- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

For sports fans here and perhaps around the globe, ‘tis the season to be unjolly.

So our professional teams are lousy — so what else is new?

But it goes deeper than that, to what seems to be a growing disillusionment with pro teams and athletes. It’s tough to be a fan nowadays when we know that the sports establishment is milking us for every buck it can so too many jocks can collect a drawer full of jewelry and a garage full of cars while batting .250, shooting 39 percent, putting up a minus-30 plus/minus rating and loafing through games whenever they feel like it.

Not all athletes do this, of course — perhaps not even most. But enough do to make us as contemptuous toward them as they often are toward us.

It’s enough to make you a college sports fan for life, except that even more hypocrisy prevails on campus at the highest level of the revenue sports, football and men’s basketball. Fortunately, my state university, Maryland, seems to have two honest guys in Ralph Friedgen and Gary Williams. Call it blind luck.

Pick your favorite pro sport, if you still have one, and outrages abound. Baseball? Could there be a more disgusting scenario than the way Bud Selig and his minions are fighting not to put a team in our midst? Why not come right out and explain why you’re dickering with San Juan, Monterrey, Portland, Ore., and even Norfolk, of all places, while ignoring the capital of the western world? Assuming, of course, that you can explain it.

Then there’s the unsurprising revelation that many major leaguers are beefing up their bodies and their stats with artificial substances. Cynicism, anyone? The other day, I saw a replay of Mark McGwire hitting his record-tying 61st home run in 1998, and you know what? For the first time, I felt like booing.

In basketball, the Kobe Bryant situation leaves a lousy taste in our mouths. Pro football this week offered us the sight of Dan Reeves, a sure Hall of Fame coach and a decent guy, being canned by the Atlanta Falcons’ rookie owner (appropriately named Arthur Blank). And hockey — well, from all indications there will be no hockey next year because of the newest impending labor crisis.

Thereby finally enabling the Washington Capitals to get even with the rest of the NHL.

And now the negative vibes have spilled over into college football, courtesy of the BCS. Just ask any Southern Cal fan.

In these parts, losing propositions in sports are nothing new. Never mind the Curse of the Bambino or the Sports Illustrated cover jinx — what about the hex hovering over any team or superstar in the greater Washington area? (I haven’t checked this out, but it might have something to do with all those politicians running their mouths.)

Let’s see. As of yesterday, the Redskins were 5-8, the Caps 8-18-1-1 and the Wizards 7-14. To paraphrase Jerry Lee Lewis, there’s a whole lot of losin’ goin’ on.

What about the Orioles? Even if they land Vladimir Guerrero and Nomar Garciaparra, how could they be a winner with arrogant Peter Angelos as owner? New manager Lee Mazzilli probably won’t have any better luck than Glen Hanlon will with the Caps. Curses, foiled again.

If you’re scoring at home, the Orioles haven’t won a full-fledged championship since 1983, the Redskins since 1991, the Bullets/Wizards since 1978 and the Caps since the beginning of time. Remember the old comic strip character Joe Bffttsplk, who walked around with a dark cloud over his head? I suspect he has taken up permanent residence in our darkening town.

Not even superstars can escape Joe’s shadow when they turn up around here. What did Michael Jordan do for the Wizards or Jaromir Jagr for the Caps? And should the Orioles land Garciaparra, I fully expect him to bat .248 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI next season, although one definite benefit would be in having Mia Hamm back in the area although not in a soccer uniform. Same thing if the O’s opt instead for Miguel Tejada — he’d probably turn into Mike Bordick II with bat in hand.

It’s all enough to make us swear off pro sports as an avocation. There must be more rewarding things to do this holiday season, like trying to find a parking space at the mall or dealing with surly salespeople. Who needs to spend hundreds of dollars on tickets, soggy food and overpriced memorabilia when you could be wrapping presents for Aunt Tillie in Toledo and standing in line at the post office?

When sports are run and played right, there’s no better pastime for millions of us. Increasingly, though, that has become an exception.


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