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Fans can find refuge in local sports

Staff Reports

I’ve got years of sports tension that I’ve yet to unload …

So here’s a little story ’bout a man named Jack Morris.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He was the winningest pitcher in major league baseball in the ’80s. He led the Detroit Tigers to a victory in the World Series in 1984. He spent a large portion of his career with the Tigers when, in 1991, he was offered a contract to join the Minnesota Twins. At the press conference regarding the change, Morris bawled like a newborn, saying that he had always wanted to finish his career in his hometown and that the trade was a tremendous honor. He cried for God’s sake. The following season, he led the Twins to a World Series win over the Atlanta Braves, pitching a shut-out in the game seven finale for a 1-0 win. A triumph, eh?

Well check this out. The following year … one year after he cried at a press conference … he was offered a bigger contract to play for the Toronto Blue Jays and he up and ditched the Twins. How about that?

Where’s the integrity?

Loyalty is now synonymous with professional sports only in terms of the franchise player who is trapped with an organization through obscene contracts. More and more on sports pages and in the news, we are catching wind of the general managers running teams ‘more like a business.’ High school players are ditching their local schools in favor of the schools with more notable programs, be it in whatever sport. Fans are no longer loyal to teams, but to players. “He Got Game” introduces us to the underbelly of college courting and the national news, not sports, keeps us abreast of the NFL players and their escapades.

We’ve had strikes in professional basketball, football and baseball all in the last decade. The last NBA season featured Shaquille O’Neil bopping around wearing a fur coat (a fur coat!) complaining that he doesn’t know where he’s going to get the money to sustain his lifestyle. The basketball elite became tubby.

Houston, Texas and Cleveland, Ohio, how could you be so scorned? After years of loyalty and passion, you’re football teams are shipped away, overnight. Cleveland, you got yours back, several years later, bruised and sub par. Way to go. Houston,while you’re cursing the Tennessee Titans for finally making it to the big game, you better be careful. Denying another tax hike might just cost you the Rockets, too.

And what of the Denver Nuggets and their purchase of Dennis Rodman?

Contrary to the masses, I love the man. I am grateful for an occasion when, during a heated ball game between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, he became entangled with Alonzo Mourning and proceeded to ballroom dance. It took Mourning a couple of minutes to realize what was happening and when he did, he pushed Rodman and was called for a technical foul. When he protested the call, he was ejected from the game. Meanwhile, Rodman just smiled. I would love to have that head game on any team.

Why did the Mavericks sign Rodman? Because they needed the press so they could sell tickets. There’s been little denying it. The contract Rodman signed says he’s not required to go to practice and that all he has to do is show up for the remaining games on the schedule. Management says they got him so that the team would get more exposure on the sports page … oh, and ’cause he rebounds pretty well and they need all the help they can get. Can’t we even pretend that sport isn’t business? Aren’t we beyond the ’80s obsession with Wall Street and cooperate takeovers, or has Trump’s jump into the presidential race and subsequent withdrawal rekindled our interest?

Along the lines of politics …

Recently I saw an ad for Bill Bradley that featured Michael Jordan talking about politics. Yadda, yadda, it’s Michael Jordan, ESPN’s god-child, it doesn’t matter what he says. Twenty five seconds of that face – as recognizable as the golden arches or the swoosh he endorses – is followed by a brief image of Bradley, smiling or something.

It’s an effective campaign. It’s like having the pope endorse you, but I can’t come to terms with it. Jordan, a few years ago, refused to comment on some political situation going on at the University of North Carolina (his alma mater) because, as he put it, “republicans buy Nikes, too.” Don’t they still?

Speaking of Jordan and Washington, D.C., what compelled him to buy 10 percent of the Washington Wizards and become the “director of basketball operations?” What vested interest does he have in the Wizards? For crying out loud, weren’t they the Bullets when he last played? And, besides, wasn’t he getting out of basketball so that he and his family could be out of the limelight or something? Washington, another bunk team, is grateful because it’s getting press. Just this week, the Wizards lost to the post-Jordan, not-so-hot Bulls … big headlines.

Small headlines …

The Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association recently ran a column on their web page that explained the hoops through which parents are jumping to get their kids exposure to colleges. Transferring schools, moving their livelihood, lying … shame on you.

I know who you are. Undoubtedly, you’re the parents at little league games that are cursing the officials while turning red in the face. You’re the ski parents that scold your children for ‘falling down so much.’ You’re the parent who, simply put, applies too much importance to sport.

Of course it’s been going on for years. Rambunctious parents who think their star athlete at the 1A level will excel at 4A and make ’em rich – maybe fulfill some empty part of their lives (pardon my pop-psychology, indulge my tirade.) I’m sure the kids have something to do with it too. If I had any athletic skill, I’m sure I’d rather develop that then read War and Peace.

Heck, Ron Mercer, once with the Denver Nuggets before recently being traded to the Orlando Magic, went to high school in Nashville, Tenn. His parents moved to Virginia for his senior year so he could play at Oak Hill Academy, one of the country’s best high school programs. Kevin Garnett, of the Minnesota Timberwolves mysteriously ended up at one of the premier high schools in Chicago (Farragut) for his senior year (check out all the names I’m dropping …)

That is not to say that sports aren’t important. They’re great. If I didn’t think so, would I be writing this right now?

So I digress. I’m grateful to be in a small town where, though athletics receive a little more attention than they ought to, the sports are pure. While college recognition happens – Mike Detweiler receiving a scholarship to the University of Arizona, the DeCoite brothers receiving scholarships to the University of Montana – it is secondary to state titles (which are abundant for our little high school) and the game. It’s part of why I love small town high school athletics. It’s clean, it’s loyal and it engages the fans without patronizing them … us.


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