- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Ah, springtime in Paris; the thought provokes romance, flora, fashion … and another anonymous Spaniard with a tennis racquet.

Coming up is the French Open, the world’s most overrated tennis tournament … in Roland Garros, which can be translated as “interminable rally.”

The French Open is the ultimate minor major, the knuckleballing, wishbone offense of the tennis world. It’s one of those events in which the hype and spoils so grossly outstrip merit that it can’t help but kindle the Mark Cuban within. No wonder it belongs among the most ludicrous regular offerings from the world of sports.

After a careful perusal of the couch-potato calendar, here are the despicable dozen, the 12 sports events and/or shows that make self-respecting viewers want to flush their remotes, abandon their couches and organize a march-and-burn on Bristol, Conn.:

Winter Olympics

Face it: The Winter Games were invented as a means to prove Norway actually exists.

With all apologies to legitimate events like alpine skiing and hockey, the Winter Olympics is more circus than sport. There are simply too many events that involve subjectivity and brooms for the average sports fan’s taste. If you’re going to give away Olympic gold for an activity with “freestyle” in its title, there better be a pool involved. And as legendary scribe Dan Jenkins once wrote in regard to oddities like the bobsled, luge and skeleton: “Gravity ain’t a sport.”

With it’s IOC scandals, Bode Millers, Tonya vs. Nancy subplots and Russian judges, the Winter Games are a nice alternative to soap operas every four years for the house frau set. They’re a dazzling bit of reality TV on an international scale, not a legitimate sports event.

ESPYs

Few outside of a handful of self-aggrandizing network executives would attempt to validate three of the most moribund hours on the annual sports calendar. Generally, ESPN is worth applauding and appreciating, just not as much as it applauds and appreciates itself.

America’s Cup

What could be more ludicrous than watching a handful of leathery bluebloods spend several times the GNP of Ecuador to outfit yachts in pursuit of a trophy only they know is the oldest in the history of competitive sports?

The America’s Cup hasn’t been any fun since corpulent Dennis Conner accused the entire country of New Zealand of cheating two decades ago. But the first hint the America’s Cup wasn’t actually a “sport” worth watching should have been the successful captaincy of notorious lush Ted Turner.

French Open

The only event that could dull springtime in Paris. Another year, another series of interminable rallies on the red clay at Roland Garros, yielding another Spaniard who can’t make the quarters on another surface. Of the French Open’s last 10 men’s singles champions, only Andre Agassi (1999) has won a Slam on anything other than adobe.

Frankly, the sports world has been subjected to enough Moyas, Costas and Ferreros for several lifetimes. And this one-trick tournament simply doesn’t deserve Slam status. When immortals like Connors, McEnroe, Becker, Edberg, Sampras and Federer win everywhere else, there’s something amiss with the surface, not the game’s superstars.

NBA All-Star Game

From its flawed selection system to its comically unrepresentative Slam Dunk Contest to its decrepit fogey game to its defense-free featured game, the NBA’s All-Star weekend is possibly the biggest fraud in the major sporting world. Anybody who watches with rapt attention immediately should seek professional help.

At least baseball hands out homefield advantage in the World Series, and the NFL heads to Hawaii. But, hey, nobody works harder than the fellas in the NBA. They need a midseason break from all their clean-living and a good reason to party.

Fishing shows

There are few more surefire ways to ensure America’s long-standing tradition of sleeping in on Saturdays than by filling the early morning airwaves with fishing shows. Canoe and dinghy to yacht, stream, river and lake to open ocean, trout and bass to marlin, watching some redneck cast and wait is almost mortally tedious.

That said, viewers would wake up at 6 a.m. to watch Bill Dance do some catfish grabblin’ or, better yet, perhaps some Great Barrier Reef shark noodling. Nothing says good times like watching some thrill freak use his body parts as bait.

Heavyweight title fights

From its corrupt promoters, confusing alphabet soup (WBC, IBC, IBF, WBA), pay-per-view price tag, scripted histrionics and average of 90 seconds a round of grab-and-sway boredom, heavyweight title fights are the sports world’s undisputed kings of overhyped hysteria.

If you actually appreciate the sweet science, forget the heavies. If you crave macho entertainment, try “The Sopranos.” The heavyweight game hasn’t been truly compelling since the demise of the social experiment otherwise known as Mike Tyson.

World Series of Poker

A pox on Chris Moneymaker and the house of Binion. Destruction to Greg “Fossilman” Raymer, the Golden Horseshoe, Texas Hold ‘Em and the inventor of the “pocket” camera. Only in America, the land of the lottery culture, could a lifestyle-threatening addiction be considered a sport.

Does the competition ever end? Couldn’t there simply be an annual all-in weekend and be done with it, or must the madness drag on for months?

It’s not certain who is more despicable — the shades-sporting, sun-starved, lounge rats who have dedicated themselves to this “sport” or the pathetic Internet wannabes who live vicariously through them. What is clear is that the poker circuit has co-opted sports networks with its virulent brand of toxic TV. Please, ESPN, start living by this simple law: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Wrestlemania

The fact that pro wrestling has long been excommunicated by the legitimate sports world and banished to the realm of “entertainment” doesn’t matter. This insanity still thrives in our culture. Pro wrestling fans would argue that this admittedly scripted nonsense is the blue-collar theater of the 21st century. Suffice it to say, the Darwinist within wishes the federal government would offer free admission to any pro wrestling event for any male willing to undergo an onsite vasectomy.

NFL preseason games

Is there anything less compelling than a duel between third-string quarterbacks surrounded by casts of cut fodder? Sports culture’s desperation for all things NFL knows no shame (see the NFL Draft — “And with the 331st pick in the draft, the Washington Redskins select Urinal State’s …”). Mainlined pigskin is the crack cocaine of the average American sports addict. But televising and watching preseason games is pure sadomasochism. Attending preseason games probably merits an intervention.

Big Break

Here’s a suggested title for the Golf Channel’s inevitable sixth edition of the lifeless reality golf show: “Big Break VI: Bermuda Triangle.” The series produced a pair of watchable blips with its third and fourth installments. “Big Break III: Ladies Only” was an amusing extended catfight. And “Big Break IV: USA vs. Europe” merited a momentary channel-surfing pause, given its major championship venue (Carnoustie).

But hopefully the folks at the Golf Channel learned a thing or two from the Rocky movies. More than four retakes of virtually any concept, even a good one, can prove lethal. The only thing more painful than the desultory standard of play in the recently concluded “Big Break V: Hawaii” was watching Vince Cellini and Stephanie Sparks try to inject hush-toned suspense into the big bust.

X-Games

Another of ESPN’s unsightly skeletons, the X-Games were a blatant attempt to attribute false value to a generation whose favorite sports actually were body piercing and indifference.

Aside from our morbid fascination with street luge, the X-Games were less sport and more festival, a reason for thousands of angst-ridden teenagers to convene in the name of cannabis. Think Woodstock with skateboards and dirtbikes instead of Hendrix and The Who.

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