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The Super Bowl is a snapshot of American culture: Huge spectacle, two warring sides that can never agree on anything, lots of put-on patriotism, loud music, commercialization, violence, sexuality and a wealthy upper class that gets to watch in a warm stadium while the “poor” masses grovel at home in front of 60-inch plasma TVs. Or so the argument goes.
I don’t buy it. The truth is that the Super Bowl is just a big game with a bunch of stuff that we like. But it’s also a bunch of stuff people in, say, London or Paris or Moscow or Winnipeg also like. Fireworks? Cheering? Beer? Dudes hitting each other? An insane Ray Lewis? These things are awesome in every language.
We want to pretend that sport is what defines us. But it’s not. It’s all the stuff that we put around sports that define us.
I mean, the biggest incite you can glean from America by watching football is the fact that we call it “football.” To the other 90 percent of the world, there is already a sport called football that is WAY older than our version. But we invented OUR game that had little to do with feet kicking balls and named it after another game that has EVERYTHING to do with feet kicking balls. And then we made it the biggest thing in our country. And then we renamed the original sport “soccer,” which means absolutely nothing. And when Europeans call their “little” sport (which is only the most popular thing on the planet) football, we just laugh in that condescending way you laugh at your little brother when he tries on your shoes that are four-sizes too big.
So, no, I would not look at what happens on the Super Bowl field for any sort of sign about where are headed as a nation.
The commercials, though, that’s where America’s fucked up.
When did we become a land of idiots who loved when animals did weird things or babies talked or dudes got hit by something hard?
Want to make a Super Bowl commercial? Have a baby command a polar baby to smack a guy in the face with a sledge hammer. And as he smiles, flash up the Taco Bell logo. What does this have to do with Taco Bell? Nothing. Everything. You don’t get it! It’s art.
We have to do better than that, right? We have to want more for our entertainment, no?
According to USA Today’s ad meter, the top commercial from Sunday’s game was a heartwarming Budweiser spot where a guy is reunited with his Clydesdale. And while it’s a relief that the ad was free of mayhem and dumb jokes – and did not end with the guy getting kicked in the junk by a talking horse – you couldn’t help but watch the advert and feel manipulated.
I get that is what commercials are supposed to do: manipulate you. That doesn’t mean they can’t be more discreet about it.
And maybe that is the problem. Our cultural black eye is not JUST the content of the ads, but the fact that we give such a shit about them. Everywhere else in life we have tried to run away from advertisements, to the point where we TiVo everything JUST to fast forward through the spots, but we’ve bought into the idea that the Super Bowl is different. No, this is where they run the GOOD 30-second spots selling shit you don’t want.
Why did we accept this? When did we start talking more on Monday about Doritos than Colin Kaepernick? We have debates around the water cooler about which dumb-guy-does-something-stupid-because-he-has-to-have-crappy-beer ad was better. Surely it does not matter?
I ask these questions because I do not have an answer. In fact, I am part of the problem. If I am not emotionally invested in either team, I find myself fast forwarding through the boring parts of the game – the first three quarters – and stopping it for the commercials. It’s insanity. Black is white. Up is down. Left is right. The whole world is spinning off its axis. Save me from myself!
But if we accept that this is where we are, and there is no going back, then we can at least demand more from our corporate overlords, no? They think we’re Neanderthals. They make ads in which hot girls make out with M&Ms. I mean, what the fuck is that?
So let’s adopt four rules moving forward, and demand that the Powers That Be follow them (because, you know, the Powers That Be always follow our rules; whatever; just go with me):
1. No more dumb animals/talking babies/dudes getting hit by stuff.
2. There can be no more than ONE commercial per Super Bowl that makes it seem men are just manipulative, untrustworthy, sexist, homophobic, stupid, immature douche bags who are ONLY motivated by nacho chips.
3. If you make a commercial about a product, MAKE the commercial ABOUT the product. Somehow. You can do it! It’s not that hard.
4. No more GoDaddy commercials. Seriously. Stop grossing us out. Quick, who said this: “I can’t wait to see what GoDaddy does this year!”? Answer: No one, EVER.
So the big lie is finally exposed: Lance Armstrong has admitted what we’ve all sort of known for years. He used steroids to win seven straight Tour de Frances. It’s a sad end to a fairy tale. Sort of like finding out the Seven Dwarves were actually orphans forced into child labor.
My brother and I were discussing the Baseball Hall of Fame vote last week, and we were both saying how we did not think Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens would ever get in. The point I made, which he agreed with, was that it did not matter that Bonds and Clemens never confessed, never failed a test and were never convicted in court. Everyone KNOWS what happened, even without those three vital pieces of evidence. We aren’t stupid.
It was the same with Lance Armstrong, I argued. We all know he did it. My brother said he could not agree with that. HE still believed in Lance. He believed the argument that Lance never failed anything, despite being tested hundreds of times. And he would continue to believe it until Lance himself admitted he was a fraud.
