  After trying to track 16 games on Thursday and Friday, Saturday will seem like a walk in the park – – at first.  But I promise that the adrenaline will kick in on Saturday and Sunday as it did on the opening days.

There is also a lot of opportunity to make some easy money there.  No, beating the books is not easy on that weekend; they are in no danger of going bankrupt because of my profits.  The easy money comes from other visitors who come to Vegas to party and carouse and watch their favorite school in the tournament.  It is the basketball equivalent of a trip to a “bowl game”.  Lots of these folks are willing to make wagers with you on the side that are guided by their hearts and their glands and not their brains.  I was sitting near a guy from a school that was a 12-seed in the tournament and he was just positive they would clobber the 5-seed in the first round.  Vegas had it wrong; they were giving the 12-seed 8 points but Harry Huckleberry was convinced the 12-seed would win the game outright.  I asked him if he had played the money line on the game but he said there was no money line on that game but he would be willing to bet me $50 at even money that “12-seed Tech” would beat “5-seed A&M” straight up.  I really wished his name had been Paine Webber because I really wanted to say, “Thank you, Paine Webber.” when he made the bet and then paid up after his team lost by 15 points.

I will be venturing to Las Vegas next week – with the usual suspects of course – to check out the first four days of the tournament once again.  After forty-eight games in four days in that kind of environment and I will come home in a state of sensory overload.  [Did I mention that you can bet horse races at the same time and in the same venues?  And of course the NBA and NHL are still playing at that time of year too…]  If I did something like that once a month, I’d be carried out of there one of those days by the men with the canvass sports jackets.  You know the ones I mean.  They have really long sleeves and the sleeves tie in the back.

  • But everyone who is a basketball fan needs to do it once – and if you are really a junkie, you need to do it once in a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Dave Bliss Self-Destructs

The most important thing that you have to keep in mind here is that a young man, Patrick Dennehy, is dead. Since the official autopsy says he was shot twice in the head, it is reasonable to assume that he did not die of natural causes or some horrible accident. Whether Patrick Dennehy was a saint or a demon is unimportant at this time; he was a young man, and he is dead, and his death almost assuredly came at the hands of some other person. All of that is tragic; we can and ought to be sorry it happened. Now as for the rest of the hominids who are involved in this situation, I’m looking for a hero and I can’t find one. I suspect that all of them are about to reveal themselves as sorry excuses for bipeds.

I’ll withhold final judgment on Carleton Dodson – Dennehy’s teammate who is the prime suspect as the murderer at the moment – and Dodson’s estranged girlfriend/wife/significant other/insignificant other. It appears at this time as though the judicial system in the US will expose for us the fundamental goodness or absence of goodness in these folks; we can make the final judgment then. But at the moment, I will say confidently that neither of them would be high on my list of babysitters to phone if my children were still of the age where they needed babysitters.

I’ll withhold final judgment on Dennehy’s former girlfriend. In a trial situation, she too will probably be held up for sufficient examination for us to make a final decision. At the moment, I’m predisposed not to like her a lot because of her comments after the autopsy. There were no drugs found in Dennehy’s body at the time of his death; and when that was revealed, the girlfriend felt that it was vitally important for her to issue a statement saying that she was not surprised by this result. Excuse me, but your boyfriend is dead – probably murdered – and no one asked you if you were surprised or not. In fact, I’ll wager that all but a handful of the entirety of the human population on the planet do not give a damn about whether or not you were surprised. Until you are required to say something about all of this – and that will likely be under oath – please spare us the need to hear any words from your font of wisdom. By the way, if you’re so damned smart and omniscient, how come you did not warn him away from this tragic situation?

