Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bad Sports

What's Up With Sports These Days?

What's the deal with professional sports these days??

Barry Bonds' pursuit of the home run record has everybody up in arms about steroids. And speaking of steroids, that wonder hormone allegedly caused pro-wrestler Chris Benoit to murder his wife and child, and then off himself. A more prolific murderer, at least in PETA's view, may be Michael Vick, accused of electrocuting and drowning dogs who lost in brutal dogfights he held at his ranch. But the major money wasn't being bet on the Fido vs. Scraps over-under; mob-backed gamblers made bank by controlling an NBA referee, who made bogus calls to influence the final score of basketball games. Ref Tim Donaghy isn't the only one going nowhere fast: accused performance enhancer and banned bicyclist Floyd Landis sits at home during this year's Tour De France as he awaits the results of his appeal.

Have I left anything out? Anything happen in the NHL?

Sure, in previous years, we've had Kobe's rape, Ray Lewis's nightclub shooting, and O.J. Simpson's high speed freeway drive, but never before can I recall so many sports scandals in such a short amount of time. Is it just coincidence? Or are athletes today just plain rotten?

Certainly, there's an explanation for steroids. In this day and age, more money than ever is on the table for athletes at the top of their game. If a cream or injection can make you 20 million dollars richer, either in endorsements, in a contract, or both, then that's pretty hard to pass up. Barry's story, as related by several sources, is that he saw other athletes doing it and gobbling up all the kudos. He wanted in.

The dogfighting? A little harder to explain. Michael Vick is a very rich man. Dogfighting, as far as I know, neither makes a lot of money or improves athletic performance. Unless of course, holding down dogs underwater is part of Vick's workout regimen.

Vick's sponsors are dropping him like a hot potato (Nike even cancelled the release of his shoe). And when you read the indictment, it's easy to see why...

The property was purchased by Vick in June 2001. Since that time, the named defendants formed a dog fighting enterprise known as “Bad Newz Kennels” and used the property for housing and training pit bulls used in dog fights. From at least 2002, the defendants and others sponsored dog fights at the property, where participants and dogs traveled from South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, Texas, Alabama, and other states to participate. Generally, only those accompanying the opposing kennels and “Bad Newz Kennels’” associates attended the fights. For a particular dog fight, the participants would establish a purse for the winning side, ranging from the hundreds to thousands of dollars. Participants and spectators would also place side-bets on the fight. The dog fight would last until the death or surrender of the losing dog. At the end of the fight, the losing dog was sometimes put to death by drowning, hanging, gunshot, electrocution, or another method...

Further, in April 2007, an additional “testing” session was performed by Peace, Phillips, and Vick. Following that session, the indictment alleges that approximately eight dogs were put to death by hanging, drowning, and/or slamming at least one dog’s body to the ground.
Yikes. "Bad Newz," indeed.

As for Donaghy, he made the classic gambler's mistake. He got in too deep and couldn't climb out. And in doing so, he's called into question the entire profession of refereeing. Who's to say a bad call isn't something a bit more sinister?

Look how Donaghy's officiating affected a pivotal playoff game last year, between the Spurs and the Suns:

Then there's Floyd Landis, who maintains that he is innocent, a victim of a corrupted testing system. That may be true. Unfortunately for Landis, athletes haven't given us much to trust them on these days. He didn't help his case by allegedly threatening cycling legend Greg LeMond.

I love sports. And I believe that like in any industry, there are a few bad apples. The corporate world had Ken Lay, our government has George W. Bush, and sports has the likes of Tim Donaghy.

But after all we've seen and heard in recent years, can we ever truly trust our beloved sports again?

Or is it worth it to suspend our disbelief so that we may better enjoy watching our treasured athletic pastimes?

Either way, I'm not letting Michael Vick dog-sit.

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