November 30, 2009
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The Sports Philosopher

The Sports Philosopher

by Brad Eastland


Sports Philosopher

      It occurs to me I’ve been just a little too heartwarming lately.

      I apologize.   In my ongoing quest to be both funny and entertaining as a sportswriter I do realize I am sometimes critical of my fellow man (even though they deserve it), and I guess I didn’t want you guys to think I couldn’t be soft and sentimental as well.   And so, lately, I have been writing several columns for you that have been up-beat, downright inspirational and, well, heartwarming.    Like my column last month about the heartwarming pilgrimage to Phoenix my son and I made, to see the Cardinals play the Texans ( ), just so he could finally see an NFL game in-person.   And like the column I wrote just last week about that most heartwarming of all modern-day catchers, Joe Mauer ( ).   That’s right, people.   I’m just as sentimental as the next guy.   I still cry at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life.   I still get misty when I see a 3-legged dog.   I have feelings.

      But to be truthful, what I’ve always tried to accomplish in this space is to aim Wisdom’s harsh light directly at how the inanity and insanity of Sports is perfectly analogous to the inanity and insanity of Real Life, equally maddening, equally irritating, equally unfair.   And to do that, sometimes we must tell the truth as harshly as it needs to be told, and thereby point out the maddeningly negative.   Which is what we are going to do now.   Let’s blow off a little steam.   I’ve been kind of tense lately, maybe venting my spleen a bit will improve my mercurial disposition, or at least make me feel better.

      I will start with Allen Iverson.

      Allen Iverson “retired” from basketball this week.   Sort of.   I say sort of because the Philadelphia 76-ers (one of the four NBA teams he’s played with that couldn’t wait to get rid of him) are—as of this writing—considering making him an offer to come out of “retirement”, that’s how pathetic the 76-ers are nowadays.   Iverson has garnered quite a bit of praise since he “retired”.   From the way the media is suddenly fawning over him, you’d think that it was either Michael Jordan retiring or that Iverson had recently announced he had developed a secret new serum to cure both AIDS and the common cold.

      Suffice to say I am pretty irritated about this whole Iverson thing.   All this retroactive praise.   Because I regard Allen Iverson as not only my least-favorite basketball player ever, but I also rank him as one of the most over-rated players ever.   Lifetime shooting percentage?   Only 42 percent.   That’s not good, folks.   A typical Iverson game was always him going 10-for-32 from the field, scoring thirty or so points in defeat, and then having the press fawn all over him as if he’d done something exceptional.   It would be one thing if he was a dead-eye from long range, dropping in those 3-pointers from the rafters like deadly rain.   But his lifetime 3-point percentage is only 31 percent.   That’s not good, folks.

      Plus, all his intangibles are negative.   This is the guy who made sport out of missing practice, who was routinely late for team meetings, who routinely fought with his head coaches, who once refused to play in a game because his coach made him come off the bench, this was a supremely arrogant, me-first player who always put himself above the team (sort of a basketball version of Terrell Owens), his arms and neck and shoulders arrogantly ablaze in tattoos, a man once arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and possession of weed at the same time, a man who once literally threw his own wife out of their house during a fight, a man who once wrote a rap “song” (I’m a master at using quotes to signify irony) the lyrics of which slammed and made derogatory remarks against homosexuals, a man always, always, always embroiled in controversy, so much so that—as said—each of the four NBA teams that employed him were, in the end, glad and grateful to see him go.  

      Even his nicknames were the embodiment of arrogance.   One of them was “the answer”.   Well, in 14 NBA seasons Allen Iverson was never the answer, his teams never winning an NBA title.   Another nickname was his initials, A.I.   That one wasn’t too bad.   Except for that time when his own mother referred to him as such.   I’m not kidding; she was being interviewed in a parking lot about some controversy her son was currently embroiled in, and she kept saying, by way of defending him, “that’s okay, he’s just A.I.   He’s A.I.   He’s A.I.!”   Good grief.   That would be like if I started to refer to my son Robbie as “R.E.” (Actually, he’d probably like that.)     

      Anyway, I implore the 76-ers to come to their senses and not offer Iverson a contract.   I say good riddance.   And I might as well implore Iverson as well.   Stay retired, A.I.   Give retirement a chance.   It’s only been a week.   Trust me; your staying retired is the real answer….

      A word on Ken Griffey, Jr.   I’ll make this quick.   You might recall that I was pretty harsh on old Ken Junior a couple months back ( ) for having arguably the worst year any great player has ever had in the history of baseball.   He was hitting .218 at the time I penned my plea for his retirement, and wound up hitting a pathetic .214 for the season.   The Seattle Mariners were so delighted they rewarded him with another one-year contract.   Good money, of course.   Ken shrewdly elected not to retire.

      I’m sorry, but the baseball gods need to punish old Ken for this decision.   He must pay for this crime of hubris and greed against the gods of the grand old game.   I don’t have anything against Junior, but here’s to hoping he hits about .197 next year.   That would be a story worth writing….

