Monthly Archives: December 2004

Reggie White and Susant Sontag – things left unsaid

This past Sunday Reggie White died at age 43 from a respiratory ailment. Yesterday Susan Sontag died at age 71 of complications from leukemia.

Reggie White grew up in Tennessee and played football at University of Tennessee. He had an exceptional career as a football player. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice and he was the leader in career sacks when he retired. White and Brett Favre were the key players on the Green Bay Packers team that won the 1997 Superbowl.

I don’t see much television because I have an addiction to watching sports. Staying at a hotel can be excruciating. I never get to sleep because I can’t stop mindlessly flipping through the two or three sports channels on hotel televisions usually showing high school football and skeet shooting or endless repeats of ESPN’s SportsCenter. But I did watch Monday Night Football and flip channels a little bit. Every channel had a tribute to Reggie White that celebrated the positive and totally ignored the controversy.

Can you imagine a news report about Ted Williams that didn’t mention the bizarre ending to his life or a piece about Ty Cobb’s life that didn’t look at his racism? Granted, White led a very productive and positive life as an athlete and, arguably, as an evangelical minister. But if an athlete used his position as a public figure to present bigoted views, that should have been covered. In a speech before the Wisconsin legislature, White pronounced homosexuality a sin and used racial stereotypes to describe minorities. Here is a short excerpt from that speech: “As America has permitted homosexuality to establish itself as an alternate lifestyle, it is also reeling from the frightening spread of sexually transmitted disease. Sin begets its own consequence, both on individuals and nations.” He later apologized for the racial stereotypes but appeared in an ad campaign for a group opposing homosexuality wearing his Packers uniform. The Packers organization apologized to gay and lesbian groups.

Susan Sontag, on the other hand, got plenty of mixed coverage. Sontag was a celebrated (and celebrity) intellectual. She was best known for her groundbreaking and provocative essays on subjects ranging from the roll of photography in contemporary culture to societal myths around illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. Unlike Reggie, she helped dispel myths about disease instead of preach them.

She also got into a lot of trouble. She praised the communist societies of North Vietnam and Cuba and blamed U.S. policies for the 9/11 attacks. You’ll get into a lot more trouble if you attack the government than if you attack homosexuals and the lengthy article about Sontag in today’s New York Times is proof of that. I don’t think I’ve ever read such a mixed review posing as an obituary except maybe the New York Times article following the death of Derrida. And he’s French! Some articles were even worse. Roger Kimball writes in the New Criterion, “Sontag enjoyed an extraordinary career. But, … her celebrity was not the gratifying product of intellectual distinction but the tawdry coefficient of a lifelong devotion to the mendacious and disfiguring imperatives of radical chic.” Ouch, and this on the day after she dies. I’d hate to read what he wrote about her when she was alive.

They left something out of Sontag’s life too. Everyone mentioned her husband and son but gave the impression that her sex life ended at age 26 when she left her husband. Many articles mentioned Annie Lebovitz and some even mentioned Sontag’s essay for Leibovitz’s book, Women. Even though it’s right there in the Associated Press report about Sontag’s death, very few newspapers disclosed that Leibovitz was Sontag’s longtime companion. If you want this information, you have to read the Arkansas Democratic Gazette or the Forth Worth Star-Telegram, not the New York Times.

Things left unsaid are some times as damaging as those included. Budding intellectuals would get the idea that Sontag didn’t have a personal life outside her marriage. Young male athletes who are starting to discover feelings for the boy next door know that sin and disease will follow because Reggie said so and no one’s disputing him. Suppressed feelings always get expressed, sometimes violently. And sometimes in violence towards ourselves.

Practice and Competition Report: true to my instructions for handling an injury, I took to the courts today to play shadow tennis, tennis without the ball. I went through part of my practice routine generally looking like an idiot as I bounced the imaginary ball three times before practicing my serve. It got even worse after I put my racket down and went through the rest of the practice routine without the racket or the ball.

I would rather look like an idiot, though, than sit out another two months because I reinjured my thumb by coming back too fast. Besides, I learned something important. My twisting range of movement is increasing from doing the exercises in my workout. If I can twist further when I serve, that takes pressure of my shoulder because my trunk is doing more of the work and my shoulder less.

