I've never been a big fan of the cliché that tragedy puts sports "into perspective." Whenever something terrible happens, coaches and commentators are always going on about how this really puts things in perspective, reminds us all that the sport in question is just a game.
Those of us in the "I have a life, thank you" community, which is almost all of us, already know that in the scheme of things, it doesn't really matter who wins this or that ballgame. When we talk about a game being "important" or "crucial," we're speaking within the context of sports, a form of entertainment.
We didn't need Hurricane Katrina to teach us that the problems of 25 guys from the Bronx don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, just as we didn't need Sept. 11 or Munich or Pearl Harbor or Ray Chapman getting beaned to teach us that.
It's the people making those "this puts things into perspective" comments who need to check their self-importance.
And there's no shortage of people in sports afflicted with a case of exaggerated self-importance, most notably professional athletes. That's why, with hyperbole, however understandable, emanating from the political world, it was heartening to hear a voice of perspective coming from that class this week.
Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said of Katrina, "This is our tsunami," referencing last year's storm in Asia that killed an estimated 180,000 people, a death toll dozens or maybe hundreds of times higher than Katrina's will be.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said, "I can only imagine that this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago." Death toll estimates from Hiroshima vary, but the city itself attributes more than 200,000 deaths to the atomic bomb.
And Robert F. Kennedy Jr., writing on Huffingtonpost.com, blamed the hurricane on Barbour.
The devastation from Katrina is almost impossible to fathom, and of course for those affected by it, including Holloway and Barbour, it may just as well be the tsunami or Hiroshima because it feels that way to them.
But the last place you might look for a voice of reason, perspective and nuance in the midst of this nightmare would be a football field in San Jose where the New Orleans Saints, having been evacuated early, were working out for their practice game against the Oakland Raiders, beyond which their future is an almost total mystery.
But there was Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks, telling a reporter from the Los Angeles Times that while Katrina and its aftermath seem like the worst thing ever to those who are suffering, there are others who have suffered as much or more.
"It's not a 9/11 deal," he said, "but it has the feeling of it."
It's not really a point that needed to be made. Nobody begrudges Katrina's victims their woe. But it's impressive that Brooks made it.
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Another "storm"? [PERMALINK]
Here's the lead of a story in the Indian daily Malayala Manorama about Sania Mirza, an 18-year-old Indian tennis player who's ranked No. 42 in the world and has made it to the third round of the U.S. Open:
"NEW YORK -- While the western coast of this vast country has been hit by Katrina, the eastern side is reeling under the rush of Sania."
Those of you on the East Coast might be surprised to hear that you're reeling under "Sania Mania." Mirza is a rising celebrity at home, having become the first Indian woman to crack the top 100. But over here, not so much just yet.
A Google News search late Thursday morning turned up about a dozen American newspaper stories that had mentioned her in the previous 24 hours, mostly to report her second-round win over Maria Elena Camerin of Italy in passing. She'll get more attention if she beats Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in her next match. Then, barring an upset, Maria Sharapova will be waiting for her.
That bit of overstatement by way of tunnel vision reminds me of one of my favorite newspaper stories, told to me in my tyro days on the San Francisco Examiner sports desk.
The story went that a track and field writer who was just a bit too immersed in his beat wrote a set-up piece for the 1939 Modesto Relays track meet. It was August 1939, and Adolf Hitler's troops were massing on the Polish border for the Sept. 1 invasion that launched World War II.
His lead read, "The eyes of the world will be on Modesto this weekend ..."
The details are wrong. The Modesto Relays were founded in 1942 and they're held in the spring. But I don't care. It's a great story.
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