A pair of interesting headlines came over the wires Thursday morning. Heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis was expected to announce his retirement at a press conference Friday, and a federal judge ordered the NFL to allow suspended Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett to enter the 2004 draft, ruling that the league's ban on players less than three years out of high school violates antitrust laws.
In the spirit of Ohio State's investigation into whether a benefactor and "father figure" of Clarett's was gambling while in daily contact with the running back, here's a proposed wager: A box of Mallomars says Lewis fights again before Clarett plays a down in the NFL.
Lewis, 38, will fight again because no aging boxer's first retirement sticks. Even champions as seemingly smart and thoughtful as Lewis, with no reason left to fight and nothing to gain but a few bucks and some brain damage, come out of retirement at least once. Remember Sugar Ray Leonard? Muhammad Ali? I could name a dozen before I even had to start thinking hard.
Clarett actually playing in the NFL seems awfully far off to me. It's hard to imagine that the NFL, even with a doomed case, won't be able to find a sympathetic judge to issue a stay, then keep the legal wheels spinning long enough for the '04 season to pass with Clarett on the sidelines. Clarett will be eligible for the 2005 draft regardless of the legal maneuvering, and putting aside questions about his durability that arose from his single season of college ball, who knows what kind of trouble Clarett can get himself into by the fall of 2005.
By that time Lewis will have held a press conference to announce that he's coming out of retirement to fight one of those Klitschko brothers. Zeppo, I think.
That would be a shame, because the world doesn't really need Lennox Lewis to fight any longer. He's put together a nice career, won, lost and won back the title and even got the wins over big-name opposition that had long eluded him when he beat faded versions of Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson.
There are boxing observers who believe Lewis is on the short list of all-time great heavyweight champions. I find this assessment ridiculous. I think he's the kind of guy who a generation or two earlier would have been a fringe contender at best -- Earnie Shavers or Ken Norton, to pull a couple of names out of a hat, would have had him for lunch. Maybe I'm wrong or maybe Lewis' supporters are, but nothing he's going to do from this date forward is going to change anyone's mind. The only mind that might get changed when Lewis comes back is his own, when it gets scrambled from taking too many punches. Here would be another good time to remember Muhammad Ali.
And while I suppose the world doesn't exactly need Maurice Clarett to play in the NFL -- if he's even good enough and can stay healthy and out of trouble long enough to make it to a Sunday payday -- it would be a good thing for Clarett to be allowed to play because, simply, that would be right.
As U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote in her ruling, "The NFL has not justified Clarett's exclusion by demonstrating that the rule enhances competition. Indeed, Clarett has alleged the very type of injury -- a complete bar to entry into the market for his services -- that the antitrust laws are designed to prevent."
The NFL's justification for the eligibility rule is that teenage players are not physically or mentally ready for the rigors of pro football. The real reason is that team owners don't want to have to draft an unready 18-year-old phenom because he's too talented to pass up, then have to pay him millions of dollars for three or four years while he matures and learns the game. The rule saves the teams from themselves and allows the NFL to continue using college football as a free farm system.
The NBA, which has had similar minimum-age rules struck down in the courts, is trying to figure out a way to go back to them.
Scheindlin, in her ruling, addressed the phony immaturity problem, saying there are less restrictive ways to keep unready players out of the league than banning legal adults under a certain age. She suggested maturity tests.
"In such a scenario, no player would be automatically excluded from the market and each team could decide what level of risk it is willing to tolerate," she wrote.
In other words: Evaluate the talent available and make a decision about whom to draft based on weighing the potential benefits against the potential pitfalls. That is, operate in the free marketplace rather than having rules that insulate you from risk at the price of preventing an entire class of people from making a living in the only viable outlet for their talents.
That's the American way, and the NFL looks bad in continuing to fight it.
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Injured by Janet's boob! [PERMALINK]
A woman in Knoxville, Tenn., outraged over the bared breast that shook the world, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, MTV, CBS and Viacom, and asked that the case become a class-action suit.
Terri Carlin alleges that she and others who watched the Super Bowl halftime show were "injured" when Timberlake tore part of Jackson's costume off, revealing her right breast. The suit seeks billions of dollars in damages but doesn't mention what the injuries might have been.
The boob flash that outraged grandstanding bureaucrats and others with various agendas was so fleeting and seen from such a long camera angle that the only possible injury it could have caused was tendinitis of the rewinding finger as millions of Americans watched it over and over and over again, the better to be outraged, evidently.
Others have expressed moral indignation about commercials for erection pills and a general crassness in the Super Bowl's beer advertising and the halftime performances of Nelly and Kid Rock.
But it took an associate professor of theater at Brigham Young University to point out something I hadn't thought of and hadn't heard discussed in all the chatter of the last week, but should cause actual, unfeigned outrage among football fans, even those who can avoid injury in the face of a mammillary rampage: The halftime show actually harmed the football game.
Pointing out that the entertainment represented an astounding achievement in stage management, Eric Samuelsen wrote in an e-mail that heavy equipment was required to get the huge, heavy stages in place and back out again before the game and at the half.
"I couldn't help but notice how hard it was for skill position players to make a sharp cut," he wrote of the Super Bowl. "A lot of guys were slipping and falling down out there. You put a heavy set on a grass field, and there's going to be damage, and the field is going to get slicker.
"What I don't get is why the NFL wants to do this. Why, for the sake of a preposterous and silly halftime show, create field conditions that are potentially harmful to players, and incidentally, also damaging to the aesthetics of the game itself? I could care less about Janet Jackson's breast. I care, as a fan, about good football, well played. So should the NFL."
I remind you again: None of this happens if the halftime entertainment is a Frisbee-catching dog. A dog couldn't do any more harm than shorting out a cellphone hidden at the base of a goalpost.
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An All-Star break [PERMALINK]
I'll be on vacation next week, with the Sports Daily returning on Feb. 17 after the Presidents' Day holiday.
That means you'll be spared all of my complaining about how boring and meaningless this weekend's Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star Game are, and most of my whining about next weekend's NBA All-Star Game.
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