I’m no longer withholding judgment on Dennehy’s stepfather. Sir, I understand that you are shaken by this loss and that you bear a huge burden of grief. That’s why I’ll not choose to skewer you for your words – or even for your motives. But I do not think that it is critical for you to be holding press conferences or going on ESPN’s Outside the Lines or giving interviews to anyone at this point. This is about the death of your stepson and not about you or what you think about anything. Now if you can produce incontrovertible proof as to the identity or identities of the killer(s) of your stepson, by all means take it to the authorities and tell the world about it. [By the way, if you can do that, you might want to call up OJ Simpson and offer him your services; he’s out trying to do the same thing, you know.] Until and unless you have something of that magnitude to tell the world, please go and grieve privately. We’ve heard your expressions of feelings and emotions and your perceptions of what happened. We don’t need to hear anymore. You are unlikely to garner any lasting fame or notoriety from all of this – unless you are the killer…

I will not reserve any judgment on Dave Bliss. I have to admit that I never thought that I would be alive long enough to say that Jerry Tarkanian needs to haul his ass out of the bull’s eye that is reserved for the lightening bolt that I want to hit the all of the sleazy coaches in collegiate athletics. Until last weekend, Tark had been in that spot so long that I thought his feet would have taken root in the bull’s eye. Tark is antediluvian pond slime; Dave Bliss would need about a billion years to evolve up the biological ladder to reach that lofty status.

I said in one of my daily rants that Bliss had been skating on the edge of NCAA rules and regulations in previous stops – particularly at SMU. In the aftermath of this tragedy as questions are raised about NCAA violations in his program, Dave Bliss sets a course to defame the memory of the kid he recruited with the sole purpose of covering up his witting accession to a scheme to get Patrick Dennehy on scholarship at Baylor in a “less than traditional way.” He was willing not only to speak evil of the dead but also to speak falsely of the dead; his motive was to save his sorry ass. For that he was fired. For that, I think he got off easy. I think he ought to be made to serve the rest of his days as a live model in a proctology school. And just to assure that he might not come to enjoy it too much, students should have the option at all times to use a cattle prod instead of the “silver stallion” that is routinely stored in the freezer.

If you read these rants, you have to realize that I think Dr. Myles Brand is as useful as a glass hammer. But everything is relative and I will be happy to testify that Dr. Brand is saint walking among us compared to Dave Bliss. I am now calling on Dr. Brand to use this event as a wedge to create an NCAA rule – consistent with US laws of course – that will bar Dave Bliss from ever working with any school of higher learning in any capacity related to coaching or athletics. And that rule should be expanded to cover other coaching offenses that are necessarily far less egregious than Bliss’. If anything good is to come of this barbarous behavior, maybe it will be in the realm where coaches will be accountable with their careers for outrageous behaviors. Come on, Dr. Brand. You said that it was time for the university presidents [You were one, remember!] to take control of these rogue athletic programs. Here is something that makes a normal run-of-the-mill rogue athletic program look like a complaint against someone for not curbing their dog. Do something – anything!

However, I think there is a special ring of Hell reserved for the assistant coach at Baylor who surreptitiously recorded all of the meetings and comments of Dave Bliss and then found a way to get them to at least one major Texas newspaper. Now hear this!!! Nothing that follows here is intended to exonerate Dave Bliss; he is a monstrous example of a coach and mentor of young men; he deserves the painful and longstanding punishment I suggested above. But this assistant coach – who is sufficiently unknown that I will not add to his “fame” by calling his name here – is a truly contemptible life form. Don’t be surprised if other media outlets try to lionize him and make him out to be the hero in this; they tend not to think beyond the first level of any incident.

Assistant Coach Whomever is credited with having these tape recorded records of Bliss’ meetings with his staff where Bliss suggests that they paint Dennehy as a drug dealer so that the NCAA won’t find out that Dennehy was having his tuition paid for in a “less than orthodox manner”. And then there was to be stonewalling and deflection of the investigation on other fronts. Interviews with the authorities were to be “scripted” for coaches and players. This is all horrible. I don’t recall anything done or said by Richard Nixon that was as crass as this; granted the stakes were higher and the standards ought to have been higher for Nixon, but Bliss’ remarks are off the charts. To try to conjure up something so far off base, I can only imagine what would be on the tape recordings if we had them from Adolf Hitler’s staff meetings.

