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Showboating and Are We the FANS Really Stupid

©03 The Media Desk


        There is one factor that is a major part of being a sports fan that nobody in the big time media talks about. Or if they do, they mention it and go on.
        It merits further examination.

        As the first exhibit we shall hold up Keyshawn Johnson of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He isn't quite as flamboyant as some of the more infamous 'stuff' talkers of the pros of old, yet he is still so full of himself that ABC broadcast his boasting on the sidelines about how he has whipped everybody from his draft class (1996) and was 8 and 3 on Monday Night. Well, truth be told, he is running about even against those that came up with him, and he was 7 and 3 on ABC Sports flagship. Now he is 7 and 4.
        Mr. Johnson is a good receiver and running back. You can pull up his numbers on any of several sports sites and evaluate him head to head with however many others. And it turns out that for a star who should be at the peak of his career in his eighth year as a pro, he had his best years rushing with the Jets in the late 90's and hasn't run a yard as a back since. His receiving yards tell the same story. He had a couple of good years right out of college going over a thousand yards in '98 and '99, then he was traded to Tampa, lost a step and had a down year, then came back for twelve hundred yards in '01 playing in fifteen games catching over a hundred passes and just breaking a thousand during the Bucs Super Bowl year last year in sixteen games with seventy six catches.
        OK, Johnson just a good receiver now. If he catches the ball he'll gain an average of thirteen yards. That's very good. Very good. But he's got some stiff competition on his own team, and he's not the banner player for the NFL he evidently thinks he is. Couple the other factors with the fact that his team, the defending champions are sitting at two and two, and his bluster turns into air better used to inflate a hot air balloon over the stadium.

        We the fans absolutely LOVE IT when these prancing diva players fall flat on their… whatever's.

        Who didn't smirk when Ali got his nose broke or Mike Tyson ended up flat on the mat in Japan, knocked out by some no-name who was lucky to have somebody on his staff that could lace up his gloves correctly?
        Is their anybody who didn't feel some satisfaction when the New York Yankees got beat by an expansion team full of bums no other club wanted a couple of years ago in the World Series? The Yanks with the highest payroll in all of professional sports (depending on how you do the figuring) Loosing to a bunch of nobodies?
        How about when some strutting horse owner who is the heavy favorite in the Triple Crown has his pride and joy loose by seven lengths and falling back in the Derby?

        OK, most of the time those that do squawk loud and long Can back it up. At least for a little while. When somebody who hasn't even started a game for six months brags about this or that, they are pretty much ignored. It takes a Babe Ruth pointing at the fence to be taken seriously, and when he delivers, and the Bambino delivered (against the '32 Cubs in the World Series no less), everybody remembers it.
        If there's nothing behind your words, the world will soon forget you.
        Even in the grandstanding prone NBA hollow bragging by cartoon versions of Penny Hardaway gets old real quick when the real thing can't deliver on the court and pretty soon he finds himself traded out of earshot of those who had to put up with him and his TV commercials for way too long.
        Nicknames like 'Rocket' and 'A-train' and 'Intimidator' are passed out at the beginning of the seasons pretty much wholesale. And if the athlete doesn't live up to the moniker, they are just as quickly forgotten.
        Of course in the case of Dale Earnhardt Senior, seven championships over the course of a couple of decades pretty well sealed the deal that he could brag and cry as he saw fit and somebody at least listened to him.

