From pups to pit bulls

There was a time, not too long ago, when it was real news tohear that an athlete had beat his wife (Hi, Ruben), abused thefamily pet (Mr. Woods, no!), or enjoyed the pleasures of an illegaldrug (that means you, Ricky and Carmelo and, well, all theBlazers). Sorry, I forgot to put Kobe in there somewhere.

I could swear that I never heard of Michael Jordan slapping hiswife around, or the Doctah lighting up a J instead of dropping onethrough from the wing. Hank Aaron didn’t have to resort to BALCO tohit any one of his magnificent 755 homers. But today it’s a starklydifferent culture, and when old timers claim the game has changed,they might be right on the money.

Of course the on-field-game has changed. Everything is faster,all the athletes are bigger and so much more is at stake. There isexponentially more money invested in every weekend, every game, inevery ballpark across this country. These are players are makinghuge amounts of cash, but unfortunately their decision makingabilities have seemingly disappeared as their bank accounts andexpectations have ballooned.

They have all technically paid for their indiscretions. Theywent through the legal system (or will) and received some kind ofslap on the wrist from the government, their team, or both. Thereinlies the problem. It’s just a slap. Not a punch, or an electricshock or a Mack Daddy beat down for being boneheads and in the caseof anyone associated with BALCO, downright cheaters. Just a subtletap to remind them that they are far too important to the team toreally punish, so they better get it together.

Coaches, team GMs and team presidents are well aware of thebottom line, which is obviously winning and making more money.Winning is the one thing that truly draw the fans, and tickets paythe salaries. Who cares if your star player is stoned out of hisgourd or ‘roided up, as long as the seats are filled along with thewin column?

The same is true even here in the Northwest. If you believe thatthe real reason attendance dropped in the Rose Garden last seasonwas because of a couple of shady characters, I’m sorry but you’rewrong. The real reason is because the Blazers chose to field acrappy team (of supposed “good guys”) and they couldn’t get ittogether. No one wants to watch mediocrity, which obviously theBlazers sank to last year as they limped to a record of 41-41 andmissed the playoffs for the first time since before I was born.

The bogus pledge to the community that Steve Patterson and therest of his cronies crafted is pathetic. As well intentioned as itmay be I still see wife beating, team chemistry cancer RubenPatterson on the team. So is animal abusing, pot “addicted” QyntelWoods, though he is actually at risk of being cut after being givenhis twentieth second chance. Is that, technically, a second chanceat that point? Star treatment pervades even One Center Court. ZachRandolph has gotten some special considerations of his own lately.His numbers last season, when he averaged 20 points and 10 boards anight, seemed to aid him greatly with his legal troubles as hesorted through an ugly night out with his gun-toting littlebrother.

Following this logic, the Blazers traded away upstanding citizenand workhorse backup center Dale Davis over the summer for slightlymore talented Nick Van Exel, who enjoys body slamming refs in hisspare time — that’s when he’s not rehabbing his gimpy knee. Andthere you have the Blazers “big move” over the summer.

It’s not just the Blazers management making mistakes and lookingincreasingly more like doddering, clueless fools. Teams all acrossthe country are getting schooled by these spoiled athletes, theirslick agents and aggressive attorneys. It’s simply the culture ofsports right now, and it’s only getting worse before anythingchanges for the better. Don’t get me wrong, though, I still lovewatching games. Heck, I’ll even shell out good money (ticket pricesare another issue altogether) to go some of them in person. I don’tmean to condemn every athlete and all pro leagues. There are somereally nice stories playing out this year that shouldn’t be writtenoff.

Major League Baseball is enjoying a dynamic postseason for once.The Red Sox are looking to break their 86-year-old curse againstthe St. Louis Cardinals on the strength of Curt Schilling’s ironwill and David Ortiz’s mammoth bat, and are well on their way. The”band of idiots,” as Johnny Damon labeled his team, is rolling.

The New England Patriots are on track to break some records oftheir own, notching a record 21st straight win dating back to lastseason on Sunday. They seem to be on a collision course for theSuper Bowl with the likewise undefeated Eagles of the NFC, who aresitting at a comfy 6-0 so far this year.

So if you enjoy sports, there are definitely plenty of reasonsto keep watching. However next time you see some guy in retrojersey walking down the street, close your eyes and try to think ofa time when it wasn’t just the uniform that was old school.