But before you give Assistant Coach Whomever a pass, please ask yourself why he thought it necessary to covertly record all of these meetings of the coaching staff. [Please note that I am assuming that they are genuine and not something forged after the fact.] I can think of three reasons and none of them make Assistant Coach Whomever into a person worthy of protection under the umbrella of “human rights”.

    He was out to cover his ass for his involvement in a series of less than honorable and clearly improper actions that led to the death of Patrick Dennehy. Translation: He was ready to demonstrate his concept of teamwork by having the goods on anyone and everyone else in the room so that he could save his ass if this ever came to a head.

    He knew that all of this would blow up and he wanted to look like the good guy in the bunch so that he could get another job in a Division 1 basketball program. Translation: I’ll get mine; everyone else can worry about getting theirs after I get mine.

    He was out to “get” Dave Bliss. Translation: For better or worse, Dave Bliss is the guy who hired him and instead of resigning and leaving the program to fend for itself, Assistant Coach Whomever wanted a way to get the goods on his boss.

It is unlikely that Assistant Coach Whomever will be banned from coaching in the NCAA ever again; in fact, he might actually be able to pull off his grandstand play to try to make himself out to be the hero in all of this. But tell the truth, would you hire this guy to work for you and to hold a position of trust and responsibility in an organization for which you are ultimately responsible. Hell, I would not trust him to sell lemonade at a roadside stand for 15 cents a glass.

Let me reiterate. Feel remorse for the death of a young man. Defer judgment on his friends and associates until we learn from sworn testimony what kind of people they are. Ignore the stepfather who looks all too eager to stay far too long in the limelight generated by his stepson’s death. Urge Myles Brand to make something good and lasting to come of all of this. Heap scorn and abuse upon Dave Bliss. And do not be fooled into believing that Assistant Coach Whomever is a good and noble man whose actions saved the day. Assistant Coach Whomever is as dependable as the French Army on the eve of battle.

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

Taking Offense…

Enough is enough. And too much is plenty. The bleatings from various sources and segments of society about the critical importance of having teams’ change their nicknames have gone overboard. It’s over. These complainers need to find a new hobby. Maybe they need to do an in depth study of the needlework artistry of the Visigoths so that they might recreate that form of expression for the seven people on the planet who give a rat’s ass!

I have heard all the arguments about why the Washington Redskins need to change their name. A small fraction of them actually make a modicum of sense; but at the end of the day, it does not matter a whit what these people say. All that matters is that the Redskins continue to be covered in the press and that their “gear” continues to sell. Until one or both of those conditions ceases to obtain, Danny Boy Snyder is not going to change the team name. Get over it.

I can agree that if a new team were to be formed in some new league for a new sport that I’ll call goofyball, no team in that newly formed league ought to go out of its way to seek out a team nickname that is offensive to a segment of society. But changing a team name that has been in place for more than 50 years is different than naming a new team.

And I do not want to hear about the noble and enlightened colleges – such as Stanford – that “saw the light” and changed their names without being coerced. These are organizations and institutions that have time on their hands with students and professors that feel most important when they are the champions of a cause. Hey they won this one and that can make them feel good. When they try to solve world hunger, they get frustrated; and so, this is a way to keep them from coming together in a mass meeting and drinking a Jim Jones Kool-Aid Cocktail.

Here is a problem. The professional bleaters have defined those team names that have to be changed and have defined the level of affront that those team names present to some afflicted or oppressed segment of the planet. But they don’t cast their nets very wide; they just screech about something that happens to offend them or some friends of theirs. I think that a huge fraction of team nicknames can offend just about anyone or anything if you let your imagination work. And without an “offensiveness meter” to let all of us know that some name is really offensive, all we have to go on is the assertions and the imaginations of the do-gooders who revel in telling everyone else what the world is doing wrong.

