Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 5

January 31 - February 6, 2002

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Unsporting Behavior

In our play we reveal what kind of people we are.
— Ovid, 43bc–8ad

To put it bluntly: if Ovid was right, a couple thousand years later we’re still in a hell of a sour pickle.

Maybe I’m digging too far back in the bygone for a feel on contemporary sports, so let’s skip to Percy Bysshe Shelley of only a century and a half ago who in “Lines to a Reviewer” wrote:

There is no sport in hate when all the rage is on one side.

There. Put Ovid and Shelley together, and what we come up with is an appropriate description of sports today in Maryland, the nation, and the world. The World of Sports.

Here we are building up to Super Bowl XXXVI — which, not to my displeasure, won’t have the Ravens of Baltimore on the menu — and for the moment, the pigskin rules in media hype. But hardly will the reverberations from the din at New Orleans subside when to the west, in usually peaceful Salt Lake City, the roar of the masses will be heard at the Winter Olympics.

It will be the biggest happening thereabouts since all the sea gulls arrived at the last minute to eat all the locusts that were about to dine on the crops of Brigham Young and his Mormon clan. Talk about a big play with third and 27, six points behind and three seconds left on the clock.

Between XXXVI and the torchlight on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, professional, amateur clubs, colleges and even grade school hockey players will continue assaulting each other across the U.S. — in the name of Sport. Basketball players will be doing likewise sans the protection of helmets, masks and padding.

Professional boxers are anxious to show not that there is no sport in hate, but that there is hate in sport even before the ringing of the opening bell. Too much hate, I might add, to be palatable to the average citizen within whose being there is a sense of decency and fairness.

So perhaps it’s appropriate that while boob tube magnates are trying to figure how to squeeze a few more million-dollar commercials into one hour of the big pigskin party on the gridiron of the Delta of Louisiana — where advertisements will, as usual, consume more time than actual play — we take a look at the State of Sports everywhere.

Burtons Aren’t Born Curmudgeons
First, to clear up any conflicts of influence, allow me to make several things clear. I am not anti-sports — when in sports, sportsmanship, fun and games reigns.

In high school so many years ago, I played at one time or another for several different schools the sports of hockey, football, baseball and basketball, and I ran cross country and track. In grammar school, I was on baseball and soccer teams.

There are many athletes in the family, among them a grandson who as a freshman is making a name for himself in hockey for an Ivy League college, while his younger brother is a captain of a high school hockey team that this year is seeking its 25th or so consecutive state championship.

A sister played trombone in a band that added to the noise of high school football games. A daughter was a cheerleader — who, incidentally, put her back out of whack for weeks after doing somersaults when her team scored a touchdown — who married her high school sweetheart who played college hockey.

I encouraged five daughters to participate in sports; also a son who, while involved in T-Ball at Riviera Beach, discovered it more satisfying in the outfield to look for 4-leaf clovers or to sometimes read a book slipped from his pocket while waiting for the ball to head in his direction.

What turned me, like so many others, off on sports? Easy. When they no longer were sports. Sports in the true meaning of sports.

Back to the Super Bowl
With the big Super Bowl frenzy building, the only interesting aspect of the showdown is that a team figured to be the doormat of the AFC — the not-so-long-ago lowly New England Patriots — has earned one of the two slots at the Super Dome.

But for the margin of a touchdown a usual also-ran in the other conference, the Philadelphia Eagles, would be the second team in the big finale. I will be watching on the tube in hope the lowly Patriots can whomp the awesome St. Louis Rams; in hope that once again David can slay Goliath.

(After I Taunt the Ravens)
Missing, though not missed, will be the mouthy and overrated Ravens of Baltimore, whose stadium the citizenry built but which many can’t afford to visit — and whose name is changing, seeing that PSINet seems headed belly up and can’t afford the payments to be listed alongside the Ravens on the stadium’s facade.

Who can forget that the team that inhabits that stadium virtually stole the naming rights for $10 million; then promptly sold the name to PSINet for more than 100 million smackers. Only Enron in its hey day could top that.

I see that a couple weeks ago, a reader wrote a letter to this publication extolling the role in sports and citizenry of owner Art Modell. I would only suggest that such claims be put to a vote of Cleveland’s loyal fans who supported their original Browns until Baltimore bribed them away via a new pre-paid stadium.

Thieves and Scoundrels
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Look at today’s World of Sports. In Boston, during a confrontation about a kids’ hockey scrimmage, a guy pounds to death another man more than a hundred pounds lighter. In Philadelphia, former cheerleaders are suing because for years visiting teams scratched peepholes in their adjoining locker room to watch them shower.

At the first news conference to build interest for his match against Lennox Lewis, thug and former convict Mike Tyson battered his intended opponent enough to send him to the hospital with a sore head. Still, it seems, he will retain his boxing license for a second brawl within the ring.

Right here in Anne Arundel County, basketball and other games have been cut short as both fans and players turned unsportsmanlike. When Maryland’s thoroughbred Racing Commission met recently, it almost required police to maintain order. As for the Olympics, the latest athlete to be banned for drugs is a U.S. bobsledder.

Ah, the pristine Olympics. Courts are being asked to reinstate charges involving money changing hands in bringing the games to the Land of Brigham Young, where, incidentally, the tariff for hot dogs will be $5; cokes, $3.50.

My brother who lives there wanted to see one field event just to witness Olympic competition before abandoning his home for a vacation in Arizona during the remainder of the big hullabaloo. He was forced to buy tickets for two events, didn’t get the best seats in the house — and the price was more than $350. So much for the non-commercial (?), amateur (?) competition originally targeted for worldwide harmony. It’s now another greedy extravaganza that few can afford to take in.

Why am I sour on sports? If you know the answer it’s not a question. And we rant about bullfights in Mexico and Spain or about Afghan horseman playing games with dead goats.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly