Sports lens provides a fuzzy view

Commentary

October 30, 2005|By RICK MAESE

It used to be that you could follow sports and feel as though you were viewing the larger world through a special lens. But very slowly, can't you feel that changing a bit?

Last week was an interesting one. The headlines forced the sports world to have conversations we usually go out of our way to avoid.

A professional basketball player said she's a lesbian. A college football coach interjected race into a football discussion. Suddenly, sports talk was news talk. Rome was Rush.

Sports has the potential to be a beautiful microcosm where we can understand a much bigger world by simply sitting in a dugout or locker room. I grew up thinking that it was just a peephole on a door.

What I didn't realize all this time is that they've been using our lens. Sports went from being a weekend distraction to serving as a filter through which everyone is processing the world.

Did you catch Patrick Fitzgerald last week? He's the special prosecutor who has been trying to figure out just who leaked the identity of a CIA agent to the media. Heavy stuff.

Fitzgerald stood at a news conference Friday to announce the indictment of a top vice presidential aide.

He said, "If you saw a baseball game and you saw a pitcher wind up and throw a fastball and hit a batter right smack in the head and really, really hurt them, you'd want to know why the pitcher did that."

Later he finally got around to talking about the charges against "Scooter" Libby (which by the way, is a great baseball name). The sports metaphor had already been thrown out there. An alleged political cover-up and the ensuing investigation was explained by way of a game.

It used to be that sports metaphors seemed trite and easily discredited just how important a subject may be. But by now, it's clear that no subject is above a good baseball analogy.

Sheryl Swoopes is gay. Fisher DeBerry needs a black running back at the Air Force Academy. We use them as vehicles to discuss the outside world. All the while, the outside world is using sports as a vehicle to discuss everything under the sun.

We need them to understand us.

They need us to understand themselves.

Sports metaphors are intended to connect dots that are separated by miles. In reality, the sports metaphor often just complicates the dialogue.

Less than two months ago, John Roberts was a Supreme Court hopeful, standing before a Senate committee and delivering his opening statement.

"Judges are like umpires," he said. "Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. ... I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat."

Before long, senator after senator rose to speak, passing time with our pastime. The silly analogy had become an extended metaphor that was repeated throughout the day. You couldn't tell whether our nation's leaders were talking about a vacancy on the Supreme Court or their Rotisserie league roster.

"It's a little dangerous to play baseball with you," Sen. Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, told Roberts. "It's like pitching to Ken Griffey."

What we end up with is a dialogue that's lacking on both sides of the fence. The real world dodges meaty topics by throwing inane sports jargon against the wall. And our sports world is muddled because it simply isn't the beautiful microcosm that it could be, and we have a difficult time having frank discussions.

The worlds are different. Only in sports does a gay athlete come out of the closet on the same day she announces an endorsement deal with a gay cruise line. And only in sports would we be reminded that it's still a straight man's world. Does it seem to you like we're any closer to having an openly gay athlete in a men's team sport?

And DeBerry, the 67-year-old coach at Air Force, certainly didn't mean to spark a discussion about race. He just hoped for a better running game.

"It just seems to be that way, that Afro-American kids can run very, very well," he said. "That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me they run extremely well."

It wasn't well-stated and uses at least one term that makes me shake my head. If DeBerry was implying that black students couldn't academically qualify for the academy, he was in the wrong.

But if DeBerry was simply stating the obvious, then why was he forced to apologize in public? A white running back hasn't led the NFL in rushing in more than 40 years. More than 95 percent of the starting tailbacks in NFL and the NCAA are black players.

Maybe using clear language doesn't cut it in the sports world. Maybe we should start pulling out some of those effective political metaphors to better understand our landscape.

I have a hard time believing DeBerry would have been reprimanded had he simply said, "It's like politics. You want to run with a candidate who has a shot at winning."

If they can have our lens, why can't we have theirs?

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Points after -- Rick Maese

What will it take? Maybe it's a bit much to suggest that Jamal Lewis shouldn't be starting because he might not be 100 percent healthy. And just because his contract is weighing heavily on his mind might not be reason enough to put him behind Chester Taylor. But when are the Ravens going to consider the fact that Lewis just isn't effective?

Manny on the block: So, The Boston Globe is reporting Manny Ramirez is again requesting a trade? You want to suggest the Orioles put together a package, but Manny seems like the type who'd request his way out of his next stop before unpacking his bags.

Irish signing: Did you see where Charlie Weis just signed a 10-year contract extension with Notre Dame? The new deal comes after just a couple of months on the job. Come to think of it, I've been in my new gig for a couple of months. I think I need to have a meeting with my editors tomorrow.

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