Well, it took a week. And, no, Santa Claus and professional wrestling are not real, either.
Here is a cold, hard truth that sports fans have come to realize over the last decade: If something has never, ever, ever, ever been done before — and not by a little, but by A LOT — chances are the person who did it cheated in some way.
You want to know why I don’t think Tiger Woods ever did steroids? Because his career is progressing exactly the way most golfers do when they hit their 30s (minus the sex scandal). You can be great in your 20s. But you hit your 30s, and it all slowly slips away. It’s the same with Roger Federer.
Barry Bonds, on the other hand, got better and bigger and stronger as he grew older. That doesn’t happen. Roger Clemens was arguably the best pitcher in baseball even in his 40s. That doesn’t happen. Sammy Sosa went from a skinny 30/30 guy to a bruising slugger who hit 60+ homers in three different seasons. That doesn’t happen.
I am sorry Usain Bolt. I am sorry Michael Phelps. I am sorry Adrian Peterson. I am sorry LeBron James. I am sorry Brittney Griner. I am not saying any of you have ever done anything remotely illegal or unethical, but we live in the Golden Age of Cynicism. As long as you continue to be awesome in ways no one has ever been awesome, we will whisper about why that is.
I mean, hell, the next time we hear that so-and-so’s girlfriend/wife/husband/grandmother died moments before the big game, we will respond with a “Yeah, right,” thanks to Notre Dame’s Manti T’eo. When you can’t even trust a feelgood story without wanting someone to produce a body, you know you’ve lost some of the magic of belief.
And, yes, Lance Armstrong, it’s your fault. You helped produce one of the biggest lies ever perpetrated on our gullible nation. There was a section of this country ready to bomb France because they DARED to impugn the good name and legacy of our American hero. Now that same faction is still ready to bomb France, because they DARED to get the facts right!
Moving forward — just to help us all out — here is how you can spot a lie: When someone goes from winning two stages of the Tour de France, to getting cancer that puts you on death’s door, to coming back, better than you ever were previously and winning seven straight Tour de Frances — a feat NEVER BEFORE MATCHED BY A HUMAN, EVER — then, chances are, you are using more dope than every character on The Wire, combined.
What will be forgotten, of course, is that Armstrong was competing against — by and large — a field of drugged-up riders. It’s easy to say he got a competitive advantage, but it gets murkier if you concede that he competed during an era when, seemingly, EVERYONE had the same advantage. Is it bad if everyone is doing it?
See? He is still pulling us in. Still getting us to make excuses for why he was so mythical.
The most heartbreaking part of this is that we want to believe it. We STILL want to believe it. Cancer is such a horrible disease. It takes our wives and children and parents and neighbors and friends. It does not care about age or ethnicity or sexuality or religion. It kills and kills and kills, and there is not a damn thing we can do to stop it completely.
So, yes, we want to win one occasionally, goddamit. We want to think that we can take the chemo and come out and be super human. We wanted to believe in Lance, because he represented all of the people we’ve loved and lost.
And he used that to make himself outrageously rich and famous. He let us build a myth on a house of PEDs. Did he do a hell of a lot of good? Yes. He did. He has that going for himself in the karma department. But every day, he lived a lie, and he was OK with it. That has to count for something.
Now we get to move forward, navigating through a land where if something is too good to be true, it’s probably because an athlete got a needle in his ass. Armstrong did not kill hope with his confession, but he certainly kicked it in the balls.
Notre Dame is undefeated and headed to the BCS Championship Game. Welcome to 1988!
One should not look to the sports universe for proof that the world will end sometime in the next month, because 2012 has been a pretty normal year. The Heat and San Fran won titles, the NHL was locked out, the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Michael Phelps was totally Michael Phelpsian in the Olympics and a popular athlete was permanently tainted with a link to steroids (I meant Lance Armstrong, but somewhere Melky Cabrera got really excited about the mention for, like, two seconds). All in all, in this year of Mayan apocalyptic prophecies, it has been a pretty predictable 12 months.
And then Notre Dame comes along, goes 12-0, makes it to the title game, produces a Heisman candidate — all of which came, seemingly, out of nowhere — and now we’re all fucked!
But, look, if we’re going out, is there a better story than the return of the Fighting Irish?
Back in the day, the school had a monopoly on national TV, and they had tradition and Football Jesus and “Rudy” and gold helmets … and all of that meant they got to decide which of the top players they would take and which they would let go to Michigan. But the college football experts said that wasn’t enough to compete in the Facebook generation. Nope, they told us Notre Dame could never be great again, because its academic standards were too high and recruits wanted to play in a power conference and kids didn’t want to live in South Bend, Ind.
