WHO IS YOUR PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1 IN THE SPORTS WORLD?


Chicago gangster Al Capone once attended a Cubs game, where catcher Gabby Hartnett signed a ball for his 12-year-old son. That doesn't have a lot to do with today's topic ... except, of course, Capone is the original "Public Enemy No. 1."

Bill Romanowski | From Tim Keown

Bill Romanowski

In a timely bit of coincidence for this topic, Bill Romanowski made it back into the news this week when he was sued by Marcus Williams for nearly $4 million. Williams, of course, was the latest victim of this semi-literate's random rage when he got in the way of a sucker punch at practice before the season started and ended up with what his lawyers say is a brain injury.

Other than the greedy and whining owners of professional sports franchises, Romanowski is the only member of the sporting world who elicits anything close to hate in me. He broke Kerry Collins' jaw, he spit on J.J. Stokes, he attacked a teammate, probably ending his career. And oh yeah -- he's embroiled in the middle of the Balco scandal a few years after letting his wife fall on the sword after a prescription scandal in Denver. (They were acquitted.)

Yet, when he announces his retirement (sooner rather than later, we can hope) a bunch of mindless fools will call him "a throwback."

God help us.

Al Davis | From Melanie Jackson

Trouble-makers aren't all bad. Sometimes you've got to throw out the rules, challenge authority and embrace confrontation. And for those reasons, I liked the guy in the past. But sometimes, you go too far. And that's why, despite the fact he owns my favorite team in all of sports, I can't stand Al Davis.

Early on, I thought the guy had to be golden. One of my earliest memories as a sports fan was sitting beside Dad watching the Raiders -- they were his favorite team, so naturally they became mine, too -- win the 1981 Super Bowl. Liked Davis even more when Oakland drafted Mom's favorite college player, Marcus Allen, the following year, then won another Super Bowl crown in '84.

Al Davis

Then Davis went and screwed it all up. He took away our team (a move made worse by the fact that Dad started cheering for Montana and the 49ers). He got rid of Mike Shanahan in 1989 (I wasn't thrilled when Davis dealt Jon Gruden away 13 years later, either). Even when he returned the Raiders to the Bay Area in 1995, he didn't do that right. For years he maintained that moving the team back was a financial debacle, when in reality, as he testified last July, he and his partners made millions. Even Pete Rose didn't make that sort of money from his lying ways.

Then, after alienating his fans for years ... Billion dollar lawsuits? Luxury seat taxes? Ridiculous. Same goes for those white sweatsuits, too.

The past 12 months have been especially painful. First, Callahan gets outcoached in Super Bowl XXXVII by the guy he replaced. Winning just four games this season was gut-wrenching. But the thing that made me shake my head the most was seeing how the control freak of all control freaks let things get so out of control in the Raider Nation this season.

And would you just hire a coach already?

Geno Auriemma | From Steve Wulf
This might get me tarred and feathered in Bristol, but Geno Auriemma is one act that wears on me. I didn't like the way he took Toni Smith to task for turning her back on the National Anthem, I didn't like the way he fell back on the old "Hey, I don't shoot the ball" excuse when his girls lost last year, and I don't like his Mr. Tough Guy sideline demeanor. But I would like to see what he could do coaching a Division I men's team.

Red Sox Fan | From Eric Adelson
No offense to Mr. Wulf, but I've had it with Red Sox Fan. Hard not to believe these people actually revel in all the losing, just so they can have something to talk about. RSF is like the girl in the bar who will gladly accept your offer of a drink, only to prattle on for an hour about how she always ends up with the bad boy, then leave you and the joint with a tattooed parolee named Fang. To Red Sox Fan, failure is somehow better than the boredom brought by bliss.

Red Sox fans

Come on, Boston. You've got the best football team in the world. You've got the best hoops franchise in the NBA. And still you wallow about a perennially contending baseball team. Why don't I hear any gripes from Buffalo Fan, who has endured much more agony in the last 20 years than RSF? Cleveland is the saddest sports city in America, and I never hear a peep from Lake Erie. Even Chicago Cubs Fan can sit back under the warm sun, crack open an Old Style, and smile at those lovable Cubbies. The Sox would be lovable, too, if we could take in a game at Fenway without worrying whether the guy in the next seat is one error away from dousing himself with 87 Octane and lighting a match.

Red Sox Fan justifies his giddy self-loathing with the help of all the Boston scribes who make careers off a team's haplessness. (Isn't the Curse of the Bambino just a sportswriter's marketing tool?) That brings us to our host at this pity party, Bill Simmons. The man is one of my favorite writers, but I think he enjoys helping all his followers drink the Kool Aid. The day after the Sox were eliminated last year, Simmons borrowed from Stephen King (another Sox fan/fear feeder) and ended his touching yet melodramatic column with "I hope."