As the Ball Turns: Karl receives shocking news, Kobe receives even more shocking news

Daily Recap of Today’s Soap Operas

As the Ball Turns: Karl receives shocking news, Kobe receives even more shocking news

Michael and Juanita Jordan are in town for an NBA all-star game. Karl Malone, dressed in cowboy hat and boots, walks up to Michael and Juanita and gives Juanita a hug. Michael is uncomfortable with this and excuses himself.

Juanita asks Karl if his injured knee has healed. He says he feels good; he just needs to decide whether to return to the Lakers or sign with another team. Juanita asks him if he really wants to play with Kobe. “You know how he is. He’s gotta be the the star,” she tells Karl. She suggests that Karl just might want to test his friendship with Kobe if he’s considering spending his last shot at a championship with someone who’s got such a bad track record. “Say one bad thing to Vanessa and see what happens,” she says as she walks away. Karl is left pondering her comment.

Coach Joe Bryant stands on the sideline at his team’s practice. His cellphone rings and he steps off the court into a hallway to take the call after he looks at the caller-ID. “What do you want from me? I told you never to call me again, haven’t you done enough already?”

A woman speaks on her cellphone in a dark corner in a bar. She says that Kobe’s lawyers are lowballing her and if he can’t do anything about it, “I’ll go to Kobe’s house and tell him who paid me off.”

Vanessa Bryant sits by herself at a small table at the All Star event. Karl walks up to the table. She looks at his cowboy outfit with total disbelief and asks him, “Hey Cowboy, what are you hunting?” Karl is offended by her attitude and says, with a sly grin on his face, “I’m hunting for little Mexican girls.” Vanessa had a puzzled look on her face. Karl sits down at the table still grinning and asks, “Do you like me?” Vanessa is now feeling uncomfortable. She answers that she likes him as a friend then quickly gets up and leaves the table.

Joe Bryant is driving in his car and looks at a slip of paper with an address on it. He checks the street addresses and drives up to a local motel. He sees a woman drive out of the motel, recognizes her and drives off after her.

Karl leaves the All Star event and is walking to his car. Kobe, very angry, walks up to him. He accuses Karl of hitting on his wife and using a racial slur. He tells Karl, “I can’t believe you hit on my wife. How could you do that?” Karl protests that he was only kidding around, he didn’t mean anything by it, but Kobe is furious. He puts his finger in Karl’s face and says, “I’m gonna mess you up if you every come anywhere near her again,” then storms off. Just then, Kaye, Karl’s wife, walks up. “What was that all about?” she asks. “It’s no big deal,” Karl says, “Kobe’s mad because I was teasing Vanessa, that’s all.”

Still at the All Star event, Michael walks up to Juanita and tells her that he has an unexpected business meeting. His bodyguard will take her back to the hotel and he will meet her later for dinner. He gives her a kiss on the cheek and leaves. Juanita, angry, picks up her phone and says, “Follow him.”

Kaye is in her kitchen. She dials the phone and asks to speak to Vanessa. Instead, Kobe picks up the phone. He is still furious. He yells into the phone, “What kind of man is he? He hits on his friend’s wife. He hits on women when he’s on the road. How can I be friends with someone like that?! Tell him our friendship is over.”

Kobe gets off the phone and goes into the living room where a local television sportswriter is setting up a live interview with him about his new role as team leader. Kobe tells the reporter that he’s pretty hopeful about this season, things are going well but he thinks it’s not fair to his teammates that Karl hasn’t made his decision to return yet. His teammates are working really hard for him and they’re having to look over their shoulder and wonder if Karl is going to take their place on the team if and when he comes back.

Karl arrives home after his workout and Kaye is waiting for him. She yells at him, “You are still seeing other women despite everything you told me. I cannot believe you lied to me again.” Karl is dumbfounded. Kaye continues, “Kobe says you play around when you’re on the road and you hit on Vanessa.” Kaye is upset and angry at the same time, she is almost in tears. Karl comforts her and reminds her that it’s not the first time Kobe has tried to take someone down with him. “Who are you going to believe, him or me,” Karl says. Kaye tells Karl, “I don’t know but Vanessa is my friend and you’d better go over there and fix this up else you are in a whole lot of trouble.”

