What's sports got to do with it?

Nothing. So for God's sake, no "Michael Jordan boosted our morale" pieces.

By Allen Barra

Published September 27, 2001 7:13PM (EDT)

Some random notes in the aftermath: Sports Illustrated did the best job of all publications in finding relevant sports-related stories in the wake of the WTC bombing. One of the best was Brian Cazeneuve's heartbreaking interview with perhaps the most highly regarded Muslim athlete, Moroccan-born marathoner Khalid Khannouchi, winner of the '99 Chicago Marathon. Khalid, who was visiting his hometown of Meknes, Morocco, found out about the attack when his brother in New York called and told him to switch channels. For 24 hours he tried to get a phone connection to home in Ossining, N.Y. Now, he says, he fears a backlash against Muslims, that "I'm afraid you will see a different look from the person who gave you respect before."

Curt Schilling was quoted on the wire as saying, "If I were commissioner, first day back I'd have every guy donate that day's salary to the victims. I wouldn't charge admission." Well, Curt's heart is in the right place, but someone from the Player's Association should tell him that the commissioner has no such power, that it would be a very bad thing if he did, that any player who wishes to donate to any of several relief funds is free to do so and that the owners make most of their revenue off TV even if the fans are allowed in for free. A better suggestion might be to have the owners donate all the monies from one game and ask the players for the rights to withhold a day's pay.

ESPN the magazine was even more effective in covering the aftermath than ESPN the network; particularly poignant was a two-page spread of boys playing street basketball in the shadows of the World Trade Towers.

What I utterly refuse to subscribe to, though, is the idea that somehow the events of Sept. 11 "changed our notions of the importance of sports" or that they "redefined our ideas of heroism." If the cynicism engendered by the age of big-money sports has had one positive effect, it's that it long ago did away with the serious idea of the athlete as role model (most kids I know today don't know the athletes' names, let alone worship them as role models). There may be some notion of, say, Cal Ripken as a hero or role model, but I don't really think the praise has been out of line with Ripken's accomplishment, which is to say I don't think anyone ever thought about him as on a level with, say, a fireman. And if they did, it was only because they've seen too many ballgames and too few fires.

What I'm really not ready for, and I'm posting fair warning on this, is to see any editorials about how Michael Jordan's return "boosted our sagging morale at a time when we most needed it." There, I've said it, I told you exactly what not to say, and if you say it, I promise I'll find you and I'll get you. If you write or say anything about how Michael Jordan's return "took us back to a more innocent time" or to "a time when we could give ourselves wholeheartedly to sports," you are on my list. The idea that we should ever give ourselves wholeheartedly to sports is pretty asinine, and we are well to be rid of it. It seems to me that if there is one thing we definitely do not need to be returned to, it's the overhyped, overripe world of professional sports the way they were 10 to 15 years ago, and I, for one, would rather be halfhearted in 2001.

So many threads to pick up on ... Does ESPN magazine's Tim Kurkjian really think that Brett Boone "replaced A-Rod's bat" for Seattle because (when he wrote this) Boone had 128 RBIs and Rodriguez 120? Isn't it just possible that Rodriguez, with 13 more home runs, 34 more points in his on-base average and a slugging average a whopping 48 points higher could have produced many more RBIs batting in the same situation as Boone? Or that Jason Giambi of the A's, currently leading the league in both on-base and slugging, wouldn't have more than anybody?

A couple of months ago I got a good response by inviting Bert Randolph Sugar to comment on a big fight. Since this Saturday's middleweight championship fight between Felix Trinidad and Bernard Hopkins looks on paper to be as exciting as any fight in at least 10 years, I thought I'd get his perspective again. According to Sugar, this is "potentially the best match since Tommy Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The middleweights traditionally produce the best fights, and this is the best match out there right now." Who does he like: "Hopkins if it's an inside fight; Trinidad, if he can keep Hopkins at a distance. Two weeks ago I was leaning toward Trinidad; now I'm leaning toward Hopkins because of the layoff. Hopkins got to go home, Philadelphia, and didn't miss a beat, but Trinidad had to stay in New York and had his routine interrupted." As for me, my father always told me to "go with great over weight," which means take the better fighter even if he's coming up from a lighter weight class. That means Trinidad, even though I think he's going to have to get off the canvas to do it.

Incidentally, I'd like to add spice to the fight by instituting what I'd call the Sontag-Maher-Huffington rule. As Ms. Sontag wrote in last week's New Yorker, "If the word 'cowardly' is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation ..." Myself, I always thought the purpose of a fight was to win, but Sontag -- and, consequently, Maher and Huffington -- have added the novel idea that one should not be allowed to punch beyond the range an opponent can punch back. I thereby suggest that Trinidad and Hopkins be made to fight in a phone booth so no one can be accused of being "cowardly" for making use of his reach. And let Sontag, Maher and Huffington be guest judges.

Allen Barra

Allen Barra is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

MORE FROM Allen Barra

Related Topics ------------------------------------------