In fact, they were saying that back in, oh, September. After Notre Dame came in at No. 24 on USA Today’s 2012 Preseason Poll, BleacherReport.com wrote: “It’s no surprise that the Irish find themselves in this position; it’s an annual tradition for the nation’s most historic program, whether it deserves inclusion in the rankings or not.”
(Those experts also said in the early 2000s that USC would be a perennial national title winner because what kid would choose, say, LSU over Southern California? And before that, Miami would never lose, because it had South Beach, and everyone wanted to live there, right? And they said Kentucky basketball could never keep up in recruiting against the UCLAs of the world, because, again, the sun. Apparently, to be a college sports expert, you just have to answer the question, “Where would I like to spend my summer vacation?”)
Notre Dame’s unexpected rise is the biggest story in a crazy college football season. I mean, there are ONLY three SEC teams in the AP Top 5. Wild.
The top two Heisman Trophy candidates are a freshman QB — Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny Football (a good nickname, but I was rooting for Johnny Drama) — and a linebacker — the Irish’s Manti Te’o. Granted, both of those would’ve been more amazing had it not been for Charles Woodson, a primarily defensive player who beat out Peyton Manning, and Tim Tebow, who broke the sophomore barrier — but still, this is clearly an abnormal season. Notre Dame fits right in.
Which is why I am rooting for the Irish. I am not a homer by any means — I went to Appalachian State (and, yes, some have called Notre Dame the App State of Indiana … mainly me) — but I will be rooting for the team in January. Partially because I am tired of the SEC ruling college football. And also because I admire Notre Dame, and I like when storied franchises resurrect themselves, and I want college football to be about more than 3-4 big conferences that steamroll over everyone else.
But mainly I will be rooting for ND because, should the game happen, it means the world did not end. And maybe, just maybe, it was the luck of the Irish.
Fucking Jeffrey Loria.
The owner of the Miami Marlins has done it again: Suckered “fans” (the few, the not proud) of the Marlins into thinking he was building a long-term contender only to dump players to save money. If this seems familiar, it’s because it is part of a pattern.
Of course, this is the first time he has done it AFTER convincing the city of Miami to build him a new stadium. He also went the additional step last offseason of rebranding the team, changing the uniforms (quick cash), feigning interest in Albert Pujols and renting big-name free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and Heath Bell. Genius move, that was, because any good con needs the appearance of reality.
Those players are all gone, of course, (along with many, many, many others) because he never meant to keep them and, you know, pay them. Loria, the art dealer, knows it’s best to sell high and buy low, particularly when you can use other people’s money. To be fair, he did receive Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Nicolin — and while they may not have talent, they DO have lots of vowels. So that’s nice.
Loria is not alone in his scumbaggery, he is just really good at it. The NHL, for instance, has long been a haven for con men and two-bit hustlers. Not the players, of course. Hockey players are seemingly the most sincere and personable of any big-name athletes. It’s the owners and the guys who run hockey who are the worst.
It says something when your league is nearly 100 years old, and the third thing listed on your Wikipedia page is “labour issues.” There have been four league-wide work stoppages since 1992, one of which wiped out the 2004-05 season. There’s a reason the slogan for the league is not: “The NHL: Where fans come first!”
I don’t follow hockey close enough to know precisely who is wrong, but I am betting on the owners, as they have a history of mistakes. The second thing listed on the NHL’s Wikipedia page is “expansion,” which almost killed the league in the late ’90s and early ’00s. The league, eager to be more relevant, deluded its product just to expand to hockey hotbeds Atlanta and San Jose and Nashville and anywhere in Florida. Great job, guys!
Also, if you shut your league down for an entire year to “fix” the system (dumb owners spending too much cash) — and then have to come back eight years later and shut down the league to “fix” the system again (dumb owners spending too much cash) — clearly you fucked up the first time. There shouldn’t be mulligans in collective bargaining agreements.
Fans, of course, are the ones who get screwed by the Lorias and the NHLs. The owners will continue to be rich, the players will cash their checks, but the fans are the ones who invest in something that is not theirs, only to be reminded of that fact often.
The Internet has given fans a voice they did not previously have. It’s way more powerful than sports talk radio in the 1990s and 2000s. It’s a direct hotline to owners and players and managers. At least it levels the playing field a bit. Except the men who make the decisions can always shut down their computers and get off Facebook.
What’s the solution? Fans in Miami should continue to not go to games (they are good at that, to be fair). They should vote out the politicians who gave into Loria’s demands knowing he had a history of selling short. Hockey fans should not return just because the lockout is over. Stay at home. They take away six months from you, you take away six months from them.
We should stop pretending as if we have a stake in what happens in the sports arena. We don’t. We are fans. If we can’t make the decisions, we can at least try to influence the dialogue. And our wallets are way more powerful than our Twitter accounts.
When you are a child, Halloween is really important. And then there is a period between, like, 11 and 17 when Halloween is less important, because you’re too old to trick or treat and too young to go to adult parties. And then you go to college, and Halloween is important again.
