This was a good day to be stuck in a cold room in the Executive West listening to the perpetual clicking of potential lawyers-to-be on their computers rather than following the sports news of the day. For if you are a sports fan and love watching games and enjoying the fun and triviality of American sports, this was not your day. Three major United States Sports and three scandals, each of which casts a dark cloud over them. Not exactly joy in Mudville.
First comes the “scandal” that has plagued baseball for the past few years, the question of who past or present, has been on steroids. With the day quickly approaching when Barry Bonds takes over the home run record, the media has been transfixed on telling us how awful this will be for the nation’s alleged pastime. However in recent days, you can slowly feel the tide turning in favor of Bonds. Barry was voted to the All Star Game for the first time in recent years, indicating that even while the media tells us that everyone hates Barry, there are people who want to tune him in. Columnists are slowly asking “wheres the outrage,” not understanding that for many Americans, the Bonds record chase is less about Barry himself but the history of the game in a sport that values its history more than any other. We watch Barry even if we dont like him, because we know he is one of the best to ever play the game. Did he use steroids? Almost certainly, yes. But is he still a great player who at this point, hasnt been proved of anything illegal? Also yes. Today we learn that Bud Selig is going to watch him break the record…..I guess that is good. But who would have ever thought we might need Barry to get us out of a sports malaise.
And why is there such malaise? Well in part it is because Michael Vick allegedly beat dogs into the ground until they were killed. Yeah that is a tough sentence to read, but it is also a tough sentence to comprehend. Coming from an avowed dog hater, the Michael Vick charges are difficult to swallow and tough to read. Regardless of your affinity for animals, the savagery alleged is unimaginable and one of the NFL’s marquee stars is crumbling before our very eyes. I love to watch Vick on the field….whether he is great is irrelevant, he is great to watch…..and now some of that joy with which he plays the game is lost. Today Roger “My name is not Rob” Goddell told us that while Vick isnt suspended, he wont be going to training camp. It will be tough to cheer Vick on again…..I may be mistaken, but I dont think Dan Marino would have done this.
And then there is the story of the crooked ref, Tim Donaghy. While I cant say it is the most disturbing sports story ever (if you count the WWE, I would put Chris Benoit pretty high up there), it is the one that cuts most directly at the very fabric of the game. For years it has been almost passe to argue that the NBA is fixed and that the games seem to have predetermined outcomes. For basketball, more than any other sport, is dependent on the calls of the referees and games in the NBA often have a suspicious smell. And now it turns out that they may have been not only suspicious looking, but also blatantly fixed. Sports can get over a lot of things……including athlete misconduct. But how do you get over the games you are watching being simply derivatives of the WWE, but worse yet derivatives created not for entertainment but to pay off gambling debts. David Stern today told us that this is the case of a lone criminal…..and maybe it is. But from now on we truly will not know. The NBA just found out about this in June and had the man calling one of its most important games of the year, Suns-Spurs Game 3. If the NBA, the league with the best ability to police itself and protect the integrity of the game cant tell if a game is fixed, how can anyone else? The answer is they cant and it will be tough to get over that anytime soon.
So yeah, a pitiful day in sports…..maybe one of the worst ever. Three scandals casting a shadow over three sports. But hey….at least college football is soon.