Wednesday, April 2, 2003 Updated: May 31, 2:17 PM ET
Taking a collective step back
By Bill Simmons Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: This column appears in the April 14 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
No sentence makes me cringe more than, "This puts sports in perspective." Apparently, we fans can't get that on our own -- you know, because we're stupid and all -- so sportswriters and announcers have to remind us. Constantly.
Dwyane Wade's drawing comparisons to the Warriors' Gilbert Arenas.
Yup ... sports junkies are the ones who require an intervention. Forget about everyone who watches Are You Hot? or purchases R. Kelly's latest album or cheers Roman Polanski's Oscar win. Because fans spend so much time staring at games and box scores, caring for fantasy teams, arguing with friends, maybe even wagering on some events, only death and destruction can put it all in perspective for us. Wait, just so I have this straight: When people die, when things blow up-that's more important than my NCAA pool? Thanks for clearing that up.
Sportswriters craft columns around such sobering angles probably because it makes them feel better about themselves. Maybe it even helps them to justify their existence, like they'd attend law school or take over dad's business if only they could do it all over again. Alas, they devoted their careers to sports -- a trivial pursuit, as it turns out -- and they can't stop apologizing for it. So, while they wrestle their demons, they try to make us miserable. And underestimate our collective intelligence in the process.
Here's my question: How many people can't put sports in perspective? After all we've endured over the years -- from ticket prices soaring into the stratosphere to athletes disappointing us in increasingly peculiar ways -- is there an adult fan who hasn't seen the light?
We live in a time in which a high schooler drives a new Hummer because he can play hoops, while certain colleges graduate 0% of their basketball players over a four-year span -- and nobody raises a ruckus. A shortstop in Texas has a contract worth more than the GDP of Tonga. This is reality?
In real life, you don't finish your day by talking to dozens of reporters hanging on your every word. You don't get drafted or traded. No one gambles on your exploits, no one boos you on a bad day, no one calls a radio station to lobby for your dismissal. Your middle-aged boss doesn't show up in the morning with a tribal tattoo on his face; nor, thank goodness, does he wear a baseball uniform to work every day. You don't settle disputes by punching the Alexei Zhitnik out of someone, you don't snap at someone who deigns to shift his feet while you're concentrating at work and you definitely don't complain about having "a tough time paying alimony to six different women for my seven kids." I'm guessing your
home's features don't include JumboTrons, T-shirt cannons, groupies or male cheerleaders.
And when was the last time you heard someone say, "I was watching a bartender in a Hawaiian shirt mix daiquiris last night. He looked so ridiculous. I'm just glad the war has put bartending in perspective for me." Never, that's when.
When these images dominate the news, everything is put into perspective.
Only sports falls under such a harsh light. A talking head recently mentioned that an excellent Sweet 16 game between Maryland and Michigan State paled in comparison to a bomb exploding in Kuwait. Well, I mean ... doesn't EVERYTHING?
Sane people will agree: Sports is its own particular alternate universe; it needs no dose of reality. Fact is, we love sports because it's a never-ending escape, a world of its own. In short, it's just something to pass the time. And when something genuine emerges from that world -- like Bo Kimble shooting lefthanded free throws to honor his fallen teammate, or Mets and Yankees players struggling to maintain their composure during their first home games after 9/11 -- the moment resonates as real life evolving from unreality.
I know that war has nothing to do with sports. And for me, right now, that's the only "perspective" that counts.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and he's a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.