Michael Jordan drives up to the same motel and walks up to the clerk. He asks if Miss Jones is still registered. The clerk says she just checked out. He says he was in a real hurry and seemed pretty mad. She muttered something about “going where the rich people live.” As Michael Jordan pulls out of the motel, another car drives up and follows after him

Karl Malone’s agent Dwight walks into the gym where Karl is finishing his workout. He tells Karl that Kobe has called him out in a television interview. He tells Karl that this is his opportunity to sign with San Antonio. No one will accuse him of chasing a ring now, even if it is the best team in the league. He can’t possibly return to the Lakers after what Kobe said about him.

A woman drives into the circular driveway of a huge beautiful house. Joe Bryant drives up after her. Joe gets out of the car and runs up to her pleading, “You can’t do this to me. You can’t do this to my son. Haven’t you already ruined his life?”

The cameraman starts shooting. Just as Kobe is yelling at him to turn his camera off, Michael Jordan turns into the driveway and gets out of his car. The reporter’s jaw drops to the ground. Michael runs up to Joe Bryant and the woman at yells at Joe, “I told you I’d take care of this! What are you doing?”

Vanessa runs up to the door, sees Joe and Michael and then sees the woman and is in a total state of shock. She runs down the stairs and starts attacking the woman. The cameraman gets closer and the reporter starts reporting the three ring circus in front of him. “And now Michael Jordan has joined the fight! Joe Bryant and Michael Jordan are trying to pull Vanessa and the alleged rape victim apart. Vanessa is pulling her hair, the woman is kicking…..”

Two security guards run out of the house and join Joe Bryant and Michael in trying to separate the two women.

Juanita drives into the driveway, gets out of her car and runs up to Michael. She starts to yell at him about seeing another woman then sees Vanessa and freezes.

Having heard all the yelling, Karl runs into the driveway and looks at the scene.

Michael yells at Juanita, “What are you doing here?” Vanessa, still held by the bodyguards, yells at Kobe, “What is that woman doing here?” Juanita looks at Karl and says, “What are you doing here?” Kobe, in complete disgust, now sitting on the steps with his face in his hands, looks at the crowd and says, “Even my own father hates me. Everybody hates me. What did I do that was so wrong?” The camera is in his face.

Joe walks up to Kobe. “Kobe, I love you. You are my son. I was trying to protect you. I knew you married too young but you wouldn’t listen to me. I thought if I paid her off to drop the rape charges, you’d be able to go on with your life and rebuild your reputation.”

Kobe looks back at his father and say, “I don’t need any help. Why does everyone think I need help and what is he doing here?” Kobe points at Michael Jordan. “Kobe, Michael is your father. He had an affair with your mother and I decided to adopt you and raise you as my own. He gave me the money to pay off the woman. We were just trying to help you.”

Juanita looks at Michael with horror then breaks into tears. Michael turns to her and says, “Honey, it was before we were married. I didn’t want you to know. I was embarrassed and you’ve been through so much already.” Juanita wipes her tears away and says, “I’m embarrassed too. You know that Karl and I had an affair but what you didn’t know is that we had a child.” Karl’s jaw drops to the ground. Juanita looks at Vanessa, “I never told Karl and I thought it was better if you didn’t know so you would think you were being raised by your real mother.” She looked at Karl, “I’m sorry I tried to come between you and Kobe, I thought Vanessa might somehow find out if the two of you were close friends.”

Vanessa walks up to Juanita and hugs her, Karl joins them. Michael walks up to Kobe and hugs him, Joe Bryant joins them. The woman, now with tears in her eyes, the cameraman and the reporter are left standing to the side. The reporter signs off, “That’s it Ladies and Gentleman, signing off live from the Kobe Bryant mansion. This truly is the soap opera to end all soap operas.”

sometimes Jim Rome really pisses me off

Jim Rome is the rapper, the spoken word king of sports radio. Give him a subject and he flies with it. Sometimes I just have to tun in to check out his latest rant. Sometimes, though, he just pisses me off.

The soccer players Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett retired this year. Hamm and Foudy recently played their last game at the Home Depot Center, a friendly against Mexico. It’s the end of an incredible run of over 15 yearsthat includes two world championships and two Olympic gold medals. But Jim’s rant on the subject took the form of “Who cares? Do you know any of their names? Who pays attention to soccer anyway?”