        It is more or less expected that those on top of their game will act like a prima donna. It is almost as if we want them to. Even if we hate it, we seem to need it.
        How many of the FORMER GREATS hang on in their sport until they had become caricatures of themselves… Jim McMahon, Richard Petty, John McEnroe, and so on, until it was embarrassing to watch them.
        Other's haven't gotten there yet, but they have potential.
        Tiger Woods was the first and last name in golf, until he hit a dry spell, yet people still needed their Tiger Fix and the commentators at the British Open talked about him and his chances to win when it was clear he wouldn't get anywhere near the top of the leader board unless a dozen other players were kidnapped by aliens.
        Allen Iverson was supposed to be the greatest thing to happen to Philadelphia Basketball since they installed electric lights in the arena. He's lived the part perfectly by mouthing off, getting in trouble with the law, demanding all sorts of perks, and so on, except for one small problem ON the court. He's a good player, sure, but he's NOT a Michael Jordon (when MJ wasMJ for that matter). Period. No matter what his own hype says.
        And not only players stick around too long telling us how great they used to be. How about JoPa? Over fifty years at Penn State, over thirty as Head Coach. Sure Joe Paterno has a 3 to 1 won-loss record (336 to 100 through end of 2002 season), but in sports, it is 'what have you done for me lately? He has HAD all the good ideas in coaching, maybe twice. He has more wins than Pop Warner or Bear Bryant, both legends of the gridiron. Yet he, and Lou Holtz (and Bobby Bowden) hang on to their clipboards beyond all sense of reason.
        Speaking of Sports (Howard Cosell moment there, sorry [another one who stayed on past what was good for him]). It is quite likely what Rush Limbaugh said about Donovan McNabb is simply true. He is over-rated, and over-paid, and a good piece of that may be because is he black. It is also true that McNabb is a good quarterback. But that's all, he is a good QB, not a great one. The Eagle defense carries the day more often than not. If McNabb put up points like Joe Montana did for the Niners in their heyday, maybe we could call him a great one. But as it is, let's just wait and see.
        So who should decide if a player's mouth is on par with their performance in the game? And equally, who should decide what said performance is worth in cash? If Iverson can deliver at gametime, shouldn't the Sixers pay him whatever they can work out in a contract? But then again, if they sign a contract and he plays half the season like he has a hangover, shouldn't their be a performance clause in the paperwork someplace?


Just how stupid…
…do they think We The Fans are?

        Most people have the vision of professional athletes as individuals who may be buff in the shoulders, but not so between the ears. Same with deep pocket owners, shyster agents, and sports lawyers.
        The current rumors and gossip about an impending labor dispute and possible league shutdown in the NHL bears that up.
        Professional athletes and associated folk have learned nothing from strikes and lockouts across almost all major sports over the last several years.
        The NBA has yet to totally rebound from their spasm a few years ago that wiped out about half the season. Major League Baseball has admitted it may never recover. The NFL is still haunted by talk of the 'Spare Bears' and other 'Replacement Players' from their strike year. And now the National Hockey League wants to follow suit with a dispute that is already being predicted to last more than one entire season, wiping out games and causing hard feelings on all sides that may never be entirely forgiven. Once again, as with all other sports labor problems, leaving the fans (the ones paying for the whole thing after all) out in the cold.
        Face it people.
        SPORTS are Games for crying out loud.
        This is by definition not a life or death matter, no matter what English Soccer Fans say about it.
        Let's look at last year's salary for just one player in the NFL. No, his team did not win the Super Bowl, and while he's a good player, he's not a household name. Jacksonville Quarterback Mark Brunell was paid eight million two hundred fifty thousand dollars for playing the 2002 season, we'll round that down to eight mil just to keep the calculator from melting. Now, we won't count training camp or preseason just to make the math easier, or post season either because players get bonus pay for making the playoffs. Sixteen regular season games works out to nine hundred sixty minutes of playing time. Given OT games we can round that up to maybe a thousand minutes of game time. Remember the Offense is only on the field for half the game (give or take) but we'll go with the thousand minutes just for giggles.
        Eight million dollars for a thousand minutes of game time for the regular season. Eight Thousand Dollars a MINUTE for when the clock is running during a game.
        The Desk doesn't know about you, but in its day job it has to work something on the order of five months to make that kind of money.
        Of course Mr. Brunell is paying taxes, paying agents, lawyers, managers and all sorts of other hangers-on that can't throw a football or even probably hold a real job, but that is his choice. So how much of that he actually takes home to buy toothpaste with is anybody's guess, but most likely, he isn't clipping coupons for Shop and Save to meet his budget.
        And that is just one player on one team in one professional sport. Some make more, some make a lot more, a good many others make less. Rookies make just a tick over two hundred thousand a year as a base salary, unless they're a number one draft pick or something. But even then, that's two dollars a minute per game… nothing to sneeze at if you consider yourself fortunate to have a job that makes more than minimum wage. And since some of these guys get heavy signing bonuses too, they can make more than your average worker for the year before they even run out onto the field for their first game.
        The NHL isn't the cash cow the NBA or even the NFL is, the average NFL salary sitting at over a million a year (mainly because there are more players per team and more rookies per year to drag the average down), the NBA pays out over three and a half million AVERAGE, the NHL's average salary of just over a million a year does look rather paltry. And really even the leagues High Salary of Ten Million isn't as high as some of the staggering numbers in the other sports. For more money information see:

        But explain again why they want to go on strike? Are you making two hundred grand as an rookie (approx. first year NHL salary)?

