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 SportSass: Show Me the…Love

Wow! Could someone please tell me what the hell happened to the wonderfully entertaining world of sports? All I remember as a child was a pure, simpler form of joy--nothing but a ball or a bat and a bunch of guys out there playing a game for nothing other than the sheer exhilaration of competition and kinetic life. Okay, they made a few bucks here and there even in the seventies, but nothing like the explosion of money that's corrupted all sport since the fancy, eighteen bedroom HOME became more important than the RUN.

I am no insider. I am not privy to contract negotiations or scouting reports. What I am is the guy who looks forward week in and week out to the battles taking place on some distant turf or in a squared ring. I am the consumer. I may even be so bold as to proclaim myself the target audience. I choose these words because I know that there are many more exactly like me. How do I know this? Because every time I have the opportunity to relax and enjoy a great game, I see a stadium or an arena filled with human beings coming together and sharing a vicarious vision of their own private, ultimate satisfaction.

Watching sport is the utmost form of fantasy.

But day by day, trading deadline by court hearing, this fantasy world caves in upon itself. I am not writing this to complain about it--life does what it does, or else how else could you explain the platypus? But what I am feeling is, for lack of a better description, saddened. Sport no longer feels unchained or given license to do what it will. Sport is now, and unfortunately probably forever, shackled and manipulated by mandates, deadlines, police reports, and salary caps. It is scarred by scandal, by narcotics, and by corruption.

We sports fans used to watch SportCenter. Although the name hasn't changed, it now comes across more like NewsCenter. We used to watch highlights of soaring athletes and mighty team efforts. Now we watch press conferences, rap videos, and judicial arraignments.

My disenchantment probably has a lot to do with the fact that my purest sports pleasure is watching the United States Men's National Team play soccer around the world. They do not play for money; they play for the pure honor and satisfaction of wearing their country's colors and giving all they have against the more established, traditional powerhouse nations in Europe and South America.

Of course, all the other games are still played, and we continue to watch. Unfortunately though, much of the sideshow makes its way into the marrow of the game itself. I feel my trust in the integrity of sport waning.

I question referee objectivity when so much stands to be gained. And lost. I see a man telling a city how thankful he is to be playing there, only to see him a week later in a different uniform, in that new city, telling them the exact same thing.

Maybe I'm just getting cynical as I progress in years. I'm the first to admit that this might just be my little drama. Maybe if I take a good look around me right now, I'll snap out of this pessimistic rut and fly around the living room this weekend with a Budweiser and a corndog, watching Canadian curling.

Ahhh, the Olympics, now there's something that can't be tainted, right? Damn. Over the years, many athletes have been stripped of their hardware for illegal drug enhancements or illegal citizenship documentation. This past week in Salt Lake City, at least three athletes tested positive for illegal drugs and lost their gold medals.

And the judges are corrupt, or at least capable of being corrupted. So many Olympic golds are won or lost by the smallest fraction of one person's opinion, that it only takes the slightest slip of that person's integrity to fulfill or shatter another person's dreams. Need I even say those two little words? French judge.

Well, at least the Olympic spirit is alive in those sports that are timed with precision instruments and measured in goals and precious thousandths of a second. But now I have to worry about the guy who's pushing the start button on the timer. (Oh yeah, and what about those disqualifications?)

On SportCenter the other night, I saw that the San Francisco 49ers had given Steve Mariucci "permission" to speak with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Permission? Would he get in trouble if he accidentally ran into them at a local bar, and they decided to have a beer together? I wonder if he needs a hall pass to go to the restroom in the middle of practice. Since when did a contract limit to whom you may or may not speak? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Buccaneers had just wanted to ask him how the wife and kids were doing and if he'd made any nice plans for summer vacation this year. So now that he actually gets to speak to them, is there a time limit on how long they may actually converse, or does Steve really get to make his 1-800-dial-right-down-the-center count?

Okay, even I've gotten tired of my whining by now and want to bring this thing to a close. Perceptions of a past, better time are invariably going to occur in every individual's mind with the passing of time. I will always believe that the men who played the sports we love today in the annals of forgotten, black and white times were pushed by the purest sincerity and passion for the game. They did not make millions of dollars and were not forced to live under the scrutiny of today's superstars. But this isn't necessarily about them. This is about a world gone crazy with rules and profits and the need to control.

And yet we will continue watching. I know I will. I still cheer and swoon with the fortunes of my favorite teams. Ultimately all this hype and fanfare still comes down to moments of greatness. There will still be those precious excerpts of time when a Michael Jordan nails the game-winning jumper to win his sixth NBA title. There will still be "The Field Goal," ending one of the most exciting Super Bowls in the history of the NFL. And in the future, there will be Landon Donovan scoring three goals against Italy in the semi-final of the World Cup, or Pete Sampras coming out of retirement and adding another record Wimbledon championship.

At the end of it all, I will ultimately remember the euphoria of the actual sports moment, and not the hoopla that delayed or altered its existence. I think I may speak for all sports fans when I say "yes, we love sports." We just want to be loved back.

Is that so wrong?

February 2002

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