The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

America needs more organized religion. I admit this is an odd thing for an atheist to say. I make this claim not because I think people need more spirituality, or are sinful. I want more people to enjoy a specific benefit of religion -- fulminating against the wicked so as to appear more virtuous -- in order to get such behavior off the sports pages.

The modern sports columnist is primarily a scold. Yes, a sports writer should know about, and report on, all types of sporting events, but a columnist who does not wag his finger at wrongdoing on a weekly basis is a columnist who believes himself to be derilict of duty.

Take, for instance, this column last week by San Jose Mercury News writer Ann Killion. (I do so more or less at random; as Derek Zumsteg noted in USS Mariner, "Lots of people wrote angry columns about Barry Bonds. There's no point to linking: you could click anywhere else on your monitor but this story and find four." Killion has little use for subtlety in this column:

Don't pout, Giants fans.

You still have a chance to see real, legitimate history this season.

You have a chance to see the most reviled athlete of all time.

Wow. The most reviled athlete of all time? More so that Ray Lewis, who was hanging around when some friends of his stabbed someone to death? Than erotosadist Kobe Bryant? Than girlfriend-beater and world-class numbskull Lawrence Phillips? Than neck-breaker Todd Bertuzzi?

Those who would rehabilitate Pete Rose use Ty Cobb's racism as a foil. That strikes me as unfair; lots of people in his era, even those who believed in equality under law for all races, had opinions that violate modern-day taboos. So let me use an example of behavior that would be considered despicable in this century or the last: Ty Cobb once went into the stands to beat a heckler senseless, even though his victim did not have a full complement of hands and fingers.

In six months, Killion will be lecturing about how the alleged misdeeds of some football or basketball star make him the most reviled athlete on the planet, and she'll have forgotten that Barry Bonds even existed.

Killion's lecturing tone does little for her wit -- notice how her paragraphs are of one sentence and her sentences are words of one syllable. Nor does it do much for her powers of persuasion. Just why should I care whether Barry Bonds used steroids? Killion fulminates with the passion of a preacher reading words off a sacred text, but it's all argument by authority:

There have been other surly athletes, like Ted Williams. There have been other bad teammates, like Terrell Owens. There have been other cheaters, like Ben Johnson and Bill Romanowski. There have been others who disgraced their sports -- heck, I just saw a slew of them at the Winter Olympics.

If Killion wants us to believe that Bonds is a cheater, she could start by listing the rules of baseball that he violated. Of course she can't do so, because there are none.

And just imagine how little love you have to have for sport to list Ted Williams as an example of surliness, or to say that the best player in baseball disgraces his sport. Why are all sportswriters tiresome moralists? I can see how you might be disgusted with the modern professional athlete. But if you can't stomach sports stars, why be a sports columnist?



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