NFL and NBA are back in the limelight
SPARTA, NJ, Nov. 22, 2004 — The NFL and NBA are back in the limelight, thanks to nudity and violence, respectively. You’ve got to go with what you know, right?
The NFL kicked off the week with a towel-dropping lockerroom promo on Monday Night Football. No wardrobe malfunction this time. By the next day, no one seemed to be able to remember anything significant about the game itself.
A few days later, the NBA’s Ron Artest got a beer shower from the hometown Detroit fans after hard-fouling Ben Wallace in the Motor City. He bolted into the stands and chased down the most frightened white boy you’ll ever see. A mere riot followed. Wasn’t it just a week ago that Artest confided in about 20 million of us that the “girl band” on his rap record label was working on an album about love? Yeah, OK. This guy may be the most understood athlete of our time.
It takes events like these to come to ground-shaking revelations. Here’s one: Thank God for the Yankees. Yes, those Yankees. The same Yankees who many of us hate. The same Yankees whose fans chanted “1918” mercilessly for years. And the same Yankees who will soon gorge themselves on the finest and most expensive items on the Scott Boras menu. I’ll need to go back roughly 20 years to fill in the pieces of this revelation. Back we go.
The setting is a sold-out Grateful Dead concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. There’s a steel, wire-mesh fence that surrounds the sprawling lawn abutting the amphitheatre. The band takes the stage, but the best show in the house is playing out on that steel fence. That’s where dozens of ticketless have-nots are poised to jump the barrier and join the revelry of the concert crowd. There’s one major problem: the presence of about 20 angry security guards. The ones with the rolled-up short-sleeves and the crazy-eyed-killer looks on their faces. Here’s the drill: the go-getter of the group counts to three, at which point a human wave ascends the fence and makes a mad dash into the crowd. Naturally, several fence-jumpers will be gang-tackled and arrested. But dozens succeed. This was perhaps my first encounter with reality entertainment. Boy was it good.
I remember sitting on the concert lawn, rooting for the fence-jumpers and booing the security guards when they made a capture. I hated the guards. But the experience would not have been the same without them. In fact, without the guards there would not have been an experience at all. Just a group of badly-dressed freaks struggling to climb a fence. No one would have paid any attention to that. Unless, of course, they broke into a naked-fest or started to pummel each other.
The Yankees are the security guards. Hated, but essential to the experience. The more uneven the playing field, the more we can pay attention to the sport without the need for a daily dog-and-pony trick. Scott Boras, who has often been named as baseball’s Public Enemy No. 2 (behind the Yankees) by those small-market martyr types, was right when he said: “Without Goliaths, baseball would be the NFL, where you have no idea who’s any good until eight weeks into the season. I think Goliaths in sports are wonderful.” It is the process of unveiling the next “David” that makes all of us watch, even as we hate the dark empire that always seems to be tending the fence.