      Staying with baseball for a moment, Bud Selig just declared that he is stepping down as commissioner of baseball after the 2012 season.   Wordsmith that I am notwithstanding, I just don’t have the words to express my anger over this announcement.   He should have been cashiered a long time ago for all his crimes, but the media (except me) gave him a free pass.   And now he’s going to get credit for “seeing us through” the Steroids Era, when in fact he is the most incompetent commissioner ever, bar none, in any sport.   I mean if he was stepping down because of my annual savage column calling for his dismissal, well then this would be a red-letter day for your correspondent.   But I just cringe when I think of how they will lionize him during his final three years on the job.   But I know the truth, and so do you.   He was either totally incompetent, if he really didn’t know it was going on, or—even worse—was the Chief Enabler of the Steroids Era, brazenly lining his boss’s pockets via the home run (his bosses being the greedy owners, of course), not caring a bit about how those home runs were being hit.   There is no third possibility.   Personally, I’m sure he knew.   And then when public opinion warranted his indignation, he acted (quite recently) like he had no idea that there was such a Steroids problem, and that he was only now becoming aware of this foul conspiracy threatening the integrity of the game.   The man is corruption incarnate.   Plus his concurrent family ownership of the Milwaukee Brewers was always the worst kind of conflict-of-interest.   Plus he’s the guy who led the cabal to oust the previous commissioner, Fay Vincent, a truly moral and courageous man, one of the great commissioners baseball has ever had.   Vincent even tried to suspend Yankees owner George Steinbrenner from baseball once (which automatically gets him into my Hall of Fame), tried to suspend him for life.   Steinbrenner got caught paying $40,000 bucks to some small-time hood to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, his own player, who was in the process of suing Steinbrenner at the time for back wages.   He was going to use this ill-gotten info to feloniously discredit Dave before the court, to try to keep the court from prying open George’s wallet.   What a lowlife.   At least Vincent thought so—so he lowered the boom on George, and if given a free hand baseball might never have had to deal with this recent unholy Yankee dynasty.   But Steinbrenner’s fellow corrupt owners reinstated him….right before they threw Vincent out to make room for Selig.   God, the world can be a putrid place.   Okay, that’s all I can handle.   No more about *Selig, who I often refer to lovingly as the human asterisk.   I can’t take it any more.   I’m starting to bang my head against the refrigerator.   I have to stop.

      I’ve decided I’m sick of watching USC beat UCLA every year in the big game.   I hate USC.   I grew up loving UCLA.   I dread this time of year, because it usually means another thorough drubbing at the hands of the Trojans.   Last week’s 28-7 rout was pure pain, like being forced to watch your own root canal.   And then UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel made it worse by calling time-out with less than a minute to go, which caused USC coach Pete Carroll to rub it in by having his QB throw a 50-yard bomb for the ultimate in-your-face touchdown.   UCLA deserved it, they asked for it, but it just made me hate ‘SC all the more.   Feels good getting it off my chest.   I just don’t know what to do about it.   I love college football, and it’s an unrequited love.      

      4th-and-two.   You know exactly what I’m talking about.   Two weeks ago, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick goes for it on 4th-and-two from his own 28-yard-line hoping to get the first down to end the game, rather than punt the ball to the Indianapolis Colts and their peerless quarterback, Peyton Manning.   It’s been two weeks and the NFL talking heads are still yapping about it.   Have you ever seen the national football press corps more divided and passionate over a single issue?   You’d think they were debating on whether or not Truman had the moral right to drop The Bomb on Hiroshima.

      Anyway, most people think Belichick should have punted the ball away, forcing Manning to drive 70 yards for the winning touchdown instead of 30.   But not everybody.   In fact, the publisher of this newspaper, Pete Bennett, thinks Belichick did the right thing, that this type of maverick chance-taking is what makes Belichick a winner, and that it made sense to try to get the clinching first down deep in his own territory.   Pete is wrong of course, but he’s entitled to his opinion.

      But what upsets me isn’t that Belichick went for it and failed to get the two yards and that this needless risk-taking ultimately led to the Colts pulling it out.   I don’t think it was an entirely clear-cut decision, even though I personally would have punted.   What bothers me is that nobody talks about the real story of that game and that particular play.   Namely, THE REFS BLEW THE CALL!!!

      That’s right.   It’s one thing to go for it on 4th-and-two and blow it, but the Patriots didn’t blow it.   They made it!   They made the first down.   They made the two yards with 18 inches to spare.   Not two inches or six inches or even twelve huge inches, but replays clearly show that the Patriots’ Kevin Faulk was a foot-and-a-half past the 1st-down marker when he established clear possession of the ball.   It wasn’t even close.   It’s not debatable, it’s not equivocal, it’s not open to review.   Just like the play itself wasn’t open to review.   That’s right; since it happened outside the two-minute warning, the refs up in the booth were not even “allowed” to step in and review it.   Alas, a flaw in the system.   They weren’t even allowed to look at the tape and correct their colleagues’ mistake.   Poor Belichick.   To be called foolish and reckless and charged with trumpeting that he has no faith in his defense is one thing, to be raked over the coals for poor decision-making is one thing, but to have to listen to it knowing (in his mind, at least) that he did make the right call because it worked and his guys did make the 1st down but that he got screwed by the refs who he can’t even criticize publicly for fear of getting heavily fined, well, it must drive him nuts.   Can you imagine how the tenor of the whole argument would be vastly different if we were analyzing his decision in light of it working (which is what we should be doing, if pro football refs weren’t terminally blind), rather than within the rubric of his plan failing?   I feel his pain.   As a fan and sports analyst, dare I say philosopher, the tenets or reason I value above all else are objective clarity and precision of thought, and frankly it bothers me that more football talking heads haven’t stepped forward to chastise the real villains here, the officials, for blowing another one.

      In fact, the only pro football analyst who has stepped up and declared—boldly and unequivocally—that the Patriots made that 1st down and made it with room to spare, is….wait for it….Deion Sanders.   That’s right, Deion “Prime Time” Sanders.   Don’t get me started on him.

      Maybe it’s just me, but is anyone else out there alarmed that what Sports has come to in this country is that the entity we have to look to from now on as our moral compass and clarion voice of reason is Deion Sanders?

      Okay.   Thanks for listening.   You know what?   I do feel better….

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