Thursday, February 19, 2004

And Now, Far Too Much About Sports
Item: Katie Hnida, the second woman ever to suit up for a Division I college football game with the University of Colorado, claims she was raped by a teammate four years ago. When asked to comment, Colorado coach Gary Barnett said he didn't know anyone who could back up her claim. (Hnida says she met with Barnett, the Colorado athletic director, and the accused player after the alleged rape, and Barnett said he'd back the player 100 percent if she pressed charges.) Then somebody asked him why Hnida left Colorado after the 1999 season--as if being raped wasn't reason enough. He said, "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it."

Comment: In 35 years of following sports, I have never heard a college coach who was on the record come right out and say that one of his players was "awful" or "terrible." Maybe that they made terrible decisions or awful mistakes, but never have I heard so blunt a dismissal of a player by a coach. This is clearly something Barnett never would have said of a male athlete, and he's been furiously backpedaling since saying it about Hnida. The university had already been rocked by stories that the football program used sex, alcohol, and prostitutes to attract recruits, and by accusations of several other rapes. Then Hnida came forward with her story, only after hearing about the earlier scandal. The school put Barnett on leave, and given the uproar surrounding the program, it'll be the upset of the decade if he's the head coach come September. Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News has more.

Item: The reigning American League Most Valuable Player, Alex Rodriguez, who signed a 10-year, 250-million dollar contract with the Texas Rangers three seasons ago, was traded to the New York Yankees over the weekend.

Comment: 90 years ago, the Philadelphia Athletics were the talk of baseball with the so-called "$100,000 infield." This year, three of the four Yankee infielders will have contracts worth $100 million or more. This can't help but be bad for baseball--the league's richest team is one of the only ones who could do the Rodriguez deal. The league's second richest team, the Yankees' arch-rival Boston Red Sox, tried to acquire Rodriguez earlier this winter, but could not--and now they're decrying the process that sent Rodriguez to the Yankees. (Hey, kettle, this is pot--you're black.) Baseball does not have any limits on how big a team's payroll can be, like football and basketball--instead, teams must pay a tax on payrolls over a certain amount. The Yankees are so rich that the tax is no disincentive to keep breaking payroll records. They'll pay out about $180 million in player salaries this year alone. And the disparity in financial resources (and because of that, talent) between the Yankees and Red Sox and the other teams in their division--Baltimore, Toronto, and Tampa Bay--is so great that if you're a fan of one of those teams, there is utterly no reason to buy a ticket this year. Your team isn't going to win anything if they played the 2004 season a hundred times over.

Item: Oscar Robertson was a great NBA star in the 1960s and early 70s. He played on the Milwaukee Bucks' championship team in 1971. Last Sunday, he wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about the decline of the National Basketball Association.

Comment: Robertson himself acknowledges that his commentary will be seen as an old-school rant by a guy who's out of touch. But he's got the league pegged--the team concept is long gone, and the game has become all about one-dimensional players freelancing. I followed the NBA in Robertson's day, and watched a repeat of the 1972 All-Star game on ESPN Classic last weekend--and the difference between the '72 game and the modern game is like night and day. There was a precision and crispness in the old-school game that's totally absent from today's NBA. The prevalence of dull 85-77 games is more than enough to drive away fans who remember when a typical score was 122-115--never mind the hostile, hip-hop vibe that's almost guaranteed to drive away any fan over the age of 30 no matter how great the quality of the play.

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