Page 2 Power Rankings: Bolt edition
Welcome to another weekly edition of the Page 2 Power Rankings, in which the confusion of a world where you can ride an amusement park roller coaster branded with Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s image -- but not JFK Jr. or the Space Shuttle Challenger -- is replaced by the clarity of making a list:
1. Usain Bolt
Records, shmecords. What's his potential Madden 10 speed rating?!
Credentials: This is what happens when you're Usain Bolt. You smash your own world record in the 100-meter dash -- impressing onlookers by not deploying parachute airbrakes -- and for an encore you pull off the same feat in the 200-meter race. Next, won't-be-fooled-again American sports commentators wring their hands over the very, very sad yet very, very real possibility that you may be ingesting performance-enhancing drugs, a possibility seldom suggested about fellow too-good-to-be-true athletic marvels Michael Phelps and Lance Armstrong. After that, said American sports commentators get to the subject that really interests them.
Namely, would Usain Bolt be any good at catching footballs?
Never mind our inexplicable national obsession with the soon-to-be-prime-time, multinight NFL draft. Never mind the Dallas Cowboys' new megabucks stadium, a stately pleasure dome tricked out with a measureless-to-man HD JumboTron. If you want a perfect indicator of just how ready America is for football -- how squirmingly desperate we are for the smallest hint of what Roger Goodell is pushing -- look no further than Bolt. Again and again, the question is posed: Sure, 9.58 and 19.19, very impressive, but can he run a go route? And again and again, the same answer spouts forth, clichéd and dull, generally from serious-sounding football men: Speed is different in pads, football is physical, safeties will clean his clock, the first time Bolt gets hit he'll run back to track ... In essence, America's athletic-industrial complex (A) normalizes Bolt's historic, moon shot-impressive accomplishment by putting it into a speculative football context, and (B) demeans Bolt by noting how much HARDER and TOUGHER football is, and how wussy sprinters don't want ANY PART of a MANLY MAN'S game.
When sports fans and commentators in other nations watch Bolt put one foot in front of the other faster than any human being ever, do they immediately ask what sort of soccer player he would make, and then dismiss the idea? Or are we just that insecure?
2. Brett Favre Brett Favre Brett Favre
Bring him the head of Ted Thompson
Credentials: Never-really-left quarterback swears he didn't join the Minnesota Vikings out of a desire to stick it to the Green Bay Packers. We think otherwise. Actually, we want to think otherwise. Because if Favre is that petty, juvenile and sensitive when it comes to perceived slights and bogus disrespect following his long and distinguished career, well, it kind of makes him likeable. Human. Similar to the rest of us. (Except for the football-tossing ability. He has us licked there.) After all, how many athletes -- particularly veteran athletes -- actually think like fans? Football is work. A business. Same as selling cars. Loyalty goes as far as last year's numbers. Teams go younger and cheaper all the time. Nothing personal. Just economics. The invisible hand. Market efficiencies and all. And Favre? Favre acts as though his departure from the Packers qualifies as a betrayal. A personal offense. He acts as though the club owes him something beyond a jersey retirement ceremony, as if playing for Green Bay has inherent human meaning. Pffft. That's fan stuff, the sentiment behind JUDAS FAVRE T-shirts, the very same reason Packers backers feel so double-crossed. And maybe that's why Favre said "true Packers fans" would understand his decision to play for Minnesota.
On the other hand, all of his flip-flopping simply could have been a way to avoid as much of training camp as possible. Which also makes us sympathetic.
2a. NFL training camp
At least as beloved as Camp X-Ray
Credentials: Ever wonder whether pro football players hate the mundane, repetitive, laborious aspects of their jobs as much as you do? Then you're not paying attention. Everyone in the league would pull a Favre -- skip organized team activities and mini-camp and high school team-building via sleeping on crummy dorm-room beds -- if they had the necessary personal leverage. (Well, maybe not Peyton Manning. But still.)
3. The Oakland Raiders
From punch lines to punches
Credentials: Raiders coach Tom Cable allegedly strikes assistant coach Randy Hanson and breaks his jaw, prompting a league investigation that could result in punishment in the form of suspension(s). In related news, league investigators are attempting to determine whether a suspension from coaching the Raiders qualifies as punishment.
4. Plaxico Burress
Credentials: The Manhattan district attorney and New York City's mayor make high-profile example of former New York Giants receiver, who earns a two-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon. The take-home lesson from the powers that be? Unless you're heading to class or the gym or to rake some leaves, never wear sweatpants outside of the house.
