I used to read the newspaper sports pages at breakfast, but no more. So many items caused me to chuck my Cheerios that I now read them before or after my morning meal. With fewer cleanups to contend with, I’m a happier man.
I mean, sports figures say the darnedest things, and they’re not nearly as cute or funny as the kids’ quotes Art Linkletter used to trot out. Some of the stuff they come up with is so incredible it’s unbelievable. They do it, I guess, because in the “Me” universes they inhabit they never are contradicted and rarely are questioned seriously. Some sportswriters view the circus they cover with a jaundiced eye and occasionally puncture their bubbles, but too few.
Exhibit A in this regard was a story I came across a couple of weeks ago. It seems that the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles annually vote to give a teammate a “courage” award and named the ex-con quarterback Michael Vick, of dog-fighting infamy, as this season’s recipient.
It got better from there. Instead of mumbling his thanks and hurrying offstage, Vick saw fit to declare himself worthy of the honor. “I’ve overcome a lot, more than probably any single individual can handle or bear,” said he.
Overcome a lot? You’d think he’d battled back from brain surgery or being hit by a truck. The fact that nobody put him in prison but himself seems to escape him.
Then, this week, I read where Pete Carroll abruptly quit as the head football coach at the University of Southern California to take a similar job with the NFL Seattle Seahawks. That wasn’t shocking—it’s what coaches at his level do. It also wasn’t surprising that his departure from academe came at a time when the NCAA was investigating his USC program, or that his move will increase his annual salary to $7 million from the $5 million he was earning as a humble prof.
The kicker was Carroll’s goodbye press conference in Los Angeles, where he said he was wooed away from the school and players he loved not by the 40% raise, or by the threat posed by NCAA gumshoes, but by the “challenge” the Seattle job presented. Meaning, I guess, that he considers coming out on top from among the 32 NFL teams a greater achievement than besting the 100-plus college football big-timers for that national title.
But the recent sports-blather champ is Mark McGwire, the Sultan of Squat. In several lengthy and sometimes teary interviews orchestrated by Ari Fleischer, who was schooled in disaster management in the Bush 43 Administration, McGwire this week fessed up to the steroid use he’d refused to discuss since his retirement from the game after the 2001 season.
McGwire said he wished he could have made his confession at the 2005 Congressional hearing where he famously announced he intended to look forward, not back, but was dissuaded by his lawyers. This is despite that fact that no major jock has been prosecuted for using steroids, only for lying about it under oath. He also said his confession was delayed by the pain it would cause “family members, friends and coaches,” as though they couldn’t look at his Blutto-like physique and adult-onset acne and reach the same conclusion everyone else did.
McGwire gave a time line for his steroids use designed to minimize it. He said he used them “very briefly” after the 1989 season, when he was recovering from an injury, and again for the same duration and purpose in 1993. And—oh yeah-- “on occasion” throughout the 1990s. But what does “on occasion” mean, and didn’t the ‘90s include 10 of his 16 big-league seasons, including his 70-homer 1998 campaign?
He said he wished he’d never played during baseball’s “steroid era,” thus blaming the times for his sins and ignoring that more than anyone else he defined them.
Big Mac’s biggest whopper, though, was his claim that he took steroids strictly for health purposes. “There’s no way I did this for any type of strength use,” he averred. Ye gads—what did he think when he looked in the mirror and saw that his chest was six inches bigger around than it used to be, that his arms had gained two or three inches each and that his collar size had jumped to 21 from 18? That he was literally bursting with good health?
I’d like to end this with the “Say it isn’t so, Joe” line some kid supposedly laid on Joe Jackson of the old Black Sox, but I know I must adjust to the times. When an athlete these days is moved to say it isn’t so, you know that it is.