Unscripted, uncharitable

Readers respond to King Kaufman's assessment of the World Series and to a critique of Michael Jordan.

Published November 6, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

Read "Surprise ending" by King Kaufman.

Come on, King Kaufman.

Your big sloppy wet kiss to the finally-defeated Yanks misses all the important points. Why don't you focus on those "hunches" by (rookie manager!) Bob Brenly that won the game, instead of the can't-lose Yankees, who lost at last? Nobody outside New England wanted to see New York overcome the scrappy D-backs anyway.

The story you didn't want to tell was out-of-nowhere Arizona fielding warhorses like Johnson and Schilling against the Yankees' expensive lineup. What other team can start Orlando Hernandez and Roger Clemens -- with Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera waiting to relieve? Hall of Famers all, like many of New York's big-ticket names. That's the soul of baseball that we saw in the Series -- the willful resistance by old hawks like Mark Grace and young turks like Craig Counsell over stardust-sprinkled chosen ones like Jeter and Alfonso Soriano.

The lesson we should learn from this amazingly enjoyable Series is not that the bought-and-paid-for Yankees managed to miss their "date with destiny," but that Arizona stole the show.

-- Ryan Goudelocke

Your story about Game 7 of the World Series is one of the best pieces of sportswriting I have read in many, many years. I was a sportswriter in an earlier life, including a stint as national sports correspondent for the Gannett New Service, so I know what it takes to write such a fine story on deadline. Congratulations!

-- John Wilheim, Wichita, Kan.

I'm still glowing and excited about the series this morning of course, and it was great to read your column that captures so much of what I was thinking and feeling during this series.

Born a Red Sox fan, and having endured what seemed like decades of disappointment as the Yankees kept dominating the Sox, I moved to the northwest in the '60s. I began warming up to the Mariners this year, but watched the old movie as the Yankees overwhelmed them in the American League finals. They were better, period.

Then came this series, and my wife and I, not really sports fans at all, got hooked. I was so elated after the first two games, so amazed after games 3, 4 and 5, and so unprepared for game 6. Then in game 7 wasn't there such a sense of inevitability. I had seen this before. The Diamondbacks went ahead, and then here come the Yankees once again. But as you say, this was a different script. Thanks for the column.

-- Ed Sheridan, Bainbridge Island, Wash.

The closest, most back-and-forth World Series in years didn't seem quite movie-esque to you? What about the homesick young Kim's chilling, two-night-in-a row, agonizing final-inning mis-pitch? What about the big, monster, established team being knocked on its butt by the underdog?

You're wrong, life is a movie that's playing everywhere at all times, you just need to know what movie you're watching.

-- Jason Eness

Read "Don't be like Mike" by Tom Schaller.

Who sprinkled itching powder in Tom Schaller's jock?

Where is it written that an athlete has to pop off on every social issue that comes along? Who the hell cares who Michael Jordan supports for U.S. senator from North Carolina?

A boxer for a role model? Puh-leeze! Why should I look for moral guidance to a man who makes his living beating other men senseless?

-- J.A. Goodpasture

I'm a native Washingtonian who doesn't follow much basketball, but who could miss the return of Michael Jordan to the court?

Tom Schaller lumps together a lot of complaints in a wide-ranging criticism of Michael Jordan, but without setting the groundwork to persuade me that Jordan deserves such an attack.

He's a great athlete, no question. Does he also have to be a master manager and businessman, a selfless labor negotiator and the savior of his race? Is it Jordan's fault that publicity-hungry politicians, team owners and sports journalists make their careers on his name recognition?

Lay the blame with those who can't deal with the fact that Jordan is a man, a gifted athlete, a capitalist and an egomaniac. Mike's gonna act like what he is, and kudos to him for refusing to compromise in an environment where every one of his revolutionary moves is picked apart by a less-talented pack of professionals.

-- Sara Cormeny

I'm soooooo tired of white writers, sportscasters and the like expecting Jordan (or any other sports figure) to be some kind of saintly figure. Make no mistake, in addition to being a great athlete, Michael Jordan is a businessman, first and foremost, as are many of his colleagues -- black, white, and everything in between -- in the NBA and other professional sports leagues. Sure, he might say that he plays for the love of the game, but no one is so naive to think that money isn't also a powerful motivator. Hell, it's why 99 percent of poor kids from the projects and backwoods work so hard to make it to the pros -- sometimes even forsaking a free education to get there. It's less about the love of the game, and more about the lure of NBA dollars as a means for escaping crushing poverty. And if Schaller, and others who think like him, would get off their collective, middle-class high horses, they'd understand that.

Why is it no one expends as much energy badmouthing the general managers and team owners (most of whom are white) for being nothing more than glorified profiteers in human flesh; for the wholesale conversion of stadiums into glorified arenas for corporate sponsorships and promotion; for the outrageous prices of tickets for games where the average fan can't even afford the price of admission? Where is it written that every athlete of color must live up to Muhammad Ali's example (or Joe Lewis', Jesse Owens', Jackie Robinson's) and be the elevator of his race, forsaking prosperity for some higher, albeit, saintly aim? So what if Jordan's in it for the money; so is every other person involved in franchise sports. But this isn't even the issue at hand for me.