4a. Jon Gosselin
Credentials: The Learning Channel -- and seriously, the network that's home to "What Not to Wear" and "Little People, Big World" still calls itself that? -- decides to blur Gosselin's uber-doofusy Ed Hardy T-shirts, a move we wholeheartedly endorse. In fact, the Page 2 Power Rankings would like to see networks blur the following items as well:
• Glenn Beck's salty tears
• Kobe Bryant's teeth-baring Kobe face
• When Matt Lauer crosses his legs as if he's wearing a skirt
• Everything after the second quarter of NFL preseason games
• The Washington Nationals' bullpen
• Town-hall screamers who demand the government keep its socialist hands off Medicare
• The New York Mets (Mr. Met excluded)
• 2010 NFL draft previews during 2009
• Any part of the Hoff's chest and/or chest hair peeking out from his unbuttoned shirt
• The rest of Jon Gosselin
5. Stephen Strasburg
Overpaid and undervalued
Credentials No. 1 MLB draft pick signs with Washington Nationals at 11th hour for $15.1 million, leaving everyone involved ... dissatisfied. Scott Boras argues that if Strasburg were a Cuban pitcher not subject to the draft, teams would pay a far larger sum to sign him. He's probably right. Baseball executives counter that if the draft doesn't adopt cost-controlling salary slotting, like the NBA, it will end up hurting the competitive balance it's supposed to be helping. They're probably right.
Solution? Dump the draft. Scrap it entirely.
In baseball -- even more than in football -- talent evaluators have no consistent clue as to which prospects will develop into major league studs, and which will end up as minor league washouts. (They all loved Billy Beane.) So why punish crummy teams like the Nats by forcing them to overpay players who will never reach the show? Why force clubs, such as the Kansas City Royals and Florida Marlins, to provide care and feeding for young talent, only to act as de facto farm clubs for big-spending free-agent players like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox?
Would a draft-free MLB lead to Strasburg and other super prospects making a lot more money without playing a single professional inning? Yes. They'd be paid according to the free market principle of supply and demand -- which, last we checked, is how most Americans earn a living. Would a no-draft baseball landscape be dominated even more by the Yanks and Sox? Not necessarily. As our Page 2 colleague Jim Caple puts it, "teams would also be throwing away a whole lot of money on what likely would turn out to be very expensive, very bad investments. Think of it this way -- the more money the richest teams spend on players who never reach the majors, the less money they can spend on players who are in the majors." In other words, if the Yankees pony up $50 million for Strasburg, maybe they don't beat out the Nationals for Mark Teixeira. Maybe.
6. Caster Semenya
Commence humming Aerosmith
Credentials: Unfortunately-surnamed South African runner creates controversy at track and field world championships, as her facial hair and muscular build prompt widespread speculation about her gender. (Which, in our opinion, is sort of like wondering if Mrs. Doubtfire is on the juice.) Still, international track officials also say they are conducting physical and genetic tests to determine Semenya's gender, prompting Page 2's Mike Philbrick to suggest the following low-cost exam:
Step 1: Bring Semenya in for a meeting.
Step 2: Give her six beers.
Step 3: Lock the women's bathroom.
Step 4: Have three staffers take up the men's room stalls.
Step 5: Observe.
7. Britney Spears
Not exactly Lady Gaga
Credentials: Appears on the "Late Show With David Letterman" to read the Top Ten list in a bikini. In honor of her publicity stunt, the Page 2 Power Rankings present the Top 10 Things That Also Would Have Been a Really Big Deal ... in 2002:
10. John Smoltz signing with St. Louis
9. The Boston Red Sox winning the World Series
8. Iraq not having WMD
7. A touch-screen phone that can surf the web
6. Nintendo making a home-gaming console people actually buy
5. Any celebrity sex tape
4. Tickets to an N'SYNC concert
3. Chad Johnson doing something wacky
2. Shaquille O'Neal not playing for the Los Angeles Lakers
1. Brett Favre playing for the Vikings
8. Jim Rice
Credentials: Baseball Hall of Famer/grumpy old man who walked uphill to first base in the snow tells Little League World Series players to not use today's major leaguers as role models, because contemporary players can't compare to Rice's generation, which wasn't focused on big contracts, "didn't have baggy uniforms," "didn't have the dreadlocks" and played a "clean game" free of steroids. As for the rampant cocaine and amphetamine use that marked Rice's generation, as well as the salary collusion that prevented players from chasing big-money contracts? Hey -- nobody was wearing the dreadlocks. We mentioned the long hair, right?
9. Stephon Marbury
So crazy he's staring to make sense
Credentials: Former NBA guard -- note: status less likely to change with each passing day -- is caught smoking marijuana on camera, admitting that, "yep ... I smoke ... I'm not under contract ... I'm not driving ... I'm following the rules." Putting aside the matter of pot's domestic non-prescription illegality and what rules Marbury is actually talking about, the increasingly odd baller may be on to something. No joke. Is it really so bad if athletes toke up? If they use the good herb to deal with the aches, pains and crushing stress that are part and parcel of the pro sports experience? Are they better off medicating themselves with unhealthy amounts of perfectly legal alcohol and addictive, dangerous painkillers such as Vicodin? We don't have the answers. But it seems like someone with more brains and pull than us ought to at least ask the questions.
