Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Gene Lyons: Lighten up, Sports

Lighten up, sports

Gene Lyons

Like many sports fans, I see games as a refuge.
A refuge from what?

Well, what have you got? Republicans, Democrats,
the Iraq war, traffic jams, Rush Limbaugh, Antonin
Scalia, Michael Moore, The New York Times,FOXNews,
CNN, telemarketers, televangelists, telephones,
e-mail, the Internet, the IRS, Rudolph the Red-Nosed
Reindeer and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Do I
make myself clear? That said, I have zero interest in
NASCAR, the latest quasi-athletic fad attracting basically
the same audience that gets off on professional wrestling.
And I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it, either.
Making an infernal racket with internal combustion engines
has long been the favorite outdoor pastime of the
influential Moron American community, but why would anybody
pay to hear it?

Politicians and pundits who say otherwise are mostly
patronizing the NASCAR fans they secretly consider dopes.
Anyway, here’s the deal: If there’s a machine involved,
it ain’t a sport. Newspapers should give NASCAR its own page,
like comic strips and bridal photos. Then real sports fans
wouldn’t have to fool with it.

This NASCAR business strikes me as symptomatic of something
even more problematic: the politicization of almost every
aspect of American life. It’s partly an outgrowth of TV’s
inherent need for conflict and melodrama.

Anyhow, last week’s big sports crisis was NBA players
running amok in Detroit. This week it’s baseball
players bulking up on steroids.

Funny, but some of the loudest scolds are the same people
whodenounce "elitists" for disliking NASCAR, where
participants regularly get killed. Irony aside, however,
here’s my question:How can ball games continue to serve as
a refuge if sports journalists turn into crisis junkies
and ideological combatants just like the rest of us? How
about if we all just lightened up a bit?

Take the brawl in Detroit, for example. Here’s my view. When
somebody like Charles Barkley, the former NBA star who once
heaved a guy who jumped him in a bar through a plate glass
window, kept saying Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest needed
emotional help, maybe somebody should have listened. After
Artest charged into the stands in pursuit of a fan who threw
a beer at him, the league had no choice but to suspend him.
Stuff like that can get dangerous.

But Artest’s transgression was hardly the first in the
annals of professional sport. Baseball "immortal" Ty Cobb
once went into the stands to pummel a cripple. Anything
but contrite, he later said something to the effect that
a guy who couldn’t defend himself needed to learn to keep
his big mouth shut.

Hey, if sports teach nothing else, it’s realism. How dumb
would you have to be to pick a fight with Barkley, who’s
about 6-5, 320 and much quicker than either you or I? Maybe
as dumb as the drunken stockbroker who charged the mound
at Wrigley Field a few years back after relief pitcher
Randy Myers gave up an ill-timed home run. Myers was near the
end of his baseball career, but he also was a professional
athlete who dabbled in martial arts. Boom, boom. Out went
the lights.

Call me insensitive, but I laughed.

Steroid-enhanced baseball players aren’t funny, but,
hey, if it worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger, why not
Jason Giambi? Yankees first-baseman Giambi, who spent
much of last season on the disabled list with a pituitary
tumor, has admitted taking doses of human growth hormone.
Me, I refrain from taking anything that might grow hair
on teeth or cause testicles to drop off, but some of the
outrage is hard to take. After all, we live in a society
where it’s considered perfectly OK to get breast implants,
liposuction and nose jobs. According to The New York
Times, women in California are having plastic surgery to
improve the looks of certain non-public areas of their
bodies rarely subject to esthetic scrutiny. You can’t
watch a ball game without seeing 20 ads curing erectile

And we’re astonished baseball players are taking
muscle-building steroids? Even potentially dangerous,
illegal or quasi-legal drugs? Look, as former Oakland A’s
beat reporter Steve Kettman wrote in Salon, everybody
around baseball had to know this was going on for at least
15 years, including former Texas Rangers "owner" George W.
Bush, who traded for Jose Canseco, one of the game’s
earliest synthetic musclemen, back in 1992. Put an
asterisk on Barry Bonds’ home run totals? Then how about
Mark McGwire’s and Sammy Sosa’s? And what about all
the chemically enhanced, 95-mph flame-throwers on the
mound over the past decade? Baseball needs to get serious
about procedures like those already in effect in
the minor leagues to protect these guys from themselves.
But a little less hysteria, false piety and maybe
something like a general amnesty would make it much
easier to get the job done.

• Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock
author and recipient
of the National Magazine Award.


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