Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tipping Point

Weeks without a column and suddenly, out of nowhere, I’m back. You might be asking, “what could possibly be the inspiration for a column after such a prolonged absence”? And, I bet more than a few of you are thinking, “I bet it has something to do with Pitino.” If so, you are partially correct. The more specific explanation is that I’m tired. That’s right, I’m tired of every sports related headline relating to some sort of scandal.

After weeks of hearing and reading about Mike Vick fighting dogs and struggling to find his way back in the NFL; Donte Stallworth running over pedestrians and serving barely enough time in jail to miss Wimbledon; J.R. Smith of the Nuggets spending even less time in jail after killing his best friend and THEN allegedly sending out gang related tweets; Manny and Big Papi possibly breaking the Curse with the help of a syringe or two; some hockey player allegedly kicking an old man’s ass over a few dimes; Plaxico Burress facing years in jail for wearing sweatpants to the club (or carrying a concealed weapon and shooting himself – not sure which is a dumber move); or this incredibly salacious scandal involving Pitino; I’ve finally reached a point I never thought possible. Believe it or not, I just deleted today’s “PTI” without watching a second.
Before going any further, I have to be candid about a few things: 1) with football season just around the corner, “PTI” will be back in the mix sooner rather than later; 2) the steroid stuff really doesn’t bother me that much because I grew numb to the entire situation long ago; and 3) I’ve spent just as much time, if not more, as anybody discussing the above scandals with friends and co-workers. That being said, I’ve reached my limit. It’s just too much. For example, as I was driving home this evening, the local sports talk show was covering two topics: 1) what will Mike Vick say in his “60 Minutes” interview; and 2) should Rick Pitino be fired? My reaction? I switched over to the cd player and cranked a little “Hootie and the Blowfish”. This, of course, reveals two things about me: 1) I haven’t bought a new cd since ’96; and 2) I really need satellite radio.

Do I blame the media for covering these stories? Of course not. During the dog days of summer, when baseball is really the only constant story, these guys have a lot of copy and air time to fill. And, of course, fans, myself included, typically eat these stories up. As the great Malcolm Gladwell has made clear, however, you always reach a tipping point. In this case that point comes when the media has to keep covering these stories, but we, the fans, stop reading and listening. For me, that point is the Pitino story. It’s sordid, it’s salacious, it’s likely to have a huge impact on college basketball, and surprisingly (especially to me), I don’t care. As a sports fan and a pop culture addict, maybe I should, but for some reason, I just don’t. That’s the thing about the tipping point – it’s not always easy to predict or understand, but you know it when it happens.

So, does this mean that I’m completely out of the sports mix until football season? Not so much. Instead, I’m turning my focus, at least for the next four days, to the one sport that has not been tainted by scandal and consistently reminds us what is great about sports: golf. As we head into the final major of the year, we not only have tremendous storylines to look forward to (Tiger chasing #15, Sergio chasing #1, Phil trying to escape from the harsh realities of real life, Paddy trying to overcome last week’s heartache, Cink, Glover, and Cabrera attempting to vault into the elite, Rich Beem returning to the site of his greatest moment, etc…), but we are also coming off a week that reminded us of some of the things that make golf the purest of all games. For example, after he completed his third round last Saturday, Tim Clark unilaterally launched an investigation into whether he had properly replaced his ball on the 16th green only to find he had not. This, of course, led to Clark assessing a penalty against himself and eliminating any chance he had to compete for the win.

Next, on Sunday, after Paddy Harrington completely imploded in the wake of one of Tiger’s all time shots (an 8 iron over water from 181 yards to within 6 inches…good God, that’s ridiculous), Tiger was the first person to jump to his defense and attribute Paddy’s implosion to the inexplicable decision to put the twosome on the clock on the 16th tee. In other words, the world’s greatest player, instead of thumping his chest and exalting his own accomplishment, went out of his way to stand up for one of his only legitimate challengers.

If you don’t think this is a big deal, take a second and try to imagine Kobe Bryant or Lebron James stepping to the microphone and defending the other if he missed a clutch free throw late in Finals game? This would NEVER happen. Not in a million years. As for the Clark situation, try to imagine Bryant driving to the hole, drawing a foul and tossing the ball to the ref while saying, “that wasn’t a foul.” Actually, that’s not a fair comparison. If he did that, Kobe would only average 15 points a game.

So, in this time of seemingly endless scandal in sports, at least we have one sport that continues to deliver quality competition and quality stories. And, for the next four days, I plan on completely immersing myself in the action at Hazeltine. If all goes well, come Monday, we should have something to talk about that doesn’t include the words “dogs”, “sweatpants”, “D.U.I.”, or “$3,000”. And, come Tuesday, only 19 days until kickoff. If we all stick together, we can make it.