Not one for the record books

March 05, 1998|By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- Has New England lost its once formidable mind? Evidently, given the goings-on at the University of Connecticut, and with a senator from Vermont.

Nykesha Sales, a senior on U-Conn.'s women's basketball team, was one point shy of the school record when she suffered a season-ending injury. Her coach is just a man, but a '90s man -- caring and sensitive. He felt her pain and got Villanova's coach to agree that at the beginning of the game, Villanova would stand around while Ms. Sales hobbled to the basket for an uncontested layup. U-Conn. would give Villanova an uncontested layup and the game would continue, with everyone feeling noble. The person whose record Ms. Sales broke said she could think of no reason why this was improper.

Here is why. Part of the beauty and much of the moral seriousness of sport derives from the severe justice of strenuous play in a circumscribed universe of rules that protect the integrity of competition. Records are worth recording, and worth striving to surpass, because they serve as benchmarks of excellence achieved under the pressure of competition.

Tarnished record

Some people say that what may be the most revered record in American sports -- Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941 -- was facilitated by one or more sympathetic rulings by which official scorers turned what should have been errors into DiMaggio hits. But if so, at least those were not public travesties proudly staged, as by U- Conn.

Going into the last day of the 1941 season, Ted Williams was batting .3995. If he had sat out that Sunday's doubleheader, his average would have been rounded up to .400. Not wanting to back into glory, he played, went six for eight, finishing at .406. That was sportsmanship and respect for the game.

On the last day of the 1910 season, the detested Ty Cobb was not playing and he led the well-liked Napoleon Lajoie for the batting title. Lajoie would need a hit in almost every at-bat in that day's doubleheader against the Browns. The Browns manager told a rookie third baseman to play far back, lest he get hurt by Lajoie line drives. Lajoie went eight for nine, including six bunts toward third. Baseball's government (back then, it had one) counted Lajoie's eight hits but fiddled enough arithmetic to declare Cobb the winner over Lajoie, .384944 to .384084.

What did the government -- the commissioner -- of the Big East Conference do about U-Conn.'s antics? Feminists, who are not having much fun in this year of Their Man and Monica, probably did not enjoy it when the commissioner justified the Sales charade by trying to sound sensitive about gender differences. He said "men compete" but "women break down, get emotional."

Actually, such is the progress on the gender front, that men are acting foolishly, too. A male judge (who does not play golf, let alone high-pressure professional golf -- 72 holes in four days) recently issued a judicial fiat requiring the professional golf tour to allow a male golfer who has trouble walking long distances to ride in a cart. Another victory for compassion, "compensatory opportunity" (an early name for affirmative action) and the entitlement mentality -- everyone is entitled to what they want, no matter what must be made a mockery of. So the mere fact that you physically cannot do something athletic is no impediment to (sort of) doing it.

And the mere fact that your favorite lake is little does not mean it cannot be a Great Lake. Congress has passed a bill containing a provision by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, declaring that there shall henceforth be six Great Lakes. Mr. Leahy's office offers many rationalizations, ranging from the fact that Lake Champlain is geologically similar to the real Great Lakes, to the fact that an important Revolutionary War battle occurred on it.

A mere puddle

The real reason is, of course, money -- more money leaks into Vermont from government programs if Lake Champlain gets elevated, by legislative fiat, to the glory of Lake Ontario, the smallest Great Lake, which is 15 times larger than Lake Champlain. Never mind the unassailable principle that any piddling puddle you can see across is not a Great Lake.

Abraham Lincoln, who lived when facts were still stubborn things, asked: If I call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Five? No, four, because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg. That is why Lake Champlain is not a real Great Lake and Ms. Sales scored 2,176, not 2,178, real points in her career.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.