Tuesday, August 07, 2007

American Sports Gone Wild

What IS it about our twisted American culture that produces outliers that make foreign psychopaths drool? Of course there are sickos everywhere, but I guess like everything else American, we have to do twisted bigger 'n badder.

And so we come to the sad state of American major league sports, and a unique time in our history. Because major scandals are rocking them all.

To the non-sports fan here they are:

1. NBA: A ref is caught on the take, which means he has been fixing games.

2. NFL: Star quarterback Michael Vick has been indicted on animal cruelty charges, namely, pitbull fighting.

3. MLB: Superstar Barry Bonds has just broken Hank Aaron's all time record - one of the milestone achievements in American sports. Much of the public looks on with a jaundiced eye, as it is widely rumored that Bonds, at age 43, has been juicing roids and thus, his achievement is tainted. It explains why fans in stands hold up signs and wear t-shirts with huge asteriks on them, because his record will be footnoted by the controversy.

Now, when I was only a lad, sports were a big deal and the athletes we revered were gods. This was the birth of the Sabols' fledgling "NFL Films" with the timeless, basso profundo "voice of god" narration by John Facenda. Chicky Baby Hearn called the Lakers and the man known by some as "The Voice" and generally recognized as the greatest play by play baseball shot caller, Vin Scully, called for the Dodgers. The Rams, who walked on water, were straight old school: The Fearsome Foursome - Rosey Grier, Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy, and the great Deacon Jones (number 75!). They set the standard for the classic defensive four set, inherited/adapted later by Minnesota's "Purple People Eaters" (Marshall and Page were the standouts) and the infamous Pittsburgh "Steel Curtain."

For me, hoops was it. This was when Jerry West was coming into his legendary "Mr. Clutch" status, and I saw plenty of games where he just dropped like he was unconscious. As unbelievable as "Zeke from Cabin Creek" was, for my money, number 22, Elgin Baylor, was the man. I caught him at the end of his career - bad knees had slowed him - but the man whom no less than Red Auerback proclaimed the greatest forward he'd ever seen, was something else. For me, it boils down to that intangible, that jes nais se quois, what Breton said about reading Cesaire, that he possessed that unmistakable major tone that separates great from lesser.

And Elg had it. I once saw him grab a defensive rebound along the baseline and, while trying to maintain his balance as he was about to fall out of bounds, he flung the ball over his shoulder in a blind no-look, most casually but in total confidence, and hit a streaking Laker guard on the dead run at mid court. Perfectly timed.

How did he do that?

And in those moments, as small a kid as I was, I knew I had caught a glimpse of greatness, pure poetry, as pure as anything I've experienced through music, movies, literature, painting...

I loved sports and worshipped the gods who played and privileged us mere mortals by giving us glimpses of our humanity, the better side of us, under highly regulated conditions.

All of this rambling is to say that I think what's happening is just sad today. Everyone's so friggin' jaded, and that includes the fans. It just doesn't seem fun anymore. Damn.