Wednesday, November 21, 2007

At Least it isn’t Basketball…

Is track held to a higher standard than other sports? Track may have its issues – but at least it’s not the NBA.

Ben Johnson lost his Olympic medals in 1988 after testing positive. Of course there’s Marion Jones (and her various husbands and boyfriends). The specter of doping (a.k.a. cheating) is always hanging over the sport. But you know what – at least we’re above board about it.

We test, we investigate, we actually talk about it as a governing body. Maybe the sport isn’t as bad off as we think.

Case in point – the NBA. Everyone, except the most fervent fans and naïve spectators, believe the NBA is fixed. Of course, the sport doesn’t directly confront this issue eroding the game’s credibility.

Imagine the scene, then, when Rasheed Wallace goes public, saying in a recent interview that he thinks the sport is rigged. A banner day for David Stern and his merry band of referees.

This interview comes on the heels of an FBI probe that alleges that referees bet on NBA games. And then there’s Tim Donaghy. He even ‘fessed up to the transgressions.

But there’s old David Stern, telling everyone that the recent scandals haven’t eroded the game’s credibility. Really, Davey? Really?

The NBA is fighting to regain its’ image. In recent years, the National Brawling Association has also had a UFC style fight with players going into the stands after fans, Kobe Bryant Sexgate Trial, and had to institute a silly dress code policy.

At least track and field is up front about its issues and aggressively goes after the athletes that damage the sport’s credibility. Yeah, track has a doping issue (uh, ever heard of Major League Baseball?), but those mainstream sports don’t even really try to address their credibility issues.

Major League Baseball – home of the magically expanding muscle mass – didn’t take up mandatory drug testing until 2003. You might suspect baseball has a drug problem when overnight players with Popeye forearms hit the ball and it disintegrates into dust on the way out the park.

The sport had to go in front of the federal government because of its doping issues and general denial that there was any issue at all. And heaven forbid someone mention Mark McGuire’s home run record (and record muscle gain). But it’s still America’s Pasttime, kids.

You’ve got to be kidding, right?

Let’s not even get started on the image problems of the NFL. That league reeks to high heaven of over-paid, pampered athletes that are throwing away a good thing. Constant player arrests. Pac Man Jones, Tank Johnson, Michael Vick, the infamous – and infamously titillating “Love Boat” cruise on Lake Minnetonka – the Minnesota Viking’s own foray into pillaging on the open seas.

You’d think this kind of egregious behavior would turn off fans and sponsors alike.

Yet, kids run around the tailgating lots eating bratwurst and throwing a football in their favorite felon’s jersey, and their parents continue to pour money into the league’s coffers. Beer companies can’t wait to align themselves with teams.

What does this rant against the various ills of our mainstream sports mean for track and field? It means it’s time for the sports media to forgive our game and start giving our athletes the recognition they deserve. But this won’t happen without a real push.

A press release simply won’t do. Craig Masback, CEO of USA Track & Field, needs to put on his selling shoes and go on camera to apologize for the latest Marion scandal and express his outrage. He should talk about the actual policing of the game and how it helps keep the urine tests clean and the records legit.

He should then invite viewers to tune in to a new season that will deliver a bigger and better sport – not bigger and better forearms.

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

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