PETA challenged the name “Packers” for the Green Bay football team because the name derives from meat packers and this celebrates the cruel and final disposition of animals that will wind up on the tables of people who choose to be carnivorous. Tell me, why didn’t they protest the San Antonio Spurs? Does anyone think that spurs are used in some loving way with regard to animals? Or didn’t the PETA folks think of this one yet? Or maybe it was too stupid a protest even for them?

Far too many team names would have to be changed if the standard were to become:

    No one may take offense at the name for any reason.

Consider Holy Cross. They are the Crusaders. Don’t you think that some people somewhere might feel intimidated or offended by that name? Are the alumni and the people who run Holy Cross evil? I don’t think so.

Consider the Arizona Cardinals, the Louisville Cardinals – or even the enlightened Stanford Cardinal. In light of the burgeoning scandals regarding the cover-up of sexual predation on young boys by members of the Catholic clergy, might not some victims and their families be insulted by a team of such a name? I can hear the righteous Stanford folks explaining now that their team name is a color and not a rank of the clergy. Compare that explanation to the one that says that “Redskins” was a name originated in Boston to honor the men who disguised themselves and threw the British tea overboard. If someone is offended, it makes no difference, right? You think that Cardinals are too far removed from the offensive behavior so this name is OK? Then, how about the San Diego Padres or the Providence Friars?

How about the Dallas or the Oklahoma State or the Wyoming Cowboys? Cows aren’t boys. Think of the insult this could inflict on the transgendered. Think of the insult these people have already inflicted on themselves and you will see how any added stress is simply too much.

The New England Patriots? Every anarchist worth his/her salt should be marching in the streets to protest this affront to everything – actually the nothing – that they stand for. Unless of course, some of them have better things to do such as rearranging their toothpick collection.

The Philadelphia 76ers’ name is a threat to the international cooperation between the US and the UK. The name throws up revolution and defeat to our allies in Britain; it insults everyone of British extraction. It has to be changed immediately. Conversely, why isn’t every descendent of someone on who came here on the Mayflower or someone who died in the Revolutionary War outraged by the name of the baseball team in Kansas City?

After September 11, 2001, how can the NY Jets not offend anyone?

While we are thinking about the teams in New York, are not the “vertically challenged” intimidated by the Giants? Where is the outrage, I ask? Don’t even mention the Tennessee Titans.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Pirates glorify violence, pillage and plunder. (So did the San Diego Conquistadors in a former time and a former league.) To some extent the Minnesota Vikings and Michigan State Spartans celebrate this same behavior since the history of the Vikings and the Spartans is hardly one that would win either of them a lifetime achievement award from the Nobel Peace Prize committee. No wonder we have violent crime in this country.

Might the Anaheim Angels offend a devout Christian? If they don’t, how about the Duke Blue Devils, the DePaul Blue Demons, the Arizona State Sun Devils or the Wake Forest Demon Deacons? Or don’t devout Christians matter enough to be worthy of a protest?

I wonder if any of the folks at MADD think the Milwaukee Brewers celebrate something that the people at MADD do not like?

Imagine the humiliation faced by the women on the Oregon State basketball team when they dash onto the court for their opening game and the public address announcer screeches, “Here come the Beavers!” Come to think of it, how must the men feel? Someone needs to stop this gratuitous humiliation.

Suppose I tell you that every time I hear the name, Fighting Irish, all I can think of is the bloodshed and animus between religious groups on the Emerald Isle? Does that make me a sensitive visionary or a flaming a-hole?

Hurricanes deliver death and destruction and despair to thousands of people a year. Yet Carolina and the Universities of Tulsa and Miami glorify these instruments of death and destruction. Iowa State obviously tried to duck this issue by calling themselves the Cyclones but after all, a cyclone is the same thing as a hurricane but not quite so devastating. What could they all be thinking?

In modern America we have advertisements for drugs and herbal concoctions to correct Erectile Dysfunction. You would think that these would be embarrassing for spokespeople of these products but that is only the beginning of the levels of embarrassment that can be caused by team nicknames. Should we not agonize in the deep and profound angst that men who suffer from premature ejaculation must feel when they hear teams such as the Oklahoma Sooners or the UMass Minutemen?

