Monday, February 25, 2008

Weird Week in Sports

If you had told me that there would be a weird week like this in sports in our area, I'd have probably said you were nuts. But then again, strange stuff happens in threes and we have three of the more bizarre, sad stories in sports.

A lot of attention was turned towards a recent Molalla - Estacada girls basketball game that turned ugly when a coach wouldn't leave the court after being ejected. The official tried to get the coach to leave the court, but after he wouldn't the crowd erupted into separate brawls and spats. There were accusations of insults leveled at both sides, and accusations of bad sportsmanship, rude behavior, and general disrespect on both sides. Since I wasn't there, I can only take the word of the reports and stories, and say that all parties are sad that this issue blew up so badly. It's as simple as obeying the official, and if you've been ejected, you leave the court. We've all been at games where the officiating is questionable or seeming to favor one side over another, but there's no excuse in attacking a ref or disobeying a direct rule. As much as I love the antics of the Timbers Army of which I am a member, I've never felt that we would physically attack an official or do them harm. Yes, we've called officials all sorts of names that can't be mentioned in family newspapers, but we keep a line at the insults and don't cross it. It may not be sportsmanlike in some respects, but then again I can't think of any reason where assault would be considered acceptable towards an official.

Meanwhile, the Portland Winterhawks have been asked by the WHL to fix their operation. The first WHL American franchise to win a Memorial Cup, the team has a rich history of titles, great players that have had great NHL careers, crazy crowds, and some of the best sports fun in town. Now, the team seems to be a shell of themselves, playing to sparse crowds and losing a record number of games (up to 52 total losses as of this post for this season). The WHL is concerned about the lease and the front office, and have asked the team to address both concerns. The folks owning the arena, the Portland Trail Blazers, have said the lease is fine but you need to get more people to come to the games. However, the team is just struggling with injuries and youth. It's the same cycle the Trail Blazers were in back in 2003, when the team was struggling at the gate with a team that nobody wanted to come watch inside a town that didn't care. Paul Allen put the team up for sale, and tried to find someone to take the team off his hands after his ploy to refinance the Rose Garden financing didn't work and the arena was put into bankruptcy holding. The bad apples were traded away, new leadership was brought in, and new players matching a better attitude came in and the results are obvious. The Trail Blazers are struggling right now, but being the youngest team in the league, they are playing near .500 ball with a full arena, a city falling in love with them all over, and the media drooling over the possibilities. I don't know the Hawks ownership, but if the league calls you out, there's got to be some truth to what is being said about the team. Regardless, it's a bad situation and one that needs to be resolved because this team and the hockey fans deserve better.

Racing fans are feeling out in the cold after the merger of Champ Car and the IRL went through, which in effect cancelled Portland's Champ Car race normally run in June. I'll admit that while I never attended a race personally, I watched the race on TV more than a few times and I paid attention to the results. It's a source of civic pride to see our town host racing's best and put on a great show, which happened for 24 years. The race falls victim to declining attendance plus the issues that first caused the IRL - Champ Car split. Back in the late 80's, Indy Car dominated racing attention and the media, and race drivers were very public figures. But the Indy 500 owners wanted more attention and control over the races, and tried to mandate teams joining a league, the IRL. Some teams and races didn't want to participate, and they formed Champ Car and set up a competing circuit. About that time, NASCAR started gaining popularity and hasn't looked back since while Indy and IRL struggled to keep some attention towards them. The merger will ensure that the best talent hits Indy during Memorial Day weekend and the Indy 500 race, but what you end up having in other areas is cancelled races and hurt feelings. It's hard to compete with the NASCAR marketing machine, they do a great job marketing races that essentially are long races with guys turning left for 3 hours. That being said, Portland's race falls victim, mostly because of struggles to get attendance up and no major corporate sponsorship.

What all three things remind me of is the seriousness of the world of sports, how we take some issues and make them bigger than they are. It's important for folks to follow the rules and be good sports, but at the same time, we've allowed sports to become less of the fun thing we played growing up and more like a business. And the thing about business is that it's all about the bottom line. It doesn't matter about winning, losing, effort, talent, it's simply making the results profitable. In a way it's sad because the innocence and purity of sports suffers, because the game results often don't matter in relation to the bottom line. What I'm hoping we can learn about all of this is that sports mirror real life closely, but ultimately sports needs to put the games and playing first. Maybe it's a simplistic wish of sorts, but at the same time, how a team plays matters more to me than wins and losses any day.

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