Most recognize these words as the last in "The Shawshank Redemption." First of all, I don't think 20 years getting beat up in prison quite compares to a lifetime of cheering for a good baseball team. Second, it's not hero Andy Dufresne but the appropriately-named Red who represents RSF. Red spends the entire movie yapping and convincing everybody that life is actually better in jail. Once he gets out, he feels lost and worthless. Andy, on the other hand, shuts up, finds a way out, makes a mint, and then takes off toward Texas when no one expects it. Sound familiar? Yes, Mr. Simmons, Andy is a Yankee. Or an Astro.

I hope the Red Sox win one for Bill Simmons' dad. I hope they beat the Yankees in the ALCS and Houston in the World Series. I hope RSF gets what's coming to him: a post-championship life as quiet and irrelevant as a beach in Zihuantanejo. I hope.

Red Sox Fan Derider | From Steve Wulf

Is it too late for me to change my choice? No offense to Mr. Adelson, but I've had it with Red Sox Fan Derider. People who sneer at the pain of the Boston faithful have never truly suffered, at least in a team sports sense. Age doesn't matter to the Red Sox fan; we're all 85 years old. You try living through Babe Ruth, Johnny Pesky, Tony C., Bill Buckner and Grady Little. Failure better than the boredom of bliss? Try me.

Michael Jordan | From Patrick Hruby
I relish the opportunity to take a cheap shot. Preferably between the shoulder blades. So even if you hadn't asked ...

I'll go with Michael Jordan.

Bugs Bunny, Michael Jordan

Never mind his involvement in "Space Jam." Or that a man who made millions from Nike reportedly never tipped. Or that his chummy-if-you-love-me, vindictive-if-you-don't attitude smacked of both the Bush White House -- "you are either with us, or with the terrorists" -- and a naked emperor with something to hide.

I choose Jordan because he was dull. Calculatingly dull, to be sure. But dull nonetheless.

Think back to your favorite Jordan quote. Name the last time he uttered a single word that made you think. Or even laugh. Can't do it, can you? In a sports world awash in harmless clichés and trite platitudes, Jordan was a Jedi master of saying absolutely nothing, truly the Greatest of All Time, the empty word made flesh.

Maybe Jordan didn't want to bite the hands that fed him. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the avalanche of attention that enveloped his every move. Could be he just didn't feel like sharing.

Whatever it was, Jordan bored, the way a basketball-playing android might bore. He saved his passion for the court, his trash-talk for opponents. His humanity, too.

CoachZilla | From Gerri Hirshey

We have all seen this hideous mutant. Sometimes he's in the headlines for a murderous rampage at a pee-wee football game. Most often he stalks the sidelines in Anytown -- from Iowa ballfields to Massachusetts hockey rinks. Thar he blows, snarling at your Tiffany or Dylan. He calls himself "coach." (And yeah, and occasionally he's a she). He's the guy in Dockers next door, a decent schmo who will stop and help you fix a flat. But a whistle and a clipboard transform him into a foaming, roaring Hulk. He'll tell you -- every chance he gets -- that he's "doing it for the kids" and not his own ego-stoked urges. CoachZilla is the evil doppelganger of every real Saturday hero who skips an afternoon in the hammock so the kids can learn and have fun. Immortal as Dracula, he keeps coming back, season after season. And he is the very root of evil in American sport.

How do I know this guy? I've seen him on the Rec League gym floor, the soccer field, the softball diamond. I've delivered my kid to him -- happy, hopeful, good enough to make the team -- and watched CoachZilla stomp that triumph into sheer, unremitting misery.

How do I loathe CoachZilla? Let me count the ways: I despise his tendon-strung, thrombosis-red neck, his insolent strut, his clipboard slapping, insult-hurling performances before goggle-eyed kids. I want to see him strung up by his whistle cord, dragged behind a runaway Zamboni. I want to tie his sorry rump to a tee-ball post and let bullied first graders have at him like a piñata.

The crimes of CoachZilla are legion: small zings aimed at a 3rd grader who can't bunt ("what's WRONG with you?"), ghastly humiliations as he lambastes his own kid, loudly, for missing an easy lay-up. CoachZilla is the most evil figure in sports because he:

1. Sucks all joy out of participatory sports at a tender age.
2. Uses shame and contempt to manipulate children.
3. Elevates winning to a creepy religion.
4. Abuses officials with abandon and delight.

In short, CoachZilla is the devil himself -- Professional American Sport -- pandering to children and whispering them into his cult. Some of us have had to deprogram our kids once we've snatched them from CoachZilla's clutches. Most thinking parents want to stop him but are too intimidated themselves.

How truly evil is CoachZilla? Announce a rally to denounce him and you'll have a Million Mom March.

