- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

Unlikely pairing fight an unwinnable battle

Sports, likes politics, makes strange bedfellows. This week brought the unlikely pairing of Ray Lewis and Cole Hamels, both of whom set aside the usual cliches and instead fired off salvos against the powers that be in their respective leagues.

You won’t find a pair of star athletes more dissimilar in terms of on-field demeanor and style than the fiery, fierce Lewis and the breezy “Hollywood” Hamels.

They do, clearly, have something in common: a willingness to rail against the system and fight a hopeless battle.

After the Ravens were whistled for a pair of questionable roughing the passer penalties in a loss to the Patriots on Sunday, Lewis expressed his displeasure with the officiating.

“Without totally going off the wall, it is embarrassing to the game,” he said.

About five hours down I-95, Hamels took a similar tack after Major League Baseball picked the defending World Series champion Phillies to play the 2:30 p.m., middle-of-the-workday game both Wednesday and Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s fair. I definitely don’t think it’s fair for the fans,” Hamels said. “I understand TV ratings, but at the end of the day, most players would rather play when they’re most comfortable.”

There are two things these two situations have in common. One, of course, is that neither is going to change — at least not because of one disgruntled player. The other is that both situations have everything to do with TV ratings. Baseball’s staggered playoff schedule is no accident, and neither is its placement of the Yankees and Red Sox in prime time. The schedule is strategically plotted for maximum exposure — witness Sunday’s schedule, with the possibility of roughly 13 straight hours of baseball starting at noon.

The prevalence of roughing the passer calls is no mistake either. The NFL’s golden goose is its TV deals, now valued at $20.4 billion and sure to skyrocket again in four years. The surest way to keep those deals intact is to keep the most high-profile players on the field — in most cases, the starting quarterbacks. When Tom Brady went down last year, Patriots games suddenly became a lot less interesting to the average fan.

Cole Hamels and Ray Lewis are among the biggest names in their sports, but their leagues don’t really care what they think. When it comes to TV ratings, only one name matters: Nielsen.

Saturday’s Best Bet on Television

Pedro Martinez. Playoffs. Freezing temperatures. Possible snow flurries. Enough said. Phillies at Rockies, 9:30 p.m., TBS

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