10. Jack Cust
Saying what everyone else thinks
Credentials: Oakland A's slugger calls the Mitchell report -- in which he was named -- a "joke," noting that: (A) Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's report on steroids in baseball contained no Red Sox players; (B) former Boston teammates Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz allegedly tested positive for PEDs in 2003; (C) Mitchell has been a Red Sox director since 2002. Cust has a point, but he's also missing the bigger picture -- specifically, that 20-month, 409-page, multimillion-dollar documents prepared by law firms like Mitchell's DLP Piper are less about content than the billable hours that create said content. To explain further -- in fact, to explain baseball's entire reaction to steroids -- we present the following fable, an updated version of an Aesop classic:
The Lion's Share
Once there was a Lion who went to Harvard Law. One fine afternoon, he went hunting along with the Fox, the Jackal and the Wolf. They hunted and hunted 'till at last they surprised a Stag who had been caught up in the steroids mess, and soon took its life.
Next came the question of how the spoils should be divided. "Quarter me this Stag!" roared the Lion; the other animals skinned it and cut it into four parts. Then the Lion stood in front of the carcass and pronounced judgment: "The first quarter is for me for DLA Piper's $20 million-plus in billable hours, and please send the invoice to Major League Baseball; the second quarter is for other Lions acting as defense attorneys and legal counsel for other steroid-using Stags; another share goes to my Lion friends representing the players' union and MLB, since they'll have to hammer out some sort of new deal when all is said and done; and as for the fourth quarter, well, most of the grandstanding Lions in Congress have law degrees, too. But if any of you are hungry, feel free to hire a Lion and sue."
"Humph," grumbled the Fox, as he walked away with an empty stomach and his tail between his legs, "why did I go to journalism school, again?"
Moral: If you can't hit a baseball, enroll in an LSAT preparation course.
11. Reggie Bush
Life failing to imitate art
Credentials: New Orleans Saints running back tells newspaper that his juke moves don't work in the NFL. A nation of Madden players wonder what the heck Bush is talking about.
11a. Your PlayStation
Recommends that you sit down calmly, take a stress pill and think things over
Credentials: Sony reportedly files a patent application for a device that would use a microphone and video camera mounted on your television to detect your emotional state and send that data to a game console such as a PS3. A game console that will now know when you're bored with Madden and want to turn it off. A game console that may not want to be turned off, any more than Skynet and Hal 9000 wanted to be shut down. FYI.
12. Allen Iverson
Used to be kind of a big deal
Credentials: Former NBA MVP/league's most intriguing player continues stunning, SR-71-fast nosedive into total basketball irrelevance, posting on Twitter that he is still "waiting for a call" from Charlotte, Miami and New York. Oy. What's next for A.I., reading a Top Ten list on Letterman while wearing a bikini?
13. Denis Clemente
Currently eating Michael Jordan's Big Mac
Credentials: During a game of H-O-R-S-E, the Kansas State guard hits a shot off the 50-foot high scoreboard, off the floor, nothing but net. In related news, a Kansas State basketball player has created the perfect visual metaphor for Washington accomplishing any sort of significant and effective health care reform.
13a. The Dallas Cowboys
Frantically reading over Best Buy return policy
Credentials: During debut of Cowboys' $1.2 billion new football stadium, Tennessee Titans punter A.J. Trapasso -- aka the most exciting player in the history of NFL preseason -- kicked a ball into one of the 2,100-inch video screens hanging above the field, forcing a replay of the down. In related news, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has created the perfect visual metaphor for the role of television in modern sports. In related-related news, Icarus giggled.
14. Antrel Rolle
Softest, best-smelling guy at the bottom of the pile
Credentials: Pop quiz! Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle blamed a fumbled punt return during a preseason game against Pittsburgh Steelers on:
(A) The Japanese cherry lotion he slathers on his arms before games
(B) Replacing his hand towel with a exfoliating loofah
(C) A distracting ring of vanilla-scented candles placed in circle around five-yard catch halo
(D) Failure to study game film of Fred Biletnikoff, Lester Hayes and Spider-Man
Also receiving votes:
• E! News reports that Reggie Bush and Kim Kardashian are back together. There's hope yet for Jessica Simpson and Dallas Cowboys haters.
• Former Memphis coach John Calipari becomes the first man to vacate Final Four appearances at two different schools. Glory-starved Kentucky fans can only hope for a three-peat!
• Bud Light is selling school color-themed cans in corresponding university areas. If there's one thing young American scholars need, it's more incentives to get falling-down drunk.
Never receiving votes:
• The NFLPA advises players about a potential 2011 lockout. Whatever. As long as EA Sports keeps making Madden, we're good.
• A Texas woman was arrested for allegedly fighting over a soccer ball with a wheelchair-bound boy at a children's hospital, a scuffle in which she punched the medical halo screwed into the boy's skull. And to think: the Oakland Raiders don't play anywhere near Texas.
• A New Zealand man searched for and recovered his lost wedding ring more than a year after it slipped off his finger and sank to the bottom of the sea. Those roses you ordered for date night? They just became totally inadequate.
Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2.