Press mute on athletes, coaches
I used to work for a New York newspaper that ran a cathartic little sports page feature called the Daily Rant. Even on slow news days, readers used to trip over each other to e-mail in their best or most diabolical gripe for publication, but their output was especially inspired when something intolerable happened to one of the local teams, such as the Yankees (usually A-Rod) or the Mets (The Self-immolating Years).
Reading each day's winner was usually good for some laughs, but I never jumped on the bandwagon to the point I started concocting my own rants on the side. I wasn't tempted during the feeding frenzy over Terrell Owens that ultimately gave us Owens doing pushups in his driveway, baseball's doping scandals, the Tiger Woods fiasco, Agassi's crystal meth admission, Ben Roethlisberger's pub crawling and the LeBron decision. Then Sunday, Vikings-Packers arrived. And after a lifetime of following and covering sports, something in me just snapped.
SOUNDS OF SILENCE
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I was watching Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre speaking at the podium in his typical post-defeat catatonic state when I thought, "How many times have I seen this before?" The murmured regrets about his god-awful interceptions and the self-flagellating talk about the sting of losing. Hang head. Heavy sigh. Repeat. I thought, "Ugh, I can't listen to this one more time, even if it is kinda, sorta my job." Then I did something I'd never done in my life while watching sports: I hit the MUTE button. Suddenly my house was jarringly quiet. And to my astonishment I just felt why happier.
Not life-changingly happy, understand. Just not slightly irritated anymore. Not feeling vaguely duty-bound to listen. Just free of it.
As the silence gathered -- I still had no sound when Vikings coach Brad Childress (good ol' Coach Chilly) took the microphone and threw Favre under the Vikings' team bus minutes later -- I finally laughed. This new calm was so great, I thought, who else would I put on some MUTE list that says, "Run from these people on sight"?
Who knew that making fandom fun again was as easy as saying, "Had enough"?
Now, it must say something about modern sports fandom that even the sappiest, most rock-ribbed sports consumer (OK, me) -- a person who has actually read the entire Hana Mandlikova autobiography from cover to cover and still chokes up when someone with a good sob story wins "Bowling for Dollars" -- can get so fed up, saturated and overloaded she needs a break from the 24/7 echo chamber. And the slavish devotion to building one's "personal brand." And the big fat smoking lies and silliness that get peddled in sports all the time.
I love Twitter. But please, no more buckets of exclamation point tweets about today's workout ("Pilates and cardio! Killed it!!") and what's for lunch ("Made a great salad today!! Mmm!!!!).
I'm starting to think taking in too much social media can actually make a person antisocial.
So why fight it? As long as I've got my finger hovering on the MUTE button, I might as well warn there'll be no more listening to you, John Calipari or Bruce Pearl, spinning why those NCAA investigators are in your kitchens. Your credibility is below zero.
The same goes for you, Gilbert Arenas, for volunteering how you faked an injury to skip a Wizards preseason game, even though you were already in the doghouse for bringing guns to the locker room last season.
And how about NBA commissioner David Stern floating ideas the other day like a one-third salary cut for players and eliminating teams as negotiating chips in the league's new labor contract talks? Ha! Good luck with that, pal.
Let me know when the lockout is over.
Part of the problem with the information explosion is fans have to troll through a lot of stuff on TV, radio, satellite radio, the Internet, Twitter, podcasts, magazines, YouTube, local regional sports networks, TMZ or blogs with names like "Boil My Children" to get to something they really do want to see.
The other problem is sports people -- like the rest of us -- compulsively share too much information. I'm not just talking about Arenas, or the growing online oeuvre of nudie self-portraits that athletes have been caught sending. Every day seems to bring a fresh disillusionment. What's more galling than finding out your favorite granite-headed mixed martial arts tough guy uses those foofy emoticons?
Navigating such a world with humor intact is hard. It often means disciplining oneself to click only on the stories with can't-miss headlines -- Indy punter found shirtless and drunk in canal? I'm there! -- and knowing when to just say no to, say, a jock reality show featuring Chad Ochocinco giving dating advice.
I don't know how to break this to you, Ocho, but I'm quitting you, too.
I'm just not getting enough from this relationship.
I'm sure it's me. Not you.
I used to think of Favre as the NFL's Peter Pan, an ageless wonder who went galloping around after touchdowns like some goofy kid. But that was before he took a sledgehammer to most of what people liked about him, starting with the Macbethian retirement sagas that suggest he's either an incorrigible egotist, a bit of a masochist or a man going through a midlife crisis -- or perhaps all three.
At this point, I don't want to hear the old tripe that interceptions are the unavoidable personality tax that Favre (or Jay Cutler) pays for being a fearless buccaneer; I think, "Fix it already. No more tears." And when I listen to the escalating noise now about the disintegrating shotgun marriage between Favre and good ol' Coach Chilly, despite the $20 million dowry Vikings owner Zygi Wilf threw at Favre this offseason to stay unretired, I can't mute my own thoughts.
Those guys deserve each other.
Someone hand me the remote.
Johnette Howard is a contributing columnist to ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com, and is the author of "The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship." She can be reached at email@example.com.
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