The reality is we should all be a little ashamed that we’re still celebrating Halloween at this age. We are grownups, for Christ’s sake. But, hey, fuck it. Go crazy. If you need a Halloween costume and want something less obvious than “Jerry Sandusky” or “replacement ref,” here are a few sports-themed ideas:
Just wear anything you want and then complain all night that your clothes aren’t treating you right. Demand your friends trade you to a cooler group. Start the night being kind of fun and carefree and popular, and then slowly transform into a whiny, miserable douche to the point where everyone pretty much hates you.
Start the night being kind of fun and carefree and popular, and then slowly transform into a whiny, miserable douche to the point where everyone pretty much hates you. Also, trash your friends if they don’t pass you stuff enough. Create nicknames for yourself. Befriend a tall guy, do cool stuff together, and then grow distant and resentful as the night progresses. Make sure people like him more than you.
Throughout the night, whenever something unimportant happens, be great at it. But then when something important happens, suck at it. Date Madonna after it’s cool. Start the night being kind of fun and carefree and popular, and then slowly transform into a whiny, miserable douche to the point where everyone pretty much hates you.
Throw various objects poorly, as if you just learned to throw, like, that morning … and were taught by your grandmother. Have people like you way more than you deserve. Talk about how you might run for office someday, but then don’t appear to be too bright. Talk about your mom and Jesus and babies more than a grown man should.
Be the greatest ever at something, but then buy the thing you were great at and suck. Make commercials even after you are older and fat and not as cool on TV as you were when you were 24. Dress poorly. Play too much golf. Hire a bunch of smart people, and when they try to get you to do something, ignore them.
Be someone who people can barely tolerate, then lose all of your money and have people be kind of glad you did. Do something heroic that endears you to a small group of people, but by the end of the night — through sheer force of douchery — have that small group of people sort of hate you, too.
Be really cool and well-liked by everyone who is not from America. Insist people call you “football,” even though no one will. Be relevant for two weeks once every four years. Compete with your friends, and when neither of you score, be totally cool with it. If anyone complains that you are boring, say they don’t understand you.
Be really cool and well-liked by everyone who is from Canada, New York or Detroit. Be relevant in 1988. Talk about how there are four big sports leagues in America, and when people laugh, try not to get too mad. Refer to your penis as “The Great One.” Be popular when you fight people, but be less popular when you skate around on ice.
Be really cool and well-liked in, like, five states, but try to convince people you are actually popular and well-liked in the whole country. Talk a lot about your sponsors, to the point where strangers want to punch you in the face. Keep walking around the room in a circle, trying not to crash into things. Try to convince your friends this is fun.
Be really cool and well-liked with young dudes and be completely ignored by pretty much everyone else. Strip down and wrestle with your friends. Literally hug each other on the ground for, like, minutes, without moving. Convince people this is exciting. Insist what you are doing is macho and way better than just punching each other in the face until one of you can’t stand up anymore.
UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY
Recruit really cool friends. Have them hang with you for an hour, and then have them leave, then recruit another group of really cool friends. Feel free to lower your acceptance standards with each new group of friends. Be totally OK with not having anyone stay with you for more than hour. Don’t care that you suck at everything but basketball.
Keep multiplying to the point where your brand is saturated and people sort of hate you. Recruit friends to hang out with you and spout annoying catchphrases all night. Don’t talk about any sport that isn’t affiliated with you, and if a sport signs up with you, talk about it way too much, to the point where it’s obvious you are pressing it because you are being paid. Keep forcing Chris Berman on your friends, even though they hate him.
Being gay and “out” in professional sports is the last hurdle we face as a society. Yes, women’s sports has its Martina Navratilovas, but men’s sports is still waiting for its Jackie Robinson.
It’s just a matter of time, of course. We all know gay people play pro sports, and, odds say, a few of those gay people are really, really good at them. There are probably Hall of Fame players who were gay, legends, guys that we still compare to modern athletes. We don’t know them by their sexual orientation, of course — their REAL sexual orientation — but if they had come out when it mattered, they could’ve had an impact on pro sports forever.
Not that anyone blames them for staying in the closet. There has never been a better time to be an “out” pro athlete than right now — and “right now” is not that great. If you go 0-3, chances are someone in the stands will call you the “F” word, even if you’re straight. Pro sports are like a gladiator arena, and the mutants who sit in the stands have no sense of decorum. Four-letter words are commonplace, and slurs — a variety, a cornucopia, a plethora of filth — are part of the arsenal.
Plus you have the blogs. Oh, the blogs. Everyone has a voice, and most of those voices are angry and stupid and misspelled and badly punctuated. If you want to be the Jackie Robinson of gay athletes, one would advise you to take your T1 line and burn it. Throw your router out a window. Pretend the internet was never invented. Move into a cave. It’s a more tolerant society, yes, but we also have more delivery systems for ugly messages.