        "But they're not sharing in lucrative TV and other marketing profits."

        Oh well.

        Unless you're in Detroit or Edmonton you're probably not obsessed with hockey. The Desk is still trying to get its hands around the idea of Ice Hockey teams in Dallas and Florida. And besides, hockey used to be a Winter Sport. Now training camp opens while it's still summer and the playoffs drag on into next summer with Lord Stanley's fifty dollar cup not being awarded until June.
        Oh well.
        Not don't misunderstand the Desk here. It actually Likes hockey. It's been to University of Delaware games and got so into the game it forgot when you're sitting on the Delaware side of the rink it is not a good idea to cheer loudly when an iceman from the Naval Academy makes an outstanding play.
        It will sit and watch a good hockey game just as it will sit and watch a competitive auto race or a tight football game. It enjoys the drama of a team trying to fend off a fast moving power play to preserve a one point lead just as much as it enjoys a late inning rally with three men on base and the pitcher with a one run lead facing a full count to a power hitter. What's more intense than watching player coming into the last three holes at the British open with a two stroke lead when he's been putting like he's about half tilted on warm beer and single malt Scotch and the three players under him on the leader board are having the best rounds of their lives? The Desk has been in the stands or pressbox or sidelines and watched unbelievable plays, awesome comebacks and amazing twists of fate. And true, it has set telling fish stories or listening to another game on the radio during lopsided blowouts or totally dismal performances by both sides.
        One particular football game comes to mind. The Desk was sitting in the press box of a local college during one of the worst games it can recall. Neither side did more than a three and out for nearly the whole first half, there was only a handful of first downs made for the entire game. The final score was three to nothing, and that came only after both kickers had missed at least two long field goals each. The best play from scrimmage was a fumbled lateral that was picked up and run back for about thirty yards. It was lousy lousy game all around with a lot of penalties (one of the teams had more yards in penalties than in total offense for the game) and a lot of really stupid mistakes on both sides of the ball. But the Desk sat through it, grateful that those are rather rare animals at any level.
        Yet that is what We The Fans are willing to put up with for those occasional gems like another college's thirty point come from behind rally to tie the game in the second half. Or that occasional run for the pennant by the Cubs. It really doesn't matter if they win (either the local team or the Cubs) it is the chase, the thrill that they MIGHT just do it, that keeps us in the seats.
        The Desk has been at the local racetrack watching the trotters, and knowing less than nothing about that particular form of racing, still found itself caught up in the excitement when a pack horse that everybody said would be lucky to go the distance was vying for the lead and ended up second.
        Yes, we like our sports.

        How many people are only basketball fans during the NCAA Final Four weekend?
        Or maybe they only watch auto racing for the Indy 500.
        Or the Superbowl?
        Face it, nobody watches nationally televised hockey games until its Stanley Cup time.
        There are people who couldn't tell you if their local NBA team was even playing that weekend until it comes playoff time, then all of the sudden they're driving around with their face painted and singing something they heard on a TV commercial about how their team is the natural champion and everybody else should just stay home.
        These are the people that are NOT going to pay forty bucks or more a head to go to a regular season game no matter what sport it is or who's in town to play the local boys, yet the Owners expect them to line up for the chance. These are the people who will buy their kid either the hat or the jersey, but not both unless it's their birthday because the prices are simply outrageous. And these are the people that will change the station if the game is a fiasco because, after all, there are 54 other channels to watch.

