This is where I'm supposed to tell you about how ugly the Texas Rangers season could get, or how it looks as though you people will be enjoying hockey well into the summer's heat. I could do it, but I'd be faking it--even more than usual, if you can believe that.
My mind is preoccupied, and so the usual zest I have for sports and this job has dried up. My focus has, too. How do I check my NCAA bracket when war is upon us and our neighbors are dying in some dusty Iraqi desert?
The answer is I don't. I won't.
Don't get me wrong; under normal circumstances or in an ideal environment, I'd swear to you that sports are synonymous with life and that I have the world's best job. A few months from now, when the war is less fresh--or over, I hope--I'll probably feel that way again. Today, I suppose my gig is still pretty great, but only if I ignore the current insignificance and absurdity under which people in my biz now operate.
To wit: A little while ago--and this is old news, but I use it as an example of how crazed things have gotten--Mavericks guard Steve Nash was seen wearing a "No War, Shoot for Peace" T-shirt. Personally, I support the war effort; I think it's just. If Nash's "protest" had ended there, it wouldn't have bothered me. But it didn't end there. His socially conscious garb was meant to complement his babbling. "I think it's really unfortunate," the Canadian says, "in the year 2003, that we're still using violence as a means of conflict resolution."
Not to be outdone, teammate Nick Van Exel mouthed off about the president and openly questioned his policies, opening himself up to be (rightly) criticized by...another basketball player. Joy.
"I just feel that when we send [our troops] out there, everybody has to be on the same page, like it or not," says the Spurs' David Robinson, who attended the Naval Academy. "Even if you don't agree with it, you should just be quiet."
It's not their stance on the war effort that bothers me so much as watching their lips flap. All three of them make my eye twitch uncontrollably.
Unfortunately, the idiocy hasn't been confined to the locals. From ESPN to Fox Sports, I keep catching these grating pieces about athletes and "their take on the war." (Hold on a minute while I boot bile...thank you.) SportsCenter even sent someone out to Centcom in Qatar to try to induce some very busy military personnel into drawing analogies between the war and sports. It was essentially five minutes of watching those poor troopers blink and search for some banal cliché.
Don't mind us, we're just fighting an f-ing war here, pal...Hey, Jimmy, would the president consider it a war crime if I bash this ESPN dope with the butt of my rifle?
What the hell is going on here? I don't want to hear our troops cough up some phlegm that sounds like "we're facing third and long." I want to hear them talk about the war, and how it's progressing (or not), what targets the coalition forces have taken out and where they're facing the toughest resistance. I want to hear generals and educated analysts give me the rundown of where we've been and how we plan on getting to where we're going. (I wouldn't mind if they cut back on the rhetoric, though. "Shock and awe" makes my ears hurt.) What I don't want to hear is David Robinson bickering with Steve Nash in an overpublicized and far-too-nebulous argument. Sure, this is America, and they're allowed to make asses of themselves, but they ought to do it on their own time. If Congress was smart, it would pass a law that allows for the public, and very brutal, flogging of stupid, loose-lipped celebrities who pontificate about real-world issues. If only for the perverse joy of watching athletes squirm with the likes of Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon, this has to happen.
"Why am I supposed to care about what these people say?" asks WFAA sports anchor Dale Hansen. "These are the same people who gave Roman Polanski a standing ovation, and he's living in France for raping some girl. I really don't care what they have to say. I mean, what the hell do I care what Van Exel says about foreign policy?"
It would be better if the athletes and the reporters and anyone else who is still balls deep in sports could just go away for a time and resurface when the world is short on drama. Sports people are good at that--manufacturing drama. There will be a time when we can return to frivolity--weeks, months, years from now when we can enjoy our pastimes with the appropriate vigor and without a guilty conscience. It just seems to me that that time isn't now. Not when CNN is broadcasting the names of fallen Marines.
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Honestly, don't you feel morally remiss for spending so much time and thought on celebrity convictions or their latest ephemeral crusade instead of what's actually happening in Basra or Nasiriya? Certainly I do. As I watch anti-tank rockets scream across my television set and listen to speculation about why a member of the 101st Airborne threw grenades into friendly tents at Camp Pennsylvania, killing one and injuring at least 10 more, I'm embarrassed to have such a trivial occupation.
"I think a lot of people really don't believe this about me, but I think sports are irrelevant most of the time," says Hansen, who took last week off to avoid the awkwardness of reporting on sports during the opening stages of the war. "Everybody says that in a time like this, but nobody really remembers it. Two weeks from now, we'll be screaming at the Mavs. What really bothers me most right now is not so much the sports talk but the cross-talk between Gloria Campos and me...they're talking about the bombs and war and, oh, by the way, Dale, how are the Mavs doing? That's almost jarring because I do believe, the Mavs and the Rangers, that's how I make my living, and it does have its place, but it's the last thing we get to in the broadcast, and there's a reason for that."
Really, I'm not sure what all this is supposed to mean, or what you might take out of it. Except that I'd like to point out what we're doing here--sans pretense. I write a sports column and get paid. You read it and enjoy it (or not). Life goes on for us. I'm not sure about you, but to me that seems like an especially ugly sort of prostitution given the current global unrest. Admittedly, I'm the whore in this relationship. Like a whore, I feel dirty and tired.
And so, at the end of our time together, I'm left alone with my thoughts and my shame. I can't help but wonder why more of the sports world--and maybe even you, too--doesn't feel similarly hollow inside.