- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

With the end of summer in the wings, it is time once again for Americans to fork over hard-earned dollars, probably billions of them, to satisfy an insatiable hunger for sports escapism even in these difficult economic times.

In the nation’s capital, the frayed dreams of baseball fortune, once again deprived by a team bound for a second consecutive 100-loss season, will be replaced by unflagging hopes for the success of a football franchise that amazingly remains in the hearts and minds of nearly everyone here, where more anger rages over the quarterback issue than about the president a few miles away. It is a fact that defies rational explanation, considering that the Redskins under a football nudnik owner have been among the league’s most underperforming teams for years yet remain one of the most profitable sports operations in the world, including soccer’s Manchester United and the New York Yankees, both of which consistently turn out winners. Go figure.

The idolization of overpaid indulged “role models” continues. Cheating one’s fans on the field while picking their pockets in the stands has become a sports tradition. Little boys in Philadelphia who are just learning the rudiments of football now can look forward to cheering for an ex-con, dog-killing quarterback who has been given a second chance by the National Football League while a former star for the New York Giants spends time in jail after shooting himself in the leg.

The second season for Major League Baseball is about to begin with the people who own and control it still unsure about how to treat the disgusting, chemically enhanced home-run derbies that have cheapened it and its sacred records and now threaten to turn the hallowed baseball Hall of Fame into a joke. The chances are good the man with the most hits in the history of the game, Pete Rose, will continue to be snubbed by the hall and its holier-than-thou overseers in self-righteous indignation for the heinous crime of betting on games as a manager while looking away as baseball’s biggest stars of the ‘90s and first decade of the new century got away with breaking the drug laws.

Where is Bart Giamatti when he is needed? Probably up there obsessing about “Charlie Hustle,” whose “sleazy” behavior helped send Giamatti to an early meeting with the Almighty.

So the new cycle begins with the heroes of the day still lionized and compensated extraordinarily even in those venues that haven’t seen a big-time winner forever. The twice-retired Brett Favre will trot onto a field in Minnesota where he was once despised but is now a potential savior, settling the argument about will he or won’t he that has electrified sports addicts for months. Wasn’t he a Jet last year — or am I thinking of “West Side Story”?

After spending hours watching Little League games that they hope will begin the process of someday boosting their sons and daughters to the vast rewards of professional heights, parents will indulge in self-deprivation to afford to give the kiddies a chance to watch the current crop of professional millionaires perform while unemployment rises and foreclosures grow. What better model could a child have than those barely post-pubescent basketball players in baggy shorts stuffed with greenbacks cavorting on court just before routinely riding roughshod over standards of civilized behavior in six-figure sports cars?

So while Labor Day sadly brings the real end of summer, it also carries the hopes of millions of sports fans for rejuvenation for themselves and the home team, a true escape from the reality of health care, the economy and war. They will fill the stadiums or television rooms with beer and hotdogs and pretzels, returning for months once or twice a week to the magic of Oz to yell and scream and curse as athletes knock the snot out of each other.

It has all been so well worth waiting for.

Dan K. Thomasson is the former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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