And even if you do all of that, you still have your teammates to contend with. Athletes aren’t entirely comfortable with having female reporters walking around the locker room. One can only imagine how they’d cope with having a gay teammate. Oh, right, jocks are known for their sensitivity and political correctness. Playing for the Vikings is the same as working at Google…except it’s exactly the opposite in every conceivable way.
I don’t think you should hang a rainbow flag from your locker, lest you are prepared to have everything you own painted the color of a rainbow from now until, like, forever.
Just last week, Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended three games for writing a Spanish gay slur in his eye black. That doesn’t say a lot about the sensitivity of pro athletes that Escobar would have totally no problem doing that. One imagines had he wanted to insult another group of individuals, he wouldn’t have made it to the field before a teammate stopped him and said, “Uh, dude?”
And, yes, he was suspended…but only for three games. Let’s not give MLB a GLAAD award just yet. You get longer for paternity leave. It’s nothing. A blip. A very light slap on a very large wrist.
It doesn’t say a lot about our society — this progressive culture in which we have a president who thinks gay people should get married and more and more states where they can actually do it — that a major league athlete can make such a politically incorrect bumble and we, collectively, don’t really give a shit. We debated it for, like, one segment on Pardon the Interruption. It was barely a Tweet.
Sure, it’s a third-rate shortstop on a fourth-rate baseball team from the second-best country in North America. We’re not talking, say, Kobe Bryant calling an NBA ref a gay slur on TV. Why, should that happen, well, let’s just say there would be hell to pay. What’s that? He did? In 2011? And he was fined just $100,000, which is the same amount Michael Jordan was fined later that year for discussing the NBA lockout to an Australian newspaper? Oh. Well. I can see how those are, um, equally as bad.
So, yes, it’s easy for me to say a pro star athlete needs to show some brass and come out of the frickin’ closet, but I am not the one who needs to do it. I am not gay or a star pro athlete. And I am equally distant from both. But there will NEVER be a perfect time for the gay Jackie Robinson. That’s why he needs to exist.
It wasn’t a great time for the actual Jackie Robinson when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He went through hell and had to fight and claw his way to respectability. Yes, he was beloved by a large segment of America for his bravery and talent, but he faced racism virtually his entire life. And while Robinson was quickly joined by loads of fellow African American baseball players, the first gay athlete will probably have to wait awhile before there is a second.
He’ll receive anger, resentment, pettiness, a lifetime of name-calling, lots of bad puns on sports talk radio, possible alienation in the clubhouse, a loss of endorsements and pockets of scorn in every stadium he visits, even his own. So, basically, he’ll be Alex Rodriguez.
But he can expect lots of positives: speaking gigs, ginormous fame, endorsement deals, TV talk show appearances, lots and lots of dough, a visit to the White House, and a TV movie starring Mario Lopez or Taye Diggs or John Krasinski. (Suggested title if it’s a baseball player: No Strikes But Lots of Balls.)
All it will take is one brave guy to change the world forever. Now is the time.
Earlier this week, Augusta National finally admitted two female members, ending an almost-80-year ban on anyone with lady parts.
With the acceptance of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and billionaire financier Darla Moore, Augusta finally jumped over the last remaining hurdle of membership, stating once and for all that if you are one of the most powerful women in the world or really, really, super filthy rich, you, too, can play golf in a pretty place that is, unfortunately, located in Georgia and not, say, Hawaii. Yay!
Of course, the door is still closed if you’re rich and liberal. It could be that Oprah or Martha Stewart don’t play enough golf, but it’s probably that they are too loud and too outspoken and too likely to, you know, keep causing trouble.
Augusta picked its two Jacqueline Robinsons carefully – the fact that one of the women is black is certainly not a coincidence; I can imagine a cigar smoke-filled room stuffed with snooty fat cats saying, “Just make sure one of the gals is black so we can shut up ‘those people,’ too!”
It’s not cynical to state the obvious: The choices were a political calculation.
There are, no doubt, many worthy, wealthy ladies with much less of a public profile than Rice or Moore – and probably lower handicaps and higher connections to the feminist movement – but Augusta has shown a penchant for both leaning Right and shooting for big splashes in the press. And, hey, if you are going to make history, why not go high profile?
This is not an “Augusta does not like liberals” column, because, frankly, who cares? If you are a club that caters to the 1 percent, chances are you aren’t holding too many Barack Obama fundraisers. Understood. And this is certainly not a, “Wow, Augusta deserves a lot of credit” column, because it doesn’t. When you wait 80 years to do the right thing, you don’t get a parade.
In fact, I was hoping Augusta NEVER admitted women. We need bad examples in society just as much as we need good ones. I liked that it stood as a reminder that just because you were flush with cash, it didn’t mean you couldn’t be pig-headed and backwards. Fortunately, we still have lots of rich and powerful dopes left – see Trump, Donald – but the Masters was a yearly reminder that life is STILL not fair. It was like Thanksgiving for feminists.