It is simply outrageous to compare Jordan and his circumstances to Ali and his. Each man is representative of the times that he lived in; and prior to Jordan, most black athletes were reduced to glorified servitude to their teams. The opportunity for big bucks simply for playing was virtually nonexistent and many turned to commercial endorsements to make money. (Who can forget O.J. and his Hertz rental car commercials? And even The Greatest plugged for cash. Remember those D-Con roach spray commercials?) And excuse me, Ali didn't decide to relinquish his title and the money he could have made from subsequent fights; he was forced to do so when his refusal to participate in the draft (coupled with his outspokenness regarding the war in Vietnam) got him blacklisted. And if you know anything about Ali, you would also know that his conversion to Islam was a direct result of the repeated discrimination he faced as a boxer both before and after receiving his gold medal at the 1960 summer Olympics. Anyone who knows Ali also knows the history of this medal subsequently being thrown into the Mississippi River, and of the fateful meeting with Malcolm X; events that would set the next decade of his life into motion.

Societal pressures formed both men. And Schaller needs to get over it and over himself, and stop looking to athletes to be more than what they are: grown men being paid to play games.

-- Felicia M.

God Bless Tom Schaller. It's about time someone has the balls to print some real journalism on Michael Jordan. Perhaps in the wake of 9/11, this country will finally realize the sports stars are not the heroes we want them to be; that firefighters and police officers deserve better pay than do sports stars; and finally that the cult of celebrity is a dangerous thing.

And for those who say leave poor Mike alone, I have to remind them: The man was such a raving egotist that he went along with an entire marketing campaign ("I wanna be like Mike!") touting himself as a role model. He gets what he deserves.

-- Christopher Hennessy

Mr. Shaller's provocative article decrying the deifying of Michael Jordan misses the trees for the forest. Jordan is a true champion at basketball. But he is a greater champion at self-promotion and marketing.

What's wrong with that? Isn't that what sports are all about today?

How many high school players strive to make it to their favorite college team or ultimately to play for the pros out of a love for the game? In more innocent times, a high school student might have been looking for a scholarship. Today they dream of a ticket to the millions they can make -- the cars, the fame, the women.

Is that wrong? Mr. Schaller would have us think so. But it is merely the reality of what professional sports are about today. It's the entertainment business, and Jordan is a fantastic entertainer.

The real questions are how long Jordan will be able to stretch his waning promotional career, and when he will decide to make the switch to the ultimate American sport -- politics?

-- C.D. Bassett

Thanks for the piece on Jordan. With his incredible fame and cred with the kids, Jordan could have made a huge difference in the lives of children in America and elsewhere. He could have told Nike to stuff it if they didn't fix their foreign labor situation, and he would have had them over a barrel. Ali had Vietnam and Jordan had sweatshops, but Ali stood alone on principle and Jordan took the money and ran. And, as the model for every young athlete to come along since, Jordan officially ended what used to be a tradition of activist black athletes. It's a shame that Jordan couldn't overcome his own greed to do something good for the world, something that only he was ever really capable of doing. Instead, he hawks crappy $125 sneakers made by poor kids in Asia to poor kids in America who can't afford them. Everything he does is designed to keep these kids buying the next cool piece of Jordan/Nike crap. He'll never be my role model.

-- Reeves Hamilton

No one can deny that Michael Jordan is (or, was) an incredible athlete, but the prevailing media suggestion that he has immortal or totemic qualities is completely misguided. Anyone who lives in Chicago particularly certainly remembers Jordan's mishap-begotten foray into baseball and can't help wondering, if, at age 38, this basketball "comeback" will have similar results.

I was disappointed that Schaller didn't highlight the most glaringly obscene aspect of Jordan's dossier -- his charitable giving record. Compared to the salary he received in his last years of playing and the money he continues to make from product endorsements, he gives very, very little back to those who support him so earnestly.

Jordan's love of the game is certainly admirable. But I don't believe that the people of Chicago nor sports fans elsewhere believe that Jordan is a paragon of virtue. No athlete, no human is worthy of the pedestal that we put Michael Jordan on and frankly, no human is worth the money that he gets paid and gives so little of back to the community.

I dare say that many of us think this comeback is ridiculous and just maybe would secretly like to see Jordan make a fool of himself just one more time before he bows off of the world stage. Then people could cease this ill-deserved hero worship and turn their attention to what's really important -- any number of consequential things not related to putting a ball into a hoop at the end of a wooden court.

Jordan's greatest contribution to humankind is nothing more than being a very talented athlete who exploited his assets to the best advantage -- call him the ultimate capitalist. He's not even a man anymore; he's a brand. The public's greatest mistake was thinking he was "almighty" -- and the sportswriters' greatest mistake was endowing him with "mystical" powers that made people think that he was in some way, athletic talent aside, fundamentally better or more worthy than anyone else.

-- Meg Wolff

By Salon Staff

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