- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

Each year rookies in the NBA and other leagues attend orientation sessions designed to help them live in the Real World. They're told of the many temptations a professional athlete must face (drugs, women, recording a rap album, etc.). They're advised on how to handle their money. They're educated about the media.

It's that last seminar I wonder about, though. Especially now that another athlete New York Knick Charlie Ward has stuck his sneaker in his mouth. They must not be teaching these guys the most important rule of all, interview-wise, which is: As much as possible, confine your comments to sports, to X's and O's. And if you're not too good on the X's, stick to the O's.

Ward violated the Golden Rule when he showed his theologic side in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. In an article entitled "The Knicks' Dysfunctional Family," he called Jews "stubborn," said they had "[Jesus'] blood on their hands" and talked about "Christians getting persecuted by Jews every day."

Four days later, he's still trying to put out the fire.

Maybe I'm in the minority on this, but I've never been terribly interested in the political/ religious/societal views of athletes any more than I care about my auto mechanic's opinion of the Impressionists exhibit at the Phillips. I didn't idolize Bill Bradley growing up because I thought he would make a great senator. I idolized him because I thought he was a heck of a basketball player. But sports figures, perhaps because they want to be seen as more intellectual, are always making the mistake of pontificating on subjects they often know little about.

It was in this very town, you may recall, that Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, then a big-deal oddsmaker for CBS Sports, offered the following anthropologic gem: "The black is a better athlete [than the white] to begin with, because he's been bred to be that way. Because of his high thighs and big thighs that go up into his back. And they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs, you see… . This goes all the way to the Civil War when, during the slave trading, the owner, the slave owner would breed his big woman so that he would have a big black kid, see. That's where it all started."

And that's where it all ended for Jimmy. He had made the colossal blunder of answering a question after having a few pops at lunch at Duke Zeibert's that had nothing to do with point spreads or over/unders. CBS fired him the next day.

Why oh why do sports folks keep doing this? Don't they realize how risky it is to venture out of their area of expertise? Field a query about civil rights (as "the Greek" did) or make ill-advised remarks during an on-the-record Bible study session (Ward's faux pas), and you're a candidate for national boobhood. Or worse.

And yet the madness goes on. The people in my profession, I suppose, are partly to blame. We're always trying to get at the man (or woman) behind the athlete. We're always writing stories that begin: "A minivan is rolling slowly down Atlanta's Route 400, and John Rocker, driving directly behind it in his blue Chevy Tahoe, is [angry]… . " That's our goal: to get inside somebody's blue Chevy Tahoe and then into his living room, his refrigerator and finally into his Inner Self.

Of course, we all know how that Rocker piece turned out. By the time he was done ranting to the reporter, he had disparaged Asians, Indians, Russians, Hispanics, AIDS victims, young mothers and possibly even monkeys. And now he's the poster child for Angry White Maleness, less a pitcher than a punch line.

I want to know why Reggie White is so good, why he's able to toss 300-pound linemen around like Beanie Babies. I don't really need his guidance on homosexuality ("[it's] a decision, it's not a race") or the inherent worth of various ethnic groups. ("Hispanics are gifted in family structure… . They can put 20, 30 people in one home.") Tell me about your swim move, Reggie. Describe your offseason training regimen. Regale me with stories about your college days. But leave the other stuff to the sociologists.

Earl Woods thinks his son could have a Gandhi-like impact on the planet. We can only hope Tiger isn't listening. The last thing we need is for the greatest living golfer to start issuing pronouncements about world affairs. It can only hurt his short game.

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