And now Augusta played the one card it had to make it all go away – it capitulated to the “whiny” people who called for, you know, “justice” and “equality” and the right to hang out in a clubhouse with chubby white dudes complaining about Obamacare and lighting cigars with $100 bills. They went and let in two women – women who, let’s face it, are as close as you could get to the typical Augusta member (minus the penis) you could find – thus shielding themselves from future criticism.
Well, good for it. But I, for one, hope it backfires.
Here’s hoping people still criticize Augusta for everything it does wrong, instead of the few things it does right. And here’s hoping people don’t give CBS a break for being in business with those sexists snobs for so long. And here’s hoping the PGA Tour doesn’t get a pass for not putting more pressure on the club to act sooner, or insisting, at the very least, Augusta hold the occasional LPGA event on the “hallowed grounds of blah blah bullshit bullshit.”
Sorry I am not in a better mood that we’re falling over ourselves that — in these days of recession and economic disparity – a shady golf club made a calculated, political decision that will, no doubt, reap it lots of free publicity and loads of sponsorship cash. When I watch Caddyshack, I root for the lowly caddies, not the jerks that run Bushwood Country Club.
There is still so much more Augusta can do to make up for the fact that its latest move is 80 years too late. How about we not let it off the hook?
Do you remember where you were when you heard the news Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games for taking a banned substance? Of course not.
This is mainly because, well, it’s Melky Cabrera. But this is also because we will never again be shocked by a pro athlete being busted for a failed drug test.
(With that said, you should take a moment and read ESPN.com’s account of Melky’s efforts to cover it up, complete with a fake website. It reads like a spy novel as written by Sacha Baron Cohen.)
This is how far we’ve fallen from the days of Ben Johnson. The Canadian sprinter was stripped of a golf medal for doping in the 1988 Olympics and was never heard from again. Even the guys back in the late 1990s and early 2000s — the Barry Bondses, the Mark McGwires, the Roger Clemenses — lost their careers, faced legal investigations and are going to be kept out of the hall of fames. True, they aren’t societal pariahs. McGwire is a hitting instructor for the Cardinals. Clemens and Bonds will, no doubt, be back to the game at some point. But they faced SOME lasting scorn.
Those guys were busted in the last decade, but it seems like a lifetime ago, given how far we’ve come in just five years. If you get caught with steroids today, it’s just a speed bump to years and years of more success.
If Ryan Braun continues on the track toward a hall of fame career, do you think his failed drug test will be used against him? (Yes, he got off on a technicality, but the stink of steroids is still attached.) Do you even remember David Ortiz was linked to performance enhancers? Any chance Alex Rodriguez faces the same Hall of Fame snub as Bonds?
We’ll never know what happened with Lance Armstrong — unless he just decides to “confess” — but it doesn’t really matter. We will continue to believe he came back from life-threatening cancer to complete an athletic feat that is unrivaled in the history of cycling, during an era of rampant doping, and did so completely, 100 percent free of anything other than ginseng and multivitamins.
You would think after McGwire and Sosa laid waste to the history books more ‘roided out than the entire WWE combined that we would never again be duped. But we are. Constantly. And we don’t seem to mind.
Our defense mechanism seems to be an assumption that everyone is doing it, so when Melky Cabrera increases his batting average .70 points at the age of 28, we just look at it with a raised eyebrow and place bets on how long it will take him to flunk a drug test. And then when — surprise — he does it, we pat ourselves on the back for being so smart.
It’s an odd reaction — instead of turning our distrust of the purity of physical success on the athletes themselves, we just don’t believe anything they do, and when we’re proven right, we forgive them quicker. It’s like we blame ourselves for making them cheat.
But here’s the sad part: Sometimes the Melky Cabreras of the world DO raise their batting average .70 points in one season. Sometimes they DO study film or lose weight or hit the gym or stop drinking or see a sports psychologist or get motivated by a new contract or “have it all come together” — any of a hundred excuses guys have used for decades to explain why their careers catch fire. It does happen. It didn’t happen to THIS Melky Cabrera, but it COULD happen to A Melky Cabrera.
But once you lose your innocence, you can’t regain it. Even during the Olympics — which has been at the forefront of stringent drug testing — we can’t help but let the cynicism spoil the fun.
When Michael Phelps does something no person has ever done, we just sort of silently hope he is half dolphin and not 100 percent HGH. When Usain Bolt runs faster than human beings are allowed to run, we listen to how much longer his stride is than the competition and agree with the scientific results, while trying to quelch that little voice in the back of our head screaming, “CHEATER!” When Ryan Lochte invites ESPN to see his new, fancy work out (apparently it involves flipping over large tires and throwing heavy objects in the air) we convince ourselves that, yeah, large tires CAN improve your breast stroke at age 28. Totally reasonable.
