There’s been a big hullabaloo about Randy Moss’ latest comments. Without further ado, here they are:
"My concentration and focus level tends to go down sometimes when I'm in a bad mood…So all I can say is if you put me in a good situation and make me happy, man, you get good results."
Let me start by saying that I have no interest in defending Moss here for what he said. His coach, the beleaguered Art Shell said he “hated” to hear comments like this and, if you’re Moss’ teammate, you’ve got to hate it, too. Whether he’s being deliberately provocative is hard to say, since Moss’ mind works in not easy to predict ways. In any event, why he’d want to say these things out loud is anybody’s guess.
But, unsurprisingly, some ESPN commentators have taken these statements as another sign of the apocalypse. In his extra point commentary this morning on ESPN radio, Neil Everett attacked Moss and asked his audience to imagine a school teacher or bus driver making such statements. Everett was especially offended because Moss makes $75 million and his statements are affront to everybody who punches a clock every day.
On Mike and Mike, Golic fulminated, telling Greenie: “this makes me sick and should make any player or ex-player sick….Thank you for telling us what kind of player and person you are…”
Also in the news this morning is the latest Bobby Knight incident, in which he smacked one of his players under his chin, while yelling at him during last night’s game. Knight appeared to be trying to get the player to look up at him and added a physical inducement for the player to do so.
Golic had no problem with Knight’s move, and Greenie didn’t really weigh in. But, one of the emails they read out loud was of particular interest:
“Maybe if Randy Moss or T.O. had a coach like Bobby Knight when they were in high school, they wouldn’t be such problems today.”
Now, it happens that the player Knight made contact with was White (as was Neil Everett, the player he choked during practice in 1997). But, it’s interesting that Moss and T.O. are the place to go as soon as the specter of the breakdown of society is raised. For many people, Bobby Knight and what he represents is the bulwark against the chaos of modern life – out-of-control kids, a lack of discipline and structure and a world gone to hell. Perhaps that’s why Everett’s solution to the problem of Randy Moss this morning was to put him in a room with Bobby Knight. That specter isn’t only about race, but its unconsciously racial elements are the first association many have with all that is wrong with sports, and the world more generally these days.
(As an aside, the morning’s events reminded me of an animated conversation I heard in a bar near Disney World a year ago, in which two guys argued over whether they’d want their own kids to play for Knight. One was adamant that he would not – that Knight had choked a player and couldn’t control his anger. The other was adamant that he would – that his sons (he had three) all needed to be choked sometimes. It’s conversations like this that demonstrate that when people talk about sports, they’re often really talking about something else).
Other defenses of Knight included the contention that kids know what they’re getting into when they play for him and that this sort of thing happens all the time, but only Knight draws this kind of attention. Fran Fraschilla, who was calling the game last night told Mike and Mike that Knight was just trying to get the player to look at him and that this sort of thing will happen a couple of hundred times in the next two months and that it’s no big deal.
So, what to make of this? First, Fraschilla’s wrong. This will not happen a couple of hundred times. Undoubtedly, coaches make contact with their players sometimes, but a whap to the head or face? I don’t think so. Second, one could simply tell the player “look at me” without hitting him below the mouth. It should be clear by now that one thing Knight lacks is self-control. You can tell yourself that the hit was a teaching tool, but why is it that other more successful coaches than Knight (I’m speaking about the last fifteen years, not the overall record) can manage to get their point across without losing it. Third, on the larger point – there is lots of evidence to suggest that those who are subject to corporal punishment as kids are more likely to be violent as adults. Moss and Owens both grew up in tough conditions and I find it frankly bizarre that one would attribute their behavioral issues, such as they are, to having been coddled and pampered when they were younger, as opposed to having been subject to violent and unstable circumstances. Wanting to smack someone because you’re mad at them on the one hand and thinking that smacking someone is actually a good way to discipline someone and instill in them proper values on the other are two different things.
Regarding Everett’s comments: have I mentioned what a pet peeve it is of mine when a sports pundit, who himself is making an income far greater than the national average (as even Everett, a non-superstar, surely is), fancies himself a stand-in for the working Joes in this country. Come on, Neil – you have an awesome job, but don’t tell me you’re “punching a clock” the way a bus driver is. Furthermore, the reality of life is this – most of us are not always at our best. Even the best teachers have concentration lapses, as do, tragically, bus drivers. In fact, everybody does. The crime here isn’t that Moss is somehow less professional than ordinary folks – it’s that he’s making too much money for us to accept that he might not be at his best on every play. You can criticize him for not giving 110%. But, if you’re Neil Everett, or anyone else, please don’t pretend that you always do. A few people maybe – but the vast majority of the population – not a chance.
A final point: Big House Dog sent me an article from the Times yesterday (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/13/us/13seattle.html?_r=1&oref=slogin) about Initiative 91, the Seattle referendum that passed last Tuesday barring any public subsidies for sports stadiums. The consequence of its passage is that the Super Sonics are going to leave within the next four years. Their ownership had insisted that their arena be refurbished with $200 million in mostly public funds, or else, and a coalition of civic groups, including Citizens for More Important Things, emerged to carry through the referendum, essentially telling the Sonics’ ownership, “you’re free to leave.”
Here’s what I honestly don’t get. Sports owners who ask for significant public subsidies for their stadiums/arenas/development projects are among the most egregious swindles in American public life. The mounting evidence is that they serve no larger purpose, only enriching the ownership itself and a few other favored financial interests. The people makingthese demands, sports owners, are already impossibly wealthy but are insisting that they ought to be able to play by a different set of rules than the millions of small business owners in America: that they’re profits should be guaranteed, and that they should be insulated from the risk and the competitive pressures that are the hallmark of American capitalism. The effects of their demands, on things like public education, funding of police and fire departments, on affordable housing are, needless to say, of far greater potential consequence than the rantings of a whining wide receiver.
So, why is it so predictable that when a Neil Everett does his little commentary, or Mike and Mike dissect a sports outrage, it’s always the inane things that spoiled wide receivers say, and never the very consequential maneuverings of a whiny, pampered, spoiled and selfish sports owner who always puts his own financial well-being (as if that’s ever in question) above those of the well-being of the community, the kids, the future or whatever else it is you want to worry about?
That’s what I don’t get.
I’ll check back in on the great paper chase between the Ann Arbor News and Columbus Dispatch soon.