I didn’t pay attention to hockey before the “miracle on ice” at the 1980 Olympics and I didn’t pay attention to hockey afterwards. I didn’t watch much soccer before the 1999 Women’s World Cup final against China and I haven’t watched much since. But those games are huge events in American sports. A completely sold out Rose Bowl saw the U.S. beat China on penalty kicks and win the World Cup in 1999. Womens’ sports took a giant step forward and so did soccer in this county. More kids play soccer now than any other sport. Mia Hamm’s name recognition is right there with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

There may be no women’s professional soccer league and the NBA may have to support the WNBA for now. But I remember when professional baseball players had to get off season jobs to support their family. Womens’ sports won’t get established over night. It might take twenty years before we see reporters crowding around a WNBAor WUSA player on a nightly basis. That doesn’t mean you can throw away the legacy of this group of players and their teammates. You don’t get press in this country unless you’ve done something very bad or very good. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has been very good for a long time.

Practice Report: I think I used to spend less time playing tennis before I injured my thumb and achilles heel. Here is my current rehab schedule, more or less:
1. ice my thumb and achilles heel twice a day
2. stretch and strengthen my thumb
3. strengthen my forearm to avoid tennis elbow
4. do three stretches for my shoulder and two stretches for my heel daily
5. shadow tennis and virtual tennis daily so I don’t lose range of movement
6. go to the gym three times a week and do aerobics twice a week

Davis Cup, how to void a contract and other ways to cheat

The United States and Spain played for the Davis Cup in Seville, Spain last week. The host country chooses the playing surface in Davis Cup. Spanish players grow up playing on slow red clay courts. American players grow up playing on fast hard courts. The weather can be unpredictable in Spain this time of year so the Spanish put a roof over the courts. This helped the Americans because a dry court is faster and we need help because the last time an American won the a Grand Slam on clay was 1999 and even he got some help. Andre Agassi won the French Open after Arnaud Clément developed cramps needing only one more game to win the match early in the draw and the rain arrived just in time to give Andre a much needed time out to change the momentum in the finals against Andre Medveded.

Spain didn’t help enough. Andy Roddick lost to 18 year old Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya and the U.S. lost the Davis Cup final 3-1.

What if other sports allowed the home team to choose playing conditions like they do in Davis Cup? In baseball, we already have this. Teams get to choose how far you have to hit the ball to get a home run. If their field is a synthetic surface they stock the roster with fast players and good fielders. Groundskeepers are known to mess with the basepaths and the pitching mound depending on who’s coming to town. But what if some teams took it a bit further?

Let’s say your football team is playing in a blinding snowstorm and you are just about to attempt the winning field goal late in a scoreless game. You take a time out and ask the snow plow operator to drive onto the field as if he’s clearing one of the yard lines then swerve just enough to clear a path for your field goal kicker.

What about home court advantage in reverse. You set up one of your own players to improve your team’s chances. Let’s say you made a huge mistake by giving a big contract to a pitcher who hasn’t pitched all year and didn’t pitch that well when he did. You think to yourself, “If I can get this guy up on a morals charge of some sort, I can void his contract. What if I hire a prostitute to proposition him and then tip off a cop to the activities? The worst that can happen is the player says no. The best that can happen is that he takes the bait and we get million of dollars off our books.”

Or maybe that troubled but talented player isn’t performing as well as he was. You’d like to get rid of him but no one will take his contract off your hands. Simple, just pay a fan to throw something at him during play and terminate his contract when he jumps into the stands and beats up the fan and anyone else he comes across.

How about passing the buck in troubles times? A player testifies before the grand jury that he used steroids and knows that the testimony will likely become public. He tells a national sports magazine, “Hey, my good friend gave me those illegal substances. I had no idea what they were. They didn’t even help my game, I didn’t notice any difference.” He makes sure to include stories that demostrate the truly awful personality of his now former friend, a fellow player, to emphasize that he would never be involved with such a person had he known he was using steroids. It’s always better to blame your friends than take the blame yourself.

I hope you can tell which of these events really happened and which didn’t but I would understand if you couldn’t, I’m not sure myself.

cartoon of the day: future contracts in the NBA