Bumper sticker I saw today: Give Blood, Play Hockey

Today we have the mad and the bad in sports. We’ve been hearing a lot about the mad lately. Strangely enough, one of the bad is in tennis.

Roscoe Tanner was a top professional tennis player in the 1970’s and 80’s. He had a booming serve and was an all around good guy. He looked even better as a good guy if you consider two of his fellow players at the time: John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. After he retired, he got into a lot of trouble. He served time in jail, twice. Once for failing to pay child support and once for bouncing bad checks. He bounced a check for $39, 000 to a boat dealer who ended up having to close his business. A Sports Illustrated article about Tanner last week posed an interesting question. Did the same thing that propelled Tanner to an Australian Open title help him get into all that trouble? He got to the top by ignoring yesterday. If he lost, as soon as the match was over he forgot about it and moved onto the next match convinced that he would win. When he wrote a check he couldn’t cover, he forgot about it because he was convinced that a business deal would come through in time to cover the check.

Milton Bradley is also in trouble, again. He was arrested on Thanksgiving day for disorderly conduct. Milton Bradley is one of the angry young men in sports today who have problems beyond the scope of an anger management course. Jose Guillen and Ron Artest are two other members of this group. Baseball scouts have always looked for five tool players. The five tools are hitting, hitting for power, running, fielding, and throwing. One of the reasons that Billy Beane consistently puts such a good team on the field for the Oakland Athletics is that he was once a “five tool player”. But he knew that he didn’t have the mental skills to be a successful professional baseball player so he learned to look beyond the current accepted standards to evaluate talent. Clearly five tools are not enough.

Do you give contracts to players who are very talented but have problems? Do you give Ron Artest 6.2 million dollars a year and hope that he matures and becomes a positive contributing member of your team like Kenyon Martin? If a player has drug problems, do you give him a contract and hope that he turns into an all-star like Lamar Odom?

The fight between the Pistons and the Pacers was a watershed event in NBA history. A watershed event is not the beginning of a problem. It’s a problem way out of control. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wish you’d been paying attention a long time ago. I think the question has been clearly answered. It’s not worth paying players who have problems because they reek havoc with your team. Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal were covering Artest’s back. Even worse, they hurt the reputation of the entire league.

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