Friday, February 8, 2008

The Final Straw

note: this column appears in the October 2007 Kent News

September 20, 2007- I have been pushed to the breaking point. I have been stretched, but I can’t be broken. I have been tested, tortured even, but I’m still optimistic about the future. The very fabric of my being, what I have been for as long as I can remember, and what I will be for as I live has been put to the test but I am still here. I’m talking, of course, of my life as a sports fan.

The last twelve months have been the worst of my lifetime for sports. Marked by scandal, disappointment and even tragedy, 2007 has not been a fun year to follow. For me personally the turmoil began about a year ago when the major acquisition of the off-season for my favorite team, new San Jose Shark Mark Bell was booked for DUI and hit and run. A dismal Red Sox team was eliminated from playoff contention with a couple of weeks left in the season, and I was not the only one turned off as an eighty-three win team won a World Series that your average sports fan couldn’t tell you who played in. The series itself was most memorable for a -- guess what: scandal, this one involving pine tar on Kenny Rodgers’s hand. If only boring championships and blurry spots on pitchers hands had been the worst of it.

2007 has been a year of disappointment and scandal. Pacman Jones started the sports world off on the wrong foot at the NBA All-Star game, becoming linked to a shooting that left a security guard paralyzed. I was dealt a personal blow at the end of the spring when a Sharks team underachieved in the playoffs and was ousted in the second round. Shortly after that, the sports world began to fall apart. Anyone who was remotely interested knows what happened, scandals broke out involving Barry Bonds, Mike Vick, Tim Donaghy, Human Growth Hormone (HGH), Jose Offerman, and Patriot-Gate. This summer has been so bad that perennial misbehavers Terrell Owens and Stephen Jackson decided that they didn’t even need to get involved.

So why am I still here, so to speak? It is a question that I have asked myself, for the first time in my life, while reading story after story with headlines like “Barry Bonds Accused of Fixing HGH Enhanced Dogfights.” For many people, the final shred of innocence was lost when the supposed feel good story of the year, Rick Ankiel, who had recovered from a postseason meltdown as a pitcher, worked his way up through the Cardinals farm system as an outfielder than, when he got his shot, hit 2 homeruns in his big league debut, was tarnished by accusations that Ankiel himself used human growth hormone.

The answer is two-fold. First of all, even when SportsCenter and are dominated by the negatives, positives still sneak in just often enough to keep people around. Even in what has been a negative year by most standards there have been plenty of great stories, even without Ankiel. 2007 started with a bang with the greatest upset in the history of college sports when Boise State pulled off a miracle and beat Oklahoma on New Years Day in the Fiesta Bowl (I’m a homer, if you didn’t know that by now your not paying enough attention). The Golden State Warriors became a national sensation on the way to upsetting a dominant regular season team in the Dallas Mavericks. Say what you will about Barry Bonds, but for me personally, sitting in AT&T Park with Bonds at 754 career home runs, a sold out crowd coming to their feet to support the soon to be home run king, flawless through it all in their eyes, represented much of what I love about sports and was an experience I will never forget (even if Bonds did go 1-7 with a single in the two games I attended). Young stars in all sports emerged, or else took their game to another level, as nineteen year old Sidney Crosby won the NHL MVP, LeBron James put the Cavs on his back, taking them to the NBA finals, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsburry, Melky Cabrerra and Jaba Chamberlain showed us the future of baseball’s most intense rivalry and rookies Reggie Bush and Marques Colston rejuvenated the Saints for a city that needed a rallying point more than anyone not from Louisiana could possibly comprehend. Through all this, what did I get to hear about? Cheating, lying and breaking the law. Is it worth it?

Yeah, actually, it is. It was because I know something that any Cubs fan knows. Something that Brooklyn Dodgers fans knew before the team went west. The NHL is starting up again, Joe Thornton is locked with a long term contract in San Jose with sweet new threads, the NFL will move on from Pacman, Mike Vick and Patriot-Gate, and the Sox are looking good for the future with Papelbon, Buchholz and Beckett on the hill. Those fans knew what every fan knows: “just wait ‘till next year.” If your looking for the final straw, the one that could turn me off of sports, your going to have to keep looking.

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