My humble opinion on
February 12, 2002
The State of Sport
The Winter Olympics are underway in
Salt Lake City, for those of you who care about such things. Maybe it's
a personal failing on my part, but I've never understood the appeal of
the Olympic games, as a spectator sport. I understand why athletes train
hard and compete in the games, and I admire them for it, don't get me
wrong, but I have little interest in watching it. I'll watch some of it,
such as the ice hockey, and regardless of the sport, I hope the good old
U.S. of A kicks some serious metal butt.
But most of it's boring, and some of
it can hardly be called a sport, like figure skating. Yes, figure
skaters train their cute little buns off; yes, they are in phenomenal
shape; yes, they possess awesome talent and remarkable precision; yes,
the moves require discipline and blood, sweat, and tears. But you could
say the same about ballet and ballet dancers, and no one considers
ballet a sport.
But the Olympics does present a fine
excuse to use the Weekly Muse to indulge my love of sports, and examine
the state of the games. We'll cover the four major leagues. Here goes.
Of the four major leagues, the
National Basketball Association seems to be doing the worst. Attendance
is down, ratings are down, Jordan's return has done little to spark
Why the malaise? I think the NBA game
has become boring. It's no longer exciting or fun to watch. Too many
players go through the motions, and the few that play with passion show
up opponents by screaming and gyrating after a simple play (too many NFL
players do the same). Too few players seem to be able to shoot. Defense
resembles demolition derby - hit the guy with the ball hard and pray you
don't get called for an intentional foul.
There are also too many unlikable
players in the NBA. Overwhelmingly talented, they're brash, arrogant,
condescending toward their own teammates, other teams, their owner, and
the fans. They feel bigger than the game, that the game owes them
something, the big money, the fat contracts, the endorsements. There
seems to be little appreciation in too many players for how good they've
really got it. It's annoying, and makes the game nearly unwatchable. I
now watch only Phoenix Suns games, though not as religiously as I used
to (isn't there a game on tonight? Oh, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
is on. CLICK), and never watch any other games. I barely glanced at last
weekend's All-Star game. I may watch some playoff games, I may
I'm not the only fan with this
attitude, and that is the challenge the NBA faces.
In contrast to the NBA, the National
Hockey League seems in great shape. Stadiums are full, the league has
expanded a few times in the last several years, ratings are decent, and
the action on the ice has never been better. Players are faster and
stronger than at any other time in the league's history.
I must admit, I'm a recent convert to
hockey, so I'm still catching up on its history and rules of the game.
But the players seem a bit more down-to-earth than athletes in any of
the other leagues, more appreciative of what they have. They interact
well with fans and generally seem to enjoy them. Players skate hard and
fight harder, yet seem to respect each other. There's little showboating
or grandstanding, namely because any player who tried it would get
creamed. It's very much a self-policing league, and it seems to
Hockey is great fun to watch. Limit
the dirty shots, let the player police themselves through fair fights,
and let it go. Someday, it may even catch, and surpass, the NBA in
The National Football League is also
doing very well. Wildly popular, it is probably America's favorite sport
(sorry, baseball and car racing fans). The season just concluded with a
classic Super Bowl, in which the heavy, seemingly invincible favorite
(Goliath) fell to an underrated yet plucky, resourceful, and resilient
The New England Patriots offer fans in
every city hope that their team could also pull off a one-year
turnaround. Any why not? The St. Louis Rams are the only team to be in
the Super Bowl twice the last three years.
Go back in time, when St. Louis and
Tennessee played. Neither were highly rated at the beginning of the
season, neither were very good the previous year. Yet here they were,
and they played an exciting game.
Take Baltimore and New York last year.
Same story. Both came from the dregs the year before. Neither were
picked to go to the Super Bowl. Yet here they were.
Same for New England this year. They
finished 5-11 the year before and started 1-3 this year. Nobody had
heard of the quarterback, Tom Brady.
Some say this produces parity, that
all the great teams are gone, the dynasties are over. I say great. I
hope so. Isn't any sport boring when the same team wins year after year?
Wasn't the NBA boring when the Bulls always won? Wasn't the NFL boring
when Dallas always won, or the 49ers, or the Steelers? Isn't it boring
when one team is so superior to the others for so long that it doesn't
matter who the other team is, or how hard it's fought and clawed to get
a chance to beat the champ? Only to lose. How boring. How sad.
Much better now, when all teams hold
legitimate dreams of championship during training camp and the
inexcusably long preseason.
Major League Baseball
On the field, baseball is the same
wonderful game. The players are good. Pitching is still at a premium,
and probably a bit diluted, but when, really, has that not been the
case? Besides, didn't pitchers dominate the World Series last year? It
can't be that bad.
Off the field, baseball is a mess.
Owners and players don't trust each other because, well, they're
untrustworthy. Owners whine about high salaries but they're the ones
signing the checks. Players jump from team to team, or play teams off
against each other, to receive the big checks. The commissioner says,
under oath, that virtually every team loses money, and nobody believes
him. Two teams may not exist this time next year. Owners want a salary
cap, players don't. Everyone seems to want socialism, in which the
big-money clubs subsidize the small-money clubs, in essence, funding the
competition. It's insane.
Money seems to dominate baseball more
than any other sport. Until that stops, baseball's off-field woes will
always overshadow on-field performance, and eventually consume it.