Monday, January 11, 2010

Worst Kept Secrets in Sports...

Wow, as I read the sports headlines from this past weekend, I'm forced to realize in this fast paced, media obsessed society that secrets just don't mean what they used to anymore. If people want to figure out something, they'll do whatever is necessary to find the answers, and good luck if you are someone that is remotely famous that has something you don't want people to know about. We'll just talk, speculate, spread rumors, the talk itself will overshadow the news itself because that's how things work.
Mark McGwire used steroids. Wow, that's like one of the worst kept secrets in baseball, and he's finally come clean today after years of speculation and hiding from the world in his own little cocoon. People aren't supposed to have biceps this big or heads this large naturally, but here's Big Mac swatting fly balls all over stadiums like nobody could. I actually saw him him a scoreboard in the old Kingdome that was estimated to be almost 600 feet from the home place when it existed, and I venture it was the hardest hit baseball I've ever seen fly in person. It just didn't seem possible that someone could do what this guy could do with a bat, but here we were witnessing it.
And it's what baseball needed after the mess that the strike caused that eliminated a World Series and the good portion of two seasons. The game was in danger of becoming irrelevant, as people tired of the antics of spoiled players, rich owners, and the escalating power play in the search for more money and influence. And then 1998 comes along and McGwire and Sammy Sosa turned a home run chase into a media circus that captivated baseball and non baseball fans alike. The questions about steroids were brought up then, but pushed under the carpet as fans attended games in droves and the luster missing was restored. And now, years later, we live with the ramifications of those choices.
McGwire avoided all the questions, all the allegations, all the evidence, and once he retired from baseball, retreated to a world where he could be himself and avoid the tough questions. The allure and camaraderie of the clubhouse called him, and so he made a return knowing he had to face the music. Today, he came clean, and we'll all wonder what might have happened if he didn't use drugs or he'd decided to talk about things earlier. Let's face it, A-Rod admitted to using drugs almost immediately after the accusations came up, and his career has remain relatively unscathed while Pete Rose and Barry Bonds are shells of their competitive images. Rose admitted far too late that he bet on baseball after years of speculation while Bonds remains quiet about what he might or might have done and he's faded into obscurity.
For a sports obsessed society, we love our hero worship. We want to know more about the people that play our sports, and will do anything to get inside their world. We buy their jerseys, read their stories, and follow their talents without even realizing that athletes share the same frailties, same insecurities, same mortality as we all do, and when these heroes fall whether it's because of misconduct, passing of time, or mistakes, we are usually a forgiving lot for the most part. As long as the people involved show some humility, some regret, some hint that they are bothered, otherwise, the heroes will be chastised as many days as they can be. Rose might have more hits than any other baseball player in history, but there's too many baseball fans that can't forgive him from not being honest about betting until the apology benefited him and a book deal.
McGwire will never be able to fix what happened so many years ago during a home run chase that captivated many baseball fans, but today he made a big start by admitting his transgression. Humility, it's actually an endearing quality, and something that people need to remember about from time to time..
Other thoughts: Pete Carroll is now coaching the Seattle Seahawks in another one of the worst kept secrets of sports, as he bolts from USC amidst allegations of misconduct around the school and recruiting. The fact that the Hawks fired their previous coach was surprising, because Jim Mora was anointed as the replacement coach when Mike Holmgren retired. And after one year filled with injuries, miscommunication, and talent issues, Mora is gone and Carroll is hired in one of the worst kept secrets of sports.
The NFL has a Rooney rule where teams need to interview a minority candidate, so that everyone has an equal chance of potentially be hired for the job. However, the team skirted around it with a cursory interview with the defensive coordinator of Minnesota while various news outlets were already reporting Carroll was hired and agreeing to terms in Seattle. In the zeal to hire somebody, the team cut many, many corners to find who they thought is the right fit. I don't know if he will make things better up there, but at the same time, I can't help but see this as pure panic by the team up there. These are the same clowns that nearly ran the Trail Blazers into the ground, and they're finally righting the ship, so perhaps this is a good thing.
Conan O'Brien is being hosed. I've become a bit of a fan of late night television lately because my wife is a bit of a night owl, but also it's some of the best stuff on television. Granted back in my college days, David Letterman was a staple of late night studying when Letterman was creating his insane brand of absurdist humor. Letterman left to go to CBS and now practices his cranky old guy mad at things routine amusingly, but I miss the days of his confetti cannons and random characters appearing in comedy bits.
O'Brien has the same type of show now at the Tonight Show, but apparently NBC realized their error in putting Jay Leno on each night in a crappy talk show at 10 PM. I never liked Leno, I found his humor to be rather canned and lacking, although his work on the Simpsons was OK at points. Now that NBC sees what is going on, they want to return Leno to his original time spot and bump Conan back a half an hour. I love this trying to play all sides of things, but it's a serious mistake.
Leno said he was retiring and when he changed his mind, NBC should have let him walked but they decided to try and keep both sides happy. Now they have a mess out there that isn't going to end well for most folks. Well, except for the guy that I find the funniest guy in late night - Craig Ferguson. He's brash, he's scottish, he's insane, and he's funnier than anything out there right now, and I hope that Conan finds a home for his humor. When he's on his game, he's extremely entertaining, but I'm sure it's hard to be funny when you're looking over your shoulder to see what your network is doing.

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