We WANT to believe, even if we know, deep down, we never will again. It’s sort of like (spoiler alert) that time when you were a kid, and your friend told you Santa Claus was bullshit, and it all made complete sense, but you still hung to the notion for a few more months or years, because it was just so much easier to believe than deal with the reality that there is a grand conspiracy created to foster a lie.
Our relationship with sports and athletes has always been a complicated one. We can never figure out the rules, because the rules always change. You don’t even have to be human to cheat: NASCAR drives cheat with their cars and jockeys cheat with their horses. Nothing is safe.
It used to be booze and drugs, now it is steroids, tomorrow it will be robotic arm sockets and nanotechnology enhancement. Eventually, when androids replace all athletes, the one thing that will make them most human is their desire to breaking the fucking rules.
And we will turn a suspicious eye to the future android athletes and try to make sense of it all, knowing that we never can.
Sometime next week – probably Monday – Jethro and & the Skunk or John Boy & Clyde or Ace, Tammy and Friends will introduce a topic in their run down of pop culture, which will lead to a 10-minute rant by The Skooze (because we all know how hilarious and irrelevant The Skooze is!) where he just GOES off on how the Olympics are not real sports, and he prefers football or NASCAR or something more manly. And the rest of his radio crew will laugh and laugh, spontaneously, because that is what they do in morning radio. And play sound effects of windows smashing and babies crying, or something.
I’ve written before about cynicism is ruining everything fun and joyous, and never is that more evident than in the Olympics – and morning radio, also, come to think of it. (Not to sound like a, well, cynic, but is there anything worse than morning radio? If your name is not Howard Stern, you stink. Your act is not original. Your premises are horrible. Your voice is irritating. And your perspective is cookie cutter. So, there’s that.)
I am an unabashed fan of the Olympics. I love the games. All of them. I will watch sports in the next two weeks that I will not watch again for four more years. (And, furthermore, I won’t care about them.) Modern pentathalon? Yes, please. Judo, weightlifting, BMX biking, trampoling? I did not know half of those were in the Olympics, but let me watch. Table tennis? Yes. Archery? Yes.
Sailing? Handball? Field hockey? Sychronized swimming? There is LITERALLY nothing I will say no to. Rhythmic gymnastics? OK, there is ALMOST nothing I will say no to.
The cynics will find any reason to hate the games, from the money spent, to the time devoted to the less-mainstream sports, to the maudlin NBC packages (always with the “serious” Bob Costas voice over and the musical score ripped from the latest Nicholas Sparks movie).
Yeah, OK, so? Those are all reasons to LOVE the games, not hate them.
The fact that most of these sports are small and not well known and feature participants from countries we can’t find and with names we cannot spell is precisely why it is so great. That NBC can make me care about a goat herder from Zimbabwe whose only goal in life is to be an Olympic fencer is WHY I want to watch. You want those moments when you can turn to the person beside you and say, “I can’t believe he just pulled off a backward 2 1/2 somersault with 2 1/2 twists in the piked position,” and not only will you know exactly what you are saying but the person beside you will as well.
You know what my TV plans are for the next 14 days? Watching the Olympics live or catching up on what I TiVod. I will watch games online during work. I will tip toe through life carefully, as to not spoil any event that I cannot watch unfold live. I will avoid ESPN.com and CNN and ABC and any other news service that is determined to ruin the thrill of seeing something amazing happen on a five-hour tape delay.
I will bask in the Olympics. I will feast on every morsel. It will be an orgy of gluttonous consumption, and I will love every second of it.
And when I see an athlete break down after an athletic accomplishment, I will feel something. And when I hear the U.S. national anthem, I will feel something. And when someone loses by a fraction of a second, and they are sitting on the sidelines, crushed, head in towel, I will feel something. And if you don’t, you are beyond hope. Cynicism is a cancer; it infects us at a cellular level, eating away at our spirit until we’re just an empty core.
I can’t make you get it. In the next two weeks, we will see something we never thought we’d see and we’ll see someone win something that we never thought we’d see them win. We will cheer for a close victory, we will argue over a controversial call and we will learn someone’s name who will do just ONE great thing, yet we will hear about them the rest of our lives – think Bruce Jenner or Jessie Owens or Mary Lou Retton or Mark Spitz or Greg Louganis. What other sporting event can promise you that?
I watch sports for the potential of greatness. I want to be wowed every time I turn on a game. Yes, I can’t stand Kobe or the Yankees or the Cowboys. I am not a fan of NASCAR or MMA or hockey or soccer, really. But I am a fan of sports, and as such, if I see a YouTube clip that says, “Greatest MMA knockout ever,” I am watching. If Kobe scores 60, I want to see the highlights. If I see an article that says, “Is this the future of U.S. soccer?” I’m reading. It doesn’t matter that I don’t care. What matters is that I WANT to.
