Season of Scandals
1. The Longest Season
"I think the Patriots actually live by the saying, 'If you're not cheating, you're not trying.' " --LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers
The sports scandals of the last months already feel old.
O.J. Simpson returned to retrieve some of his collectibles at gunpoint in a caper that seemed like a YouTube PR stunt. It's time to ask the really tough question: Was he a greater running back than Jim Brown?
New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick, winner of three Super Bowls, went from resident genius to resident evil when his spycam was spotted at a Jets game stealing defensive signals. The Jets' coach Eric Mangini, a former Belichick assistant, may even have been the snitch. The NFL punished Belichick and the Pats swiftly and harshly, but did nothing a week later when Jets defensive players were accused of shouting out signals at the line of scrimmage to confuse the Baltimore Ravens, also against NFL rules.
A few weeks before the Belichick revelations, one of the Patriots' stars was suspended for using Human Growth Hormone (the current big-boy drug of choice), while a number of major league baseball players are now being investigated for receiving HGH shipments. Meanwhile, the New York Knicks have just found themselves on the losing end of a high-level sex-harassment suit involving Isiah Thomas, their coach and president. (Their star player merely had his way in his truck with an intern.) And don't forget Marion Jones, long the sweetheart of track and field, finally admitted that she had used drugs to help her win five medals at the 2000 Olympics.
And those are just a few of the top scores from the scandal season.
Maybe your inclination is to blame the seeming erosion of sports ethics on the Bush role model, but increasing numbers of studies reveal that jocks cheat more often than non-jocks. It's part of their conditioning. You can't blame it all on Karl Rove.
So let's take a look back at the summer's scandal season with an appropriate attitude of Belichikian paranoia. After all, the powers-that-be love to promote sports scandals which encourage a hopelessness about the world as well as our ability to change or control it. Sports scandals liberate us from having to stand up, vote, demonstrate, move on. What's the use when everything--including our games and pastimes--is so obviously fixed, or at least a little bit crooked?
Even so, the onslaught of scandals that roiled SportsWorld this past summer were classics we should never forget, because they did more than encourage that cynical shrug that precedes the next channel change; they also distracted many of us just long enough to avoid seriously confronting withdrawal, impeachment, or the other great issues of the day.
What chance did troop numbers in Iraq have against Barry's home-run numbers? Forget about death and dismemberment abroad, we have some dead dogs in Michael Vick's Bad Newz kennel!
Who needs support from a European community that promotes something as corrupted as the Tour de France?
Alberto Gonzalez might be crooked, but so is pro basketball--as the summer's crooked ref scandal made so clear!
There is, however, one "sports" scandal that refuses to die, one thoroughly entwined with the battlefield, one that, it seems, could yet give us hope. So let's kick off a new season of Jock Culture notes with a mild aperitif of distraction--and then work our way up to the dogz.