The Trojans of the University of Southern California glorify a nation that started a war by kidnapping the beautiful wife of a neighboring king. After all of the killing in that war, they wound up getting their butts kicked. Role models for the youth of America? I don’t think so. There is another interpretation of Trojans as a nickname, but that one is just too easy to make fun of…

If some poor surfer dude were attacked by a great white shark and made into an appetizer on some sunny afternoon, do you think his parents would like to go to a hockey game in San José – even if they could find their way to the arena?

What level of sadistic cruelty is contained in those names that mock and confuse colorblind people – or should they be called “the retinally challenged folk”? Put yourself in their shoes and contemplate what could be the context of the Delaware Fighting Blue Hens, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, or the Williams College Purple Cows or the California Golden Bears or the Syracuse Orangemen?

Enough already. Just as there is no genius associated with making things complicated and difficult, there is no genius associated with finding new and more arcane ways to take offense at team nicknames. And what is annoying to me is that the protests are such impotent gestures whose only achievable end is to get a couple of people named in the newspapers and maybe interviewed on TV. If these people were really smart – as they would like you and me to believe they are in their heightened state of awareness – they would see the path to achieving the end of getting a name change. To paraphrase the campaign slogan of Bill Clinton in 1992, it’s economics, stupid. When you get people to reduce the profitability of a name you find offensive, the name will change. Until then, save your breath to blow your beans.

The sad news is that this controversy is now reaching down to the high school level and is reaching new proportions of stupidity. In Michigan, a new high school was going to be named the Predators based on a vote of the students there. But some people objected because it reminded them of “Sexual Predators”. And the school and town officials gave into the pressure of that argument. So the students voted again and chose Wildcats. Not very original to be sure, but the kids stuck to their “predator theme”.

The next thing you know, some protesters will demand a name change for the Chicago Bears because it reminds them of what bears do in the woods and that is not something that puts them in their happy place. Sigh…

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

    Oh, just for the record, no animals were harmed in the composition of this rant and no electrons or other sub-atomic particles were annihilated in the transmission of this rant over the Internet. I thought all of you would want to be sure of that.

What Is A Sport – Who Is An Athlete?

If you listen to sports radio or if you read certain sports columnists, you have heard or seen these kinds of questions asked and debated and re-hashed. One of the problems I have is that when either of these questions comes up, the other one rears its head. People find it difficult to focus on just one topic and so they always cloud one issue with the other. I think these are two distinct questions and need to be considered that way.

If you ever studied differential equations – and that should not be wished on anyone who did not have to study it as a requirement for their major in college – you know what it means to try to “separate the variables”. It makes life simpler; it makes problems solvable. That is what we need to do here; we need to separate “athletes” from “sports”.

I’ll offer as a definition that a sport is a competitive event where the outcome of the event is unambiguous. When the players have finished a football game and the referee has declared the game to be over, all one needs to do is to look at the scoreboard to see who won. All of the events that led to the elements of the scoring are clear to anyone who watched the game or to anyone who looks at the videotape the next day or sometime in the next century. It is common to have an umpire/referee/official in sporting events because there needs to be a neutral arbiter of the rules. Officials will make mistakes and some of those mistakes may involve scoring events but the score of the event is recorded as total of the scores declared by the officials. The winner is the one with the most advantageous score.

I’ll offer as a definition that a competition is not a sport if the outcome is based on – or can be based on – some subjective judgments of a panel of experts. Calling the experts on the panel “judges” does not make them objective; forcing them to use numbers to grade performances does not make them objective. These trappings are merely attempts to make it look as if someone could actually determine how close to “ideal” a specific activity was. In gymnastics, it matters not how far one jumped in the vault over the horse; that would be an objective measure and would make that event a sport. In gymnastics, a panel decides on the value of a vault over the horse based on their subjective estimate of how closely the contestant held her feet and how straight her legs were when she landed and etc. These kinds of competitive events are not sports; they are closer to artistic expression.