That is what the Olympics are for me – two weeks of athletic excellence with a nightly chance to see something awesome. Let sports talk radio and wacky morning zoo crews crack all the jokes they want about how Equestrian can’t be a sport because the horse does all the work (insert sound effect of horse whinnying and a cash register, or something). I will not hear them, because I will have my ears covered, trying to avoid anything that will spoil my fun.
The bad economy has not only devalued our homes, 401ks and stocks; it has also lessened the value of a “Big Three.”
OK, I have literally no evidence the economy has anything to do with that, but we live in an age when you can say, “Wait … in this economy?” as an answer for anything. “Wait, he’s buying a timeshare … in this economy?” “Wait, he’s taking up golf … in this economy?” “Wait, he’s climbing the Himalayas … in this economy?” “Wait, he’s TiVoing The Walking Dead … in this economy?”
So, yeah: “Wait, they were calling Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard a Big Three … in this economy?”
It used to be that a Big Three constituted, at minimum, of three Hall of Famers: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish; or Magic, Worthy and Kareem; or Jordan, Pippen and Rodman; or Pierce, Garnett and Allen. Hell, I’d take Isiah, Dumars and Laimbeer (at least there were two Hall of Famers).
Now we get an aging shooting guard whose numbers have been steadily declining, a point guard who has a knack for not winning and the best center in the game, in a league where centers are becoming increasingly unnecessary.
Luckily for us, NBA owners have itchy trigger fingers and decided against assisting the building of “another” Big Three — according to ESPN reports — thus killing the Howard-to-Nets trade. Had the Brooklyn Nets been able to pull off the three-team deal with Cleveland and Orlando, they would’ve become — hide the women and children! — the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference.
Sure, they never would have made it past Chicago or Boston or Miami (or possibly New York or Philadelphia or Indiana), but they would have positively killed the likes of, well, Charlotte and Orlando. And it would’ve been close against Toronto and Washington and Cleveland.
It sounds like I’m bashing Howard and Williams and Johnson, and I’m not. I was actually rooting for the trade to happen because I wanted to see if it would work (while quietly confident that, no, no, it would not). Maybe they would’ve been outstanding together. But it would’ve been long odds, because these sorts of “mega teams” never usually work.
Remember when the Shaq/Kobe-era Lakers added Karl Malone and Gary Payton? Or when Barkley teamed with Clyde and Hakeem in Houston? How many titles did Dirk/Nash/Finley win in Dallas? Or Nash/Stoudemire/Marion win in Phoenix? Or Webber/Divac/Bibby in Sacramento? Or Mashburn/Mourning/Hardaway in Miami? How about Iverson and Melo or Shaq and LeBron? Or Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady? Run TMC? Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis? The 2004 Dream Team?
Soon to join that list: the Big Four being constructed in Los Angeles. Does anyone seriously believe that Andrew “I am always one rebound away from being out for the season” Bynum, Pau Gasol, an aging Steve Nash and Kobe “thanks to the Olympics, I’m not getting time off to rest my creaking body” Bryant are going to get past Oklahoma City? What’s are the chances they aren’t even the best team in L.A.?
Sorry, but it rarely works. The NBA is littered with the carcasses of failed superstar pairings. The only reason they keep trying is because, occasionally, you get an anomaly, such as the Pierce/Garnett/Allen Celtics (the rare pairing of three selfless vets whose skills/weaknesses complemented each other) or this year’s Miami Heat.
(First, the team has the BEST PLAYER ON THE PLANET. So, you know, that’s an unfair comparison. Second, the irony is that injuries to Bosh and Wade took away the “who is the leader” confusion the team suffered last season and put the ball clearly in James’ hands. The team, as constituted — with two Alpha males — was not as effective. It needed Wade to get hurt, thus nullifying the concept of a Big Three.)
But NBA GMs always screw up the formula. Big Threes usually either happen organically — like what is being put together in Oklahoma City — or by accident — who would’ve guessed when they were drafted that Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were 2/3s (along with Tim Duncan) of a dynasty?
And, occasionally, you get a “Wait, did that actually fucking work?” breakthrough like the Rasheed Wallace/Chauncey Billups/Rip Hamilton Pistons. But just randomly putting together three big names is always a science experiment — and usually one of those experiments that ends with a big puff of smoke and an explosion.
A few more questions to ponder: Is a pairing of Williams/Johnson/MarShon Brooks/Brook Lopez really THAT much less scary than taking the last two guys out and adding in Howard? Would you rather have Howard in Houston with Jeremy Lin and a GM who actually knows what he is doing? Does any of this matter as long as you have a hungry LeBron James and vets such as Ray Allen willing to take pay cuts to play with him?
If NBA GMs wanted to prevent building another dynasty, the best thing would’ve been if they had helped make Howard-to-Nets trade happen.