Bill Parcells | From Robert Lipsyte

Bill Parcells

Cranking up the old loathe bone I remembered good advice from that great sports fan, President Nixon (who has been replaced at the top of my enemies list by one of his successors, a former baseball owner, yet), who said that by hating you end up destroying yourself. So, you're not going to get me in harm's way. I don't hate, I just get sick to my stomach. Every time I see Bill Parcells' face, I vomit. That snide porky jerk stands for every bully who ever swaggered out on a field trying to shame and humiliate athletes into frenzies of fear that would translate into extreme play.

It works, at least in the short run, although it seems to work best for college coaches like Pigface's pal, Bob Knight, because kids are scared to begin with and turn over every couple of years. Parcells eventually gets found out and moves on. For such a genius, he's on his fourth team now. The worst part about him is the impact he has on youth coaches, who end up driving a lot of kids out of sports. I consider Parcells a true Public Enemy because he is a role model for bullies.

Too many to name | From Dan Shanoff
Can't possibly narrow it down to one. A six-pack sample of who I might like ... but who I really loathe:

Pete Rose
Like: Player
Loathe: Person

Duke hoops
Like: Coach K
Loathe:Coach K's assistants

Fan activity
Like: Informal betting
Loathe: People who hold view-blocking signs

NCAA Tourney dilemma
Like: Cinderellas
Loathe: Busted bracket picks

Ambiguity
Like: BCS system
Loathe: Figure skating

Idol judge
Like: Simon
Loathe: Randy

Shaquille O'Neal | From Eric Neel
I have a hard time looking past Shaquille O'Neal. Doesn't everyone? But seriously, folks. The Big Aristotle plays a game with which I am not familiar, and I don't mean that the way Bobby Jones meant it about Jack, or Jack meant it about Tiger. I mean what he does, dominant as it is, has precious little basketball magic in it. He shuffles, he shoulders, he bulls and bum-rushes, but he don't hoop. I've got no beef with Shaq the man -- don't know him -- but I have no love at all for Shaq the lane-clogging, flow-killing beast.

Los Angeles Lakers | From Chuck Hirshberg
Blocers, let me explain something to you: If you can give voice to your hatred in under 500 words, you're just not hating enough, and need to try harder. This advice comes free, with flatulent blasts of love from your little friend, The Hirsh Horn.

Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton

I love to hate the Los Angeles Lakers. For years, I merely resented them. But when Payton and Malone joined that Evil Empire, for the pro sports equivalent of peanuts, the Lakers ceased being a "team" at all. They became a cartel, a conglomeration of celebrity mini-corporations who put aside their competitive differences just enough to establish a basketball monopoly. And if Payton and Malone succeed in their Evil Quest for the Championship Ring (they ought to make a movie about it), the Laker Monopoly will become permanent.

Really, I'm serious, sort of. You may have noticed that the NBA culture has grown just a tad selfish in recent years. Not long ago, someone told me that he saw a certain famous basketball player, who I will not name because he is very muscular and doesn't think much of me to begin with, staring at his own highlight reel the way you used to stare at your high school crush across the cafeteria.

He looked exactly like Narcissus, enamored with his own reflection. My point is, there's only one meaningful thing that keeps NBA players from becoming complete narcissistic jerks, and that is their lust for a championship. The price that Allen Iverson must pay for being the person he is: No ring. That is justice; that is how the Basketball Gods, and their High Priest, John Wooden, intended it to be.

But I'll bet you any sum you care to name that Iverson is watching the Lakers carefully. If they win it all, he, and all his selfish cousins by the dozens, will never, ever change. They'll all say to themselves: "I'll just continue to play my selfish game for another 10 years or so and then, when I'm ready to retire, I'll play a season or two with the Lakers and win my ring. Hmm, time for a tattoo and a facial."

You'd think the League would be concerned, but I'm afraid they might actually be in on it. In one December game against New York, nearly eight fouls were called on the Knicks for every one called against the Lakers. Now, there are two explanations for this: Either the Mailman -- who, at one point was allowed to mount Mike Sweeney's back, like Yurtle the Turtle, without a whistle -- has suddenly turned dainty; or, the League has decided that there ought to be one set of rules for the Lakers and another for whatever Washington-Generals-impersonators take to the floor against them.

The final insult: Not even the Knicks seemed to mind. "I grew up playing with all of them on video games," chirped point guard Frank Williams. "You have no idea how much fun I had out there."

Well, I'm glad someone had fun.

Wait a minute, my wife is looking over my shoulder and laughing at me.

My wife says I should write that I'm a longtime Celtics fan. I don't know what that's got to do with anything, but I always do what she says.





ALSO SEE:


The Sports Guy: Year of the Phony

Writers' Bloc: The Bachelor

Writers' Bloc: Stained reputations

Writers' Bloc: Sex & soccer

Writers' Bloc: The great ones

Writers' Bloc: Hall-worthy gridders





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