So sports – by my definition – include things like baseball, football, basketball, soccer, hockey, horse racing, swimming, billiards/pool, chess, bridge, poker, NASCAR, archery, track and field, volleyball, tennis and – well you get the idea.

Conversely competitions that are closer to artistic expressions – by my definition – include things like gymnastics, figure skating, ice dancing, ballroom dancing, ballet, diving, synchronized swimming, synchronized diving, surfing, trampoline tumbling, boxing and – you get the idea.

Now we need to define “athlete”. If I suggest that an athlete is someone who through physical exertion and coordination and speed and strength and reflexes undergoes some kind of aerobic activity that leads to success in some kind of endeavor, then you can see that athletes compete in both sports and competitions and that not all sports participants are athletes.

One can play the “sport” of poker and have no athleticism at all. One can perform in a ballet company and exhibit extraordinary athletic skills and no one is even keeping score. One can train for years to compete in synchronized swimming and have a resting heart rate of 40 and only 5% body fat, but it still ain’t a sport.

So when people ask you if Jerry Bailey is an athlete when he rides six winners on a race card at Churchill Downs in a given day, the answer is yes. And coincidentally, he competed in a sport while he was being an athlete.

Is Steve Mizerak an athlete when he wins a pool tournament? If you look at him, your first guess would probably be, “Hell, no!” But this is a borderline judgment since his competition does require coordination and very minor physical exertion. Personally, I would rule him out as an athlete on the basis of the lack of any real aerobic activity; I admit this is debatable even under my definitions. But he competes in a sport under any circumstances.

Is Dale Earnhardt an athlete? Another close call but I believe the constant use of strength and reflexes and coordination overcomes the minimal aerobic activity and makes him a borderline athlete. Given the prodigious degree of bladder control necessary, I’ll cite that as the thing that puts him over the top here. And he definitely competes in a sport.

Is any random golfer on the PGA Tour an athlete? Given the popularity of golf, this is where I probably get myself in trouble, but my answer is no. Yes, there is some physical exertion; and yes, there is coordination and some small amount of reflexes involved, but not enough to convince me that a golfer is an athlete. When the governing body of the sport – the PGA – argues in a court that walking is an integral part of the game, then I get suspicious. Walking is mastered by the average two year old. I would argue that it as integral a part of golf as is respiration. Golf is undeniably a sport, but when one of the world class golfers can go through a career known as “The Walrus” – and it is not because he likes to say “goo goo ka joob” – it might give you a hint that athleticism is not a key to the game. Interestingly, many great athletes from other sports try to play golf in addition to the athletic activity at which they excelled and most of them do not master the game. But golf is undeniably a sport.

If you look at all the examples of things I listed that are more like artistic expressions than they are sports, you will see that most of the participants are indeed athletes. Gymnasts are athletes; boxers are athletes; ice skaters are athletes. But they are not dripping their sweat while participating in sports.

Not convinced? I’m not surprised. This is not a view I’ve found to be widely held. But think about the activities that I contend are not sports. Now imagine that someone in the “Olympic Movement” conned everyone and got poetry writing added to the Games for 2004. (Forget the language barriers and imagine for a moment that everyone in the competition is fluent in English.) You would have a competition where contestants wrote compulsory rhymes and compulsory free verse couplets which would be judged/scored/graded by a panel of professors from major universities. In the second round, poems would need to be composed based on meters and phonic feet that are drawn randomly and presented to the competitor. Finally, there would be the free program where the aspiring poets would present an original sonnet and an epic poem based on Greek Mythology (that is the tie-in that gets this in the Olympics). Now tell me just how different that is from figure skating and ice dancing and ballroom dancing and the like – other than poetry writing can be done in a sedentary fashion.

The next time you hear the argument start about what is an athlete or what is a sport, think about what people are saying in these terms and you may have a way to inject something different into the discussion instead of saying the same thing that has been said before except you will try to say it louder than anyone else.

