The enduring appeal of professional wrestling is its utter simplicity.
In a world with more shades of gray than a fogbank hiding warships, pro wrestling's scripted madness is comforting black-and-white. For centuries, pro wrestling has led its fans through the most basic morality play: the struggle of heroes against the treachery of villains.
Even in its evolution from circus tents to pyrotechnic-heavy, highly produced made-for-TV arena shows, from seedy smoke-filled halls to our glitziest stadia, the wrestling show is immutable. There are good guys to cheer and bad guys to loathe.
If only life — or even "legitimate" sport — were so easy.
The gargantuan amounts of money thrown at our best athletes have infected our sports with jaundice. Terrified by what they might lose in salary or sponsorships, athletes have turned yellow, fearful that a misstep or a misspoken word will knock the swoosh off their sweat socks or a dollar off their paycheck.
Consider Ryan Suter. Once half of the Nashville Predators' coveted top defensive pair with Shea Weber, Suter signed a Croesean contract with the Minnesota Wild in July.
According to Nashville general manager David Poile, this came after months of assurances he would remain in a saber-tooth sweater.
Since his departure, Suter has played the safest cards, saying the move was motivated by his family, who live far closer to Minneapolis than Music City, a line repeated ahead of the Predators' Tuesday visit to Minnesota.
When he relays his reasons, he chooses his words as carefully as a politician running for general election: mindful, moderate tones designed not to anger a soul, even the fans in Tennessee he eschewed for those in Minnesota.
But Predators fans don't need that kind of cold, hollow comfort. Only the levelest of heads don't begrudge him the move. And as we all know, level heads have no place in the irrational world of fandom.
Nashvillians want to be mad at Suter. They want to shake their fists at him for leaving the team he once helped to lead. They won't be appeased by some soft-focus domestic scene of Suter gathered 'round a fireplace with his wife, kid and half of Lake Wobegon.
Vitriol is boiling. And it would explode if only Suter would put on a black hat and proclaim with the chest-beating bravado of a Jerry Lawler that Nashville is a hick town full of slack-jawed losers who won't amount to anything.
Why would he want to do that, you ask? Why would he encourage a hail of catcalls and rotten fruit?
For the love of the fans — and the good of the game.
When a bad guy (a heel, in the parlance) takes the mic at a wrestling event, the rage galvanizes the room. The boos start to rise, first from the deepest reaches of the arena, then tumbling and spiraling down to the high-dollar seats near the action. The greatest bad guys — the aforementioned King Lawler, Ric Flair, Bobby Heenan, Tojo Yamamoto, Jimmy Hart — thrived on the jeers, preening and mocking the hateful crowd, their snarls and sneers far more interesting than the good guys (aka "babyfaces").
Suter isn't the first athlete to dodge a surefire heel star turn in favor of the boring safety of moderation. His life of profligate philandering exposed, Tiger Woods engaged in a managed campaign to resurrect his good-guy status (yawn). After hemming and hawing for years, charlatan Lance Armstrong finally did what everyone seeking contrition must do: He went on Oprah.
It's boring — and, worse, it's dishonest. Few believed that Woods was truly sorry for his rampant adultery. Even fewer bought Armstrong's excuses for his rampant cheating and his tenacious and litigious attempts at quashing his doubters. He should've just summoned what's left of his steroid-shriveled manhood and hoisted his middle fingers aloft for all the world to see. His actions have already done as much.
And Suter? No one in Nashville cares whether his family can make it to a few more games every season.
All we know is that he hit the road. So do us the favor of allowing the road to hit back.
There were once villains in sport, men despised everywhere but their home cities. But they played for a relative pittance. They didn't have shoemakers and sport-drink manufacturers cutting monthly checks. With those introduced, sport has grown into paunchy middle age, so concerned with paying the bills that it's softening its rougher edges.
But it was more fun — and frankly, more real — when it was more like pro wrestling, when it was all id, all showmanship. For Suter, denying Predators fans of that visceral release is more of an affront than wearing the black hat. After all, if you can't feel like a kid again, when today's squeaky-clean sports idols prove to be more bogus than any heel — well, an angry adolescent will do.
This is not the city we lived in five days ago.
We woke last Saturday morning — May 1, 2010, the ominously designated May Day — to a sky the color of a livid bruise and rain that steadily increased from strong to torrential. It didn't let up. By late afternoon, a children's birthday party at the Hillwood Strike & Spare near Bellevue let out to a sky split by lightning and rivulets swelling into whitewater.
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