It was around mile 22, I think, that I hit the wall on Saturday. Marathons will do that to you. Or maybe it was mile 20wherever the Scene’s Mobile Sports Desk and beverage cooler had been set up. I remember the looks of agony on the faces of the race participantsat least those who weren’t walking for a breatheras they huffed along a couple of hours after the Kenyans had blown through. For a shining moment of clarity, I affirmed why I had chosen not to go through the long months of training that would have brought me to the gasping, red-faced, guhoking condition of some of the people passing by, who had five or six more miles remaining to run. My insight was an endorphin rush I’ve come to recognize as La-Z-Boy High.
Then, as I reached down for another Diet Dr. Pepper, my mind began to drift. Runners will tell you this, too, is a natural reaction to blot out the pain and fatiguein this case, the pain and fatigue I was experiencing from watching the pain and fatigue of the runners.
For some reason I began to think of Susan Sarandon, which made me think of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, the old common-law companions, which made me think of the movie Bull Durham, which made me think of censorship and Cooperstown.
Last month, baseball’s Hall of Fame disinvited Sarandon and Robbins, immortalized to baseball fans as Annie Savoy and Nuke LaLoosh, to a 15th-anniversary celebration of Bull Durham. In fact, Cooperstown cancelled the whole event.
The Hall’s CEO, who also may have suffered from his own marathon-induced brain meanderings, concluded that Robbins and Sarandon would use the Cooperstown podium to make their highly public opposition to President Rumsfeld’s Iraq policy even publiceror perhaps to speculate on how Kevin Costner’s career could have fallen so precipitously from Bull Durham to Waterworld and The Bodyguardinstead of waxing poetically about the virtues of Our National Pastime.
Now if you or I were running the Hall of Fame, we’d have simply picked up the phone beforehand and made sure we and Robbins and Sarandon were all on the same page: no remarks out of left field, so to speak; don’t make baseball a political forum; stay in character from the film. Nuke and Annie probably wouldn’t know Iraq from a dirt patch anyhow.
But CEO Dude goes off with a textbook demonstration of knuckleheadism. Not that I think baseball has no right to expect that official presenters at official baseball events should keep the discussion to, um, baseball. The way it came off, though, the guys at Cooperstown were the ones who looked like major-league hosers: “Nyah-nyah-nyah, Robbins-Sarandon, you won’t get a chance to politicize this event. We’ll do it for you!”
Recognizing this as an imbecilic strategy (which should tell you something), even Commissioner Bud Selig distanced himself from Cooperstown’s gambit, and the Hall’s CEO was reduced to making a tail-tucked, semi-abject apology while Tim and Susan looked like First Amendment martyrs.
As the slow parade of runners proceeded toward East Nashville, however, I started thinking that Dude was onto something, in his own addled way. Lots of things in the sports world could use some pre-emptive censorship. So if I had absolute, Rumsfeldian power, as my runner’s reverie let me imagine that I did, here’s what I would stifle for the greater good.
Sideline reportersI’m convinced the only reason the networks employ Suzi and Melissa and the other gridiron gals is to give the appearance of gender equityand possibly because old-boy coaches are less likely to be rude to a woman who sticks a mike in their face as they leave the field at halftime with their team trailing by three touchdowns.
For all their tartiness, the traditional “women of the NFL”the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, Raiderettes and the rest at least did not commit the sin of spreading boredom. Nor do they provide the comic relief, however unintentional, we get from Eric Dickerson, whose incoherent ramblings are harder to follow than bedouins in a sandstorm and whose glasses always appear to have been freshly lifted from the prop room of Superfly. I’d ban the sideline males, too. Having Dr. Jerry Punch report on the severity of an offensive tackle’s groin pull constitutes more information than I really need.
Black patch inflationIt used to be that a team’s tribute to a deceased teammate or coachthrough black armbands or patches or initials sewn onto uniformsmeant something. Now, the coinage has been severely debased through overuse. As a registered American, I hate to sound cynical about this, but these days teams rarely go through a full season without some kind of patch. Other than the St. Louis Cardinals last season, we have a hard time even remembering who the remembrances are for. Either we’ve gone a mite overboard, or a greater percentage of these relatively small populations are dropping dead than Angela Lansbury’s good friends in Murder, She Wrote.
Stadium buzzesHaving a squadron of F-16s buzz our stadia just before the kickoff or first pitch has copycatted to the point of ubiquity. Despite the planes’ undeniable wow-factor, I have to wonder: How much of my $350-$550 billion potential tax rebate is this stunt costing me? We’ve invaded two countries and are thinking about one more (two if you count France), yet we’ve got an extra 10 grand in the Pentagon budget for every time a team’s PR guys want four jets to fly over?
Firsitch weeniesTime after time, we see dignitaries who can’t get the ceremonial first pitch to home plate without the aid of at least three bounces. It’s embarrassing. In Philadelphia, they would boo. None of the rest of us should stand for it either. I say teams should hold tryouts for prospective ceremonial firsitchers. If they can’t throw a ball 60 feet, six inches, get someone else who can.
Ban celebration bansPaul Tagliabue, who has less natural funk than the cast of the old Lawrence Welk Show, officially frowns upon guys like Terrell Owens. But at least he doesn’t flag him 15 yards for dancing with a cheerleader’s pompoms or spiking the ball on the Cowboys’ star at midfield after scoring a touchdown. Owens is, after all, in the entertainment business.
So are big-time college football and basketball programs. They just won’t admit it. Most of their guys, we venture to say, aren’t there for the pure love of competition. So let them spike the ball, choreograph touchdown dances or mug shamelessly after a slam. For all the money they’re not getting, the players should at least have a little fun.
Draft coverageOne thing I didn’t think about at all during the marathon was what I might miss on ESPN’s coverage of the NFL draft. Is there any creature more desperately in need of a life than one who watches the NFL draft, even just the first round, besides slaves to college football recruiting news, C-Span viewers and watchers of ESPN’s cheerleading competitions who are not blood relatives of the competitors?