And when this argument tries to turn into another famous argument – if someone is a superior athlete in one sport, then he/she can be a superior athlete in any sport – all you have to do is mention Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was obviously a great basketball player; he was a track champion at Kansas; he claims to have scored 20,000 women in his life making him a mattress athlete. But all you have to do is to imagine Wilt trying to replace Jerry Bailey on a mount in the fourth race at Churchill Downs on any given day. At 350 lbs, Wilt might have broken the horse’s back; his feet may have dragged on the track; and there is no handicapper in the world that would not take into account the “overweight” on that animal. I’ve been going to racetracks for more than a few years now and have heard announcements that some horse would be carrying “3 pounds over” or even “5 pounds over” in rare circumstances. For Wilt the announcement would be that “the number seven horse is carrying 235 lb over – or 2 jockeys over – whichever you prefer.”

Remember, separate the variables to make these arguments understandable.

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

Gambling On Sports

Let me be sure to lay my cards on the table here at the outset:  I have been known to make a wager or three on sporting events in my tenure on this planet.  And I mean that I have bet on events in venues other than the office Super Bowl Pool where you buy squares on a matrix and then somebody draws numbers from a hat and the person who gets the intersection of the final score wins the money.  That is not gambling; that is not even interesting to me; that requires the same level of skill and analysis as concluding that Martha Stewart is an annoying shrew with all her scolding that pretends to be exhortation.


I gamble on horse races; I make trips to Las Vegas to bet on football (college and pro), baseball, basketball (college and pro).  I do not bet on hockey, NASCAR, golf, tennis and boxing because I don’t know enough about those sports to do any “handicapping”.  I draw the line on betting on spring training baseball games and pre-season NFL football games – you can actually do this at many Las Vegas sports books.  I don’t even watch things like the Pro Bowl or the NBA All-Star Game, so you can be certain that I have never considered betting on either of them.


There are moralists and purists who want to make it illegal to bet on sporting events – particularly on college sports.  When one of these true believers gets a microphone stuck in his/her face and there is a camera rolling anywhere in the same zip code, post the small craft warnings because here comes a gale of rhetorical wind.  Oh the evils of it all; oh the lives that are ruined; oh the poor naïve collegians who are seduced by the evil gamblers.  Listen to it for what it is.  It is well constructed prose that is well rehearsed and designed to convince people that gambling on college football or basketball games is worse than – say – cocaine use on campuses around the country.


And after all the dust settles, it is mostly a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing – to steal a line from the venerable Billy Shakespeare who was a really good power forward in college but blew out a knee and had to turn to writing to pay the bills.  All  these people want you to do is to behave the way they want you to behave.  You would not let them tell you how to behave in other aspects of your life so why listen to them here?  That is why they will never present their case in terms of controlling the behavior of others; they know that most people will not stand for that.


Looking at this analytically, no amount of gassing by these opinion makers is going to stop people from gambling on sports.  They might be able to get Congress or other local/state governments to make it illegal to bet on sports, but that will not stop the activity.  Gambling is something that many people do; and laws don’t change that behavior.  Want proof of that statement?  Gambling on sporting events is legal in only one state in the US and that is Nevada.  So, if laws were efficient and effective ways to prevent gambling, then no one would be betting on sports in any other venue than in Nevada.  If you believe that, you are probably naïve enough to believe that you need to make an appointment to be seen in a hospital emergency room.


Let me repeat that last point here for emphasis and clarity.  Passing a law to forbid gambling on college sporting events will be no more effective at stopping the behavior than the laws on the books that make it illegal to snort cocaine, to engage the services of a prostitute – of either gender – or to drink beer on a college campus prior to the time when the student attains the age of 21.  The adjective that most applies here is “feckless”.


And what most people in the college sports business – yes, it is a business over and above everything else! – fail to see is that legal gambling establishments are their biggest allies in keeping games on the up and up.  Think about that, for just a moment.


