Wouldn’t it be nice, for a change, to read more uplifting, positive, life- and brain-affirming stories from the world of sports? Wouldn’t it be zestily refreshing if we could accentuate sports figures who display good judgment and exemplary character?
Well, sure. And, as some folks like to say, if buzzards came with juke boxes, sweet music could fill the skies.
The bubbly, happy-smiley stories are there, of course. It’s just that, before we can get to them, the mind-numbing examples of mind numbness keep pouring in, demanding attention. Just in the past two weeks, for example, we’ve seen several impossible-to-ignore examples of breathtaking bone-headedness.
OK, all you fans of wrestling’s “Monday Nite Nitro” and swinish behavior in general, does the name “Alonzo Mourning” ring a bell? Bonehead Suspect No. 1, known around the NBA as “Zo,” has long demonstrated such a proclivity for disorderly conduct on the court that, if the league ever suspends him permanently, he could vault into a new career as a resident bad dude in Jackie Chan movies. Some people might derogatorily label Mourning a thugthough in the interests of preserving his self-esteem, let’s just say that Alonzo is struggling with the issues of anger management.
Mourning, however, is not just your average brawler. He also happens to be one of basketball’s premier centersand a central reason why the Miami Heat was a legitimate contender to dethrone the Chicago Bulls and advance to the NBA Finals.
But something stranger than imbecility broke out on the way to the championship. In Game Four of their five-game series against the New York Knickswith whom the Heat shares more bad blood than Serbs share with CroatiansMourning, strange as it seems, got into a fight.
And not just any fight. Zo became embroiled in a fist-slinging, venom-spewing, talking-about-your-mama slap-fight with 1.4 seconds left in the game! The rationale behind these fisticuffs remains known only to Zo.
Unlike Mourning’s sanity, the outcome of the game was not in doubt; the Knicks had it won. The outcome of Sunday’s decisive Game 5 in Miami, however, was obviously another question. In that contest, the Heat could have benefited enormously from Zo’s rebounding, shot-blocking, and scoring, not to mention his intimidating scowl.
But Mourning’s participation on Sunday was limited to stewing on the bench, since, as he well knew, fighting automatically lands you a two-game stretch in the NBA’s hoosegow. The Knicks won by a laughably wide margin.
New York’s Larry Johnson, whose jostling provoked Mourning into the last-second fight at Madison Square Garden, might have been one of the loudest laughers. Except that he, even more inexplicably than Zo, became a Bonehead Suspect too.
When his former teammate started flailing at him, Johnson simply could have backed away, savoring the prospect of playing in a Mourning-less Game 5. Instead, he returned Zo’s blowsearning himself a one-way pass to the pokey too. And he offered up an even brain-deader excuse than Alonzo. He had to retaliate, he said. He had to be a man.
Goofiest of all, Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy also joined the No-Brainer Club when he entered the melée and tried to pull Mourning away from Johnson. At least, we think he was trying to pull Mourning away.
Van Gundy might also have been trying to pull Zo’s shorts down and humiliate him on national TV. It was kind of hard to tell, since the diminutive coach, who looks as if he might have trouble whipping Rosie O’Donnell in a fair fight, never managed to do much more than grab Mourning’s ankles.
It’s quite possible that Zo didn’t even realize Van Gundy was there. The whole scene looked as if the Taco Bell chihuahua had launched an assault on Bigfoot.
And, frankly, the Mourning-Johnson-Van Gundy confab merely provides ammunition to those anti-jock forces who suggest that the EPA mobilize against testosterone poisoning. So let me set the record straight: It wasn’t hormones, folks. Just old-fashioned idiocy.
Speaking of which, let’s turn our attention to last week’s other great upholders of the pinhead principlethe well-intentioned if not well-rounded geniuses of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The other day, the academics among that august body put their heads together (always a dangerous situation) and adopted a measure known as Proposition 62, which provides that scholarship athletes be allowed, like ordinary students, to hold paying jobs during the school term.
Prop 62, like so many actively harmful notions, sounds harmless enough. In one inspired swoop, the NCAA boys envision, it will greatly reduce incentives for cheating and promote integrity in college sports. In reality, the measure will do for athletic integrity what the Three Stooges did for manners.
The hearts of the college presidents who green-lighted Prop 62 are in the right place. It’s just that their heads are lodged in a place we can’t fully describe in a family newspaperor even the Scene.
As a whole, scholarship athletes are an impoverished lotespecially those who participate in revenue-generating sports like football and basketball. Many athletes lack even the gas money to travel home on off-season weekends. While they watch their fellow students withdraw bulging wads of cash from the campus ATMs, they can’t afford even mundane luxuries such as a take-out pizza or a night at the movies. So it’s understandablealmost even excusablethat some coaches yield to the temptation to hand athletes a few dollars here and there to help them get by.
It’s not that jocks are indolent, spoiled layabouts. It’s just that, under the present rules, they’re prohibited during the school year from participating in any profit-making activityexcept as part of the athletic teams that contribute to their schools’ bottom lines. The NCAA has even busted athletes for participating in charitable ventures that raise money for worthwhile causes.
The organization’s serpentine logic appears to be that it can eliminate the problem of plush alums giving athletes absurd sums of cash by enabling them to give those jocks and jockettes nominal jobssuch as moving lawn sprinklers and monitoring the growth of grassthat pay absurd sums of cash. On top of everything else, college athletic departments are supposed to set up new, expensive bureaucracies to oversee all of this economic activityan undertaking that makes Hillary Clinton’s national healthcare plan look simplistic.
In a way, however, the NCAA’s stance is reassuring, since the adoption of a practical idea would have been too out of character to contemplate.
In the midst of such folly, however, this spring has brought us one highly unusual suspectmajor-league baseball owners. In one of the most stunning upsets of the decade, this anarchic group of self-interested weasels has advocated something sensiblethe abolition of the American League’s designated hitter rule, much maligned among everyone except porky power hitters who can’t bend over to field ground balls. It brings to mind another old country expression: Even a blind hog sniffs out an acorn once in a while.