THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THUGS
I don't know what kind of pictures you've pasted into your book of golden memories in recent months, but you're welcome to rest a while and look at mine:
Here's Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd trying to decapitate quarterback Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers. Here's Greg Lloyd with his lawyer; they're weighing the merits of a lawsuit against the league because it fined poor Greg $14,000 for his cheap shot.
There's professional tennis player Jeff Tarango storming off the lawn in the middle of a match at Wimbledon because he thinks he got a bad call. Oh, and that's Jeff's wife decking the chair umpire. Next, there's Jeff playing on center court in an early round of his next tournament, even though he's ranked something like 458th in the world. Clearly, the organizers now see him as a crowd pleaser.
Go ahead. Turn the page.
See that guy? The one throwing two folding chairs into the whirlpool with one hand and strangling a local TV reporter with the other? That's Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians. Doesn't talk much, Albert, but he hit fifty home runs this season, played in the World Series and finished second in the American League MVP voting.
Good likeness, don't you think?
You have to be pretty sharp to recognize the next two fellows, the ones with the fire suits, space helmets and full-face visors. Stumped? The one on the left is Formula One driving champion Michael Schumacher, from Germany, and the other guy is his chief rival, Damon Hill, son of the late, great Graham Hill. The reason Mike and Damon look a little wobbly in this shot is that they've just run each other off the road at 135 miles an hour. You'd think they'd get used to it: They did it almost every race this year.
Hey, there's my eight-year-old. Little Charlie. Looks pretty good in that football uniform, doesn't he? You know what? Charlie's only played five games in peewees, but he can already do one helluva touchdown dance in the end zone. And you should hear the bad-ass stuff he says to the kids on the other teams. I don't know where he picked up some of those words, but the other night at McDonald's he was complaining that we didn't name him "Deion." Cute, no?
Whaddya mean, ya gotta go? Come on, let's see a few more. This is really great stuff.
Look at this one. That's New York Yankees pitcher Jack McDowell giving a middle-finger salute to the booing fans as he heads for the dugout in the House that Ruth Built. Black Jack doesn't brook any nonsense, that's for sure. And here's one of my favorites. Guy on the bottom is reliever Randy Myers of the Cubs. Guy on top is the Chicago bond trader who couldn't take it anymore when Myers gave up another home run in the late innings one day this summer. So the guy leaped out of the stands, charged the mound and started whacking old Randy around pretty good.
Man, did they replay that a few times on SportsCenter.
Hey, where d'ya think you're going? We haven't even gotten to the Italian bike racers duking it out during the Tour de France. What a hoot. Or the hockey fight pictures. Got lots of those--with and without jerseys pulled up over the heads. And wait until you get a load of the European soccer riot stuff. Got two awfully good shots of a referee being torn apart by fans in Holland. Just hold your horses a minute, willya? There's an entire section in here on Barry Bonds. And Mike Tyson's mug shots. Hey. Don't you wanna see Mike Mamula give John Elway a concussion in Philadelphia? How about a couple of very special views of George Steinbrenner? Wait. Don't go. Please. I've got that Tonya Harding honeymoon video...
In other words, fans, things have gotten out of hand. Sports can still be matchlessly beautiful to watch, and the athletes themselves are more talented than ever. But our obsessive sports culture grows uglier by the day.
God isn't dead. He plays for the Dallas Cowboys, has 75 million bucks' worth of endorsement contracts and eats stuffed-crust pizza on the boob tube with his boss. God is Tommy LaSorda stamping and shouting in Los Angeles, Dan Reeves fuming in New Jersey and outfielder Vince Coleman setting off cherry bombs out in the crowded stadium parking lot. God is Andre Agassi pulling a "Tennis Sucks" T-shirt over his head--there's an ad campaign for you--as every teenage girl from Flushing Meadow to Seattle swoons helplessly. Meanwhile, the TV camera leers at his girlfriend, Brooke Shields, who's perspiring demurely in the expensive seats.
God's on ice. Pro hockey teams value their "enforcers," but no more than the fans who sling cups of beer at the opposing benches. God rushes the passer. Football loves its thugs--Bryce Paup (twelve thousand in fines), Keith Hamilton (twelve thousand), Mamula (eight thou)--and from the comfort of the broadcast booth, motor-mouthed former quarterback Joe Thiesman speaks up for unlimited maiming: "Don't make wimps out of quarterbacks," he says. "Button up your chin strap and play like a man."
Well, okay, Joe. Does that include punching out the goalpost padding every time you catch a TD pass? Or styling sideways into the end zone with your finger pointed up the cornerback's nostril, accompanied by selected observations on his family heritage? Does that mean firing your 100-mile-an-hour heater at an opposing batter's head even when payback isn't called for?
Does that mean parking your wrecked stock car next to the pit wall and slugging a fellow driver who's still strapped into his?
What are fans--especially young fans--to think when an NBA superstar shoves the ball into the face of an official? Or when ESPN keeps repeating the San Francisco 49ers' sideline taunts of a badly beaten St. Louis club: "Same old sorry-ass Rams!" What are kids--scarier yet, 40-year-old kids wearing bulldog masks or three shades of face paint--to think when the sports magazines pump up those inside-the-game videos with interior linemen foaming at the mouth? What do fans think when the stuffed-crust pizza hucksters hire John McEnroe to show even-tempered Pete Sampras how to throw his racquet and curse out linesmen? What do fans think when, in another ad spot, NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman yanks Santa Claus right off his feet and starts yelling in his face? Funny stuff.
It's become obvious the fans think this zillionaire barbarian shuck--satirical or not--is just fine, thank you. That's why Dodgers fans pelted the L.A. outfield with souvenir baseballs one night last summer and forced forfeit of the game. That's why a high school kid in Ohio punched out a football referee last month after a questionable call. That's why the drunks in the South Stands at Denver shower abuse on coaches and players. And why noses get busted in sports bars. In Baltimore last year, two company bowling teams got into a free-for-all over a scoring dispute. The night convicted rapist Mike Tyson staged his alleged comeback fight, the most popular bout of the evening was an extracurricular melee among assorted corner men and managers following one of the preliminaries. Go to a kids' soccer game in any city park and you can hear nine-year-olds taunting each other, while their Little League parents urge them on. Overstimulated by TV sports and and set free by their parents' tacit approval, thousands and thousands of American kids have turned into little Ty Cobbs, sliding into second with their spikes high and hot to sign with Nike.
That's why frenzied soccer crowds in South America commit actual murder from time to time. And why schoolchildren shoot one another for the possession of football logo jackets.
The media--newspapers included--have become ever-more-willing conspirators in the sanctification of sport and the exaltation of graceless behavior. Dial in any sports talk show--if you can stomach that kind of thing--at any hour of the day and the wannabes are spewing out their venom and their spare testosterone. Catch the ESPN or CNN or local sports news and the hairdos are snickering over the latest hockey brawl or replaying the afternoon's best punchup-- whether it's from Caesars Palace or Comiskey Park. At the commercial break, Michael Jordan pops onto the screen, selling cereal or cars or condoms or whatever he's selling that hour.
This is an uncivil age. Sportsmanship has vanished. Our games have crawled back into their origins--actual blood war. When they're not showing up on the police blotters, sports heroes are busy showing up fellow athletes, knowing full well they'll make the evening's highlight segment and fatten their contracts in the bargain. In the land of sports worship, the rules have evaporated.
Of course, Jeff Tarango's wife can tell you that. As soon as she's done beating up the ref.
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