Stain remover

On 2008 vs. 2007

1st half of this year helps cleanse sports landscape

July 10, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

This year has been a sports fan's feast. The Wimbledon men's final Sunday, the unforgettable Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer duel, is only the latest gem, after the Super Bowl, the NCAA men's basketball title game, Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Game 4 of the NBA Finals and the playoff for the U.S. Open golf championship.

Can it get any better?

Maybe. But a better question is: Can 2008 make us forget 2007?

Probably not. But this year does offer a soul-stirring reminder of why we are all addicted to sports. It provides a chance to display what is best in us as humans and more often than we sometimes realize, we make the most of that chance.

Just because it often also draws out our worst doesn't mean that is the norm. But after last year, you're forgiven if you thought so.

Last year was the year of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and everything in and around baseball's Mitchell Report. It was the year Marion Jones lost her Olympic gold medals. The year Michael Vick's underground dogfighting empire was dragged into the light. The year the NFL suspended Adam Jones, Tank Johnson and Chris Henry. The year of Spygate. Of Tim Donaghy, of Don Imus, of former Duke lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong.

Last, but far from least, it was the year two active NFL players, Darrent Williams and Sean Taylor, were killed.

It was the worst year in the history of American sports. In varied ways, it made everybody remotely involved look bad, including fans and media, whose reactions to it all too frequently revealed them to be as small-minded, selfish, cowardly and hypocritical as the miscreants.

After a year of struggling with the complexities of where sports and society intersect, thank goodness for the simplicity of this year.

Not that 2008 has been perfect. The activities of last year (Clemens, Donaghy, even a surprise Imus-Adam Jones joint venture) keep bleeding into this year.

But at least with the great moments this year, there has been very little moral relativism to wrestle with. The rules have been simple: Each side brings its best and sees how it turns out. The New York Giants and New England Patriots did just that. So did Kansas and Memphis. The Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate. Nadal and Federer.

The results were epic. (Many of the six examples needed some form of extra time to decide the winners.) So were the moments within them. Eli Manning to David Tyree. Mario Chalmers. The goal with 35 seconds left in regulation that extended the Penguins' season and triggered the three overtimes that ran into the wee hours in Detroit. (For one very late night, America suddenly cared about the NHL again.) The Celtics' record rally from 24 points down in Los Angeles to put a headlock on their historic rivals and on the championship. (All right, you were promised a moment; how about Ray Allen shaking Sasha Vujacic in the final seconds?)

As for Woods and Mediate in the extra playoff round and sudden-death hole, and Nadal and Federer throughout the comebacks and tiebreakers and rain delays? Too many moments to list. So simple, these stories were. Victories that won't have asterisks, that didn't involve compromise, particularly with ones involving fairness and decency. Money didn't buy them, syringes didn't inject them, outside parties didn't have to be killed or maimed for them. Integrity wasn't flushed away, entire segments of society weren't stomped or kicked in the face.

There were too many losers in 2007, and far fewer deserving of that label in 2008.

If only we knew for sure that this trend will continue. The Summer Olympics in Beijing are less than a month away. It's a fact that many past Olympians once determined, by the results, to be winners were later proven to be big losers. Exhibit A: the aforementioned Marion Jones, the golden girl of 2000 in Sydney.

You'd be naive to think that it won't happen this time. Just based on the recent U.S. Olympic trials in track and swimming, the hero-making machine and the ingrained cynic in us are already doing battle.

The cynic won last year. This year, the other side has the early second-half lead. There's a long way to go, but so far, so good.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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