        Professional Sports have gotten out of hand. Way out of hand. The entire idea was conceived as a diversion for the coal miners and steelworkers that were building the country. They were Games.
        Yes Babe Ruth had a talent most of those watching couldn't touch. Yet Lou Gehrig had something they could aspire too. Even Jackie Robinson or Red Grange had something the common man could look to.
        Today's players may have even more talent, greater physical ability, or at least a better agent. Certainly Michael Jordan's name will come up whenever anybody puts together one of those Best Ever basketball teams, yet even he was just another mortal.
        The owners, players, even some fans seem to forget that the SPORT is bigger than any individualplayer.
        Those racing fans that said the season should have been canceled after Dale Earnhardt died in a wreck at the end of the first race of the 2001 NASCAR season were simply stupid.
        Baseball went on without Ruth and Gehrig.
        Some said the NBA would die when Michael retired for keeps, it hasn't.
        The NFL seems to be fine without either Joe Montana or Joe Klecko.
        The Great One retired from Hockey, yet both the sport and Wayne Gretzky have done fairly well for themselves.
        How many Tennis Stars have hung up their rackets… Arthur Ash, Chris Evert, John McEnroe and so on, yet Wimbledon is still played every year.
        Mario Andretti hasn't even been able to get a speeding ticket in Indianapolis in years, yet the 500 is still one of the best shows in motor sports.
        A Superstar can make a team, or dominate a sport, for a year or two, maybe even become a Dynasty, like the Steel Curtain back when in the NFL, or Murder's Row with the Yankees, or even a Richard Petty wining the championship more often than not for a few years.
        For a few years.
        Then skills fade, somebody else better, faster, stronger, comes along, and… oh well.

        OK, maybe that's why some players ask for absolutely as much money as they can possibly get because they know one good hamstring tear and they're washed up.
        If all you can do is throw a curve ball that even makes the announcer dizzy and have no other useful skills and destroy your elbow falling off a barstool, what can you do for the next fifty years?
        How many ex-athletes are out there living the words to Bruce Springsteen's song Glory Days Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days
Album, Born in the USA, 1984

        "Now wait a minute, you’ve gone all the way around the whole thing. Twice."

        Well yeah. Because the Desk can see all sides of the problem quite clearly.
        While it is simply true that nobody is worth twenty million dollars a year for anything, if they can con somebody into paying them that for whatever it is they do, why not?
        There is plenty of blame here to go around.
        Even on the part of the players and fans.
        For instance: The player's insistence on dropping performance clauses from their contracts. Which is why the Detroit Tigers are still on the hook for a forty nine million dollar payroll, with the lion's share of it only going to half a dozen players, one of which hasn't played in months. Oh, by the way, the Tigers, as of this writing, tried very hard to break the single season LOSS record set at 120 by the NY Mets in 1962 but missed by a single game.
        The fans willingness to put up with extravagant behavior on and off the field by showboating players who otherwise couldn't win a game of playground H-O-R-S-E. For example we'll hold up Dennis Rodman and his wedding gown. It doesn't matter who a player is or how badly the team needs him, if you can get fired from your job for doing something stupid, he should too.
        The Cities that support exorbitant prices for seats in stadiums built with taxpayer money, then give tax breaks to the owners who force vendors to charge seven dollars for a hamburger so the vendor can pay outrageous the rent for the space for their stand. Witness those that figure out how much it costs to take a family of four to a major sporting event, in many cases it is in the three hundred dollar range for parking, tickets, snacks, and a souvenir program. Not too many working people can afford that.
        And the list goes on. Shameful behavior by everybody from Sponsors to TV Networks to Mascots to the Courts.

        But it comes back to the fans.
        If enough fans get fed up with it all and simply stay home, not watching it on TV, not buying the overpriced junk with team logos all over it, and so on, guess what?
        It will all be over with quickly.
        The only revenue sporting teams generate is through fan's discretionary dollars. They make nothing of lasting value or actual usefulness like microwave ovens or laundry soap. You can live without watching a hockey game, you can't live without a steady supply of drinking water. Nobody truly needs a team jersey with a player's name and number on it. Most people when faced with the choice of buying groceries for the week or spending and equal amount of money to go to a game will chose food, at least we hope they do.
        And when you watch the price for Officially Licensed Merchandise jump by about twenty percent because of a new player union bargaining agreement, you realize your old lunch box with the out of date logo and signature of a player who retired three years ago will serve for awhile longer.
        The only language either the owners or the players (and sponsors and advertisers too for that matter) will understand is when the fans keep their checkbooks closed and find something else to do.

        So, what would happen if the NHL players walk out, or the owner's lock them out or some combination thereof?
        Well… if there is any justice in the world…. NOTHING.


       [NOTE: The Desk is NOT affiliated with any of the above named organizations or individuals except for being a rather disgusted fan and former sportswriter.
       All team names and leagues are registered to their respective owners and are used without too much intent to disparage or disrespect any individual or organization of Professional Athletes.

        Thank You ]

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