Sunday, February 10, 2008

What's right and wrong about sports today

By Rick Morris

This past week saw some unbelievable instances of good and bad in the sports world. Leaving aside the major headline stories like the Clemens needle saga on Capitol Hill, there were still some wild sagas raging all over the place.

Take for example Kevin Hart, the dumb kid in a tiny Nevada town who fabricated an entire narrative about being the object of a major recruiting war. This past Wednesday, in front of a crowded gym at his high school and a host of media outlets, he ostentatiously placed a California hat on his head to signify that he was going to be a Golden Bear. One small problem: it was news to Cal! NOBODY was trying to sign this kid, who embellished an entire process culminating in the National Signing Day circus at his high school knowing all along that the bill was going to come due for his shenanigans.

I’m not sure who leaves me more in amazement, this dunce or everyone in the media who believed his story without doing even the tiniest bit of research on him. Having said that, we’ve all done stupid things, albeit probably not on this scale, so hopefully this doesn’t dog this chap for the rest of his days. But it is emblematic of the tendency for impressionable kids to give in to their desire to become a big star at all costs, even for only a short while.

Also on the bad side of the ledger, we saw the perfect storm of miserable conduct as anticipated when Indiana visited Illinois in a Big Ten hoops grudge match. Eric Gordon, the insanely prized recruit who did an 11th hour takeback on his Ilini commitment last year, was paying his first visit (and what will mercifully likely be his only one, what with the NBA beckoning strongly after this year) to Assembly Hall. For his last minute “yoink,” he was rewarded with dirty play throughout from Illinois and profane chants from the crowd toward his family and himself. The belated apology from the university did little to hide just how much moral squalor the coaching staff, players and drunken bozos in the crowd reveled in this past Thursday.

Finally, there was something to salute over the last week. While the passing of an uplifting figure is never a good thing, it does offer a chance to reflect and revel in what they brought us. Karl Erhardt, the “Sign Man” of Shea Stadium who held up block-lettered messages in support of his home team, passed away this week and has been getting memorialized in appreciation of what he meant to people. Fans like Sign Man and the late “Neutron Man” of Ohio State football fame (but not gravy-training self-promoters like “Big Dawg”) represent the increasingly small corner of sport that is untainted by greed and hate and selfishness. It shouldn’t have to take Mr. Erhardt’s passing to remind us to celebrate the example of pure fandom they set.

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