Imagine that you run a major sports book in Las Vegas.  Your main objective is to try to keep the amount of money bet on one side of any contest approximately equal to the money bet on the other side.  Since the gambler lays 11 for 10 odds, you will win 10% of the action if you can balance your book.  The book is not betting against the gambler; the book is taking a percentage of the total action.  The book is not a gambler; the book is an investor.  But when/if a game is fixed, someone knows the winner; and if the action on the game is thin, there is no way for you, the book manager, to balance the book once the fixers have made their large play.  If they fixed the Bucolic A&M versus Hardrock School of Mines basketball game and they bet a total of $3000 on the Bucolic Buttmunchers, there is no chance of you finding any “walk-up” bettors to take $3000 on the other side of the game.  And if the game is fixed, you – the book – are going to lose.  For the record, that is not why you are in the book business!


So the book managers have a vested interest in tracking who bets how much and when and on what games.  And it is that kind of scrutiny and oversight that has led the Las Vegas book managers to become the allies of the people who investigate the fixing of sporting events – even college ones.  See, if someone wants to fix a college basketball game, he has to pay at least a couple of the players something for their efforts – or lack of effort.  To make that money back and then to make it worth his while, he needs to wager more than a $50 bet on the game.  And so when big money shows up in places where it never showed up before or in a pattern that involves a certain team, the alarms go off and the book managers start to watch very closely.


Do you think the neighborhood bookie or bartender who steers clients to the local bookie keeps track of this?  Of course he doesn’t and even if one tried to do it, the illegal book business is so fragmented that fixers can make a large bet by making a series of small bets so widely spread that the pattern will never to be discerned.  Even if he did see some strange betting pattern emerging, do you think he will go to the gendarmes to report it?  Imagine the scene where a bookie goes to the FBI and says that he has been taking illegal betting action for the last 7 years and has just noticed that Joe Flabeetz has always been betting against Bucolic A&M and cleaning him out and so he suspects that Joe is fixing the games.  Even if the FBI gives him immunity in this situation – which is no guarantee to be sure – he has just put himself out of business.  Altruism of that kind is a lot rarer than you would be led to believe by the movie makers!


Legal betting venues help to identify places where game fixing may occur so they actually help to keep the game clean.  Put them out of business and what you have done is open the door even wider for fixers to ply their trade.  The only way for the fixer to be put out of business is to assure that there are no venues for betting on the game.  Stated plainly and simply so there will be no misunderstanding, that is not going to happen!  The NCAA can emote all it wants; the moral police can tell you about the innate evil contained in gambling; it makes no difference.  Eradication of gambling as a human endeavor will require Divine intervention not Federal intervention.


You want to know what the real irony here is?  The NCAA moaners have it in their power to stop gambling on collegiate sporting events.  Think about the example I gave you above when you were the manager of a Las Vegas book; what was the thing that made running a book bad news?  Fixed games.  The best way to take something out of the realm for the sports books is to make the outcomes either a bit shady or blatantly predetermined.  Just try to get a bet down in Las Vegas on a pro rasslin’ match.  Just try to walk up to a betting station and tell the attendant there that you want to take Hulk Hogan to beat Bruno Sammartino in straight falls in their match next weekend.  Then plug your ears because the laughing will be loud enough that you might damage your hearing.  The books will not take wagers on rasslin’  because the outcome is already known to someone and that someone is not the book manager.  So if the NCAA were a bit less “vigilant” and a few more games had points shaved, you would see less and less wagering activity being accepted.


Listen to the arguments that will be coming soon about gambling as the NCAA and various coaches and several members of the Congress are loosening up the vocal chords.  Listen for the acknowledgement by the college Pooh-Bahs that sports book managers actually are part of the mechanism to detect game fixing.  You won’t hear it because it does not serve their hidden moralistic ends.  They don’t want to protect the poor, exploited, naïve student athletes – remember, they are the ones doing the exploiting; all they want to do is to tell you which of your behaviors are OK and which are not.  Look at the speakers and listen to their message and ask yourself if you want them to have that authority over your life and your behaviors.

For me, the answer is:  I don’t think so.


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