February 25, 2000
SPORTS OF THE TIMES
Crime and (Much) Punishment
By GEORGE VECSEY
uilty. We are all guilty of something. Plus, just look at the mugs around us in sports the last few days.
Let's not get radical like the Queen of Hearts, whose judicial temperament was summed up in the famous phrase: "Sentence first -- verdict afterwards." Let's look at the evidence and then try to mete out some justice.
Sailing. The host committee of the America's Cup showed decided Don King tendencies in calling off the third race yesterday, after the Italian challenger seemed ready for a decent start after two losses to New Zealand. Harold Bennett, the committee chairman, said there was not enough wind. Did we mention that Bennett is a member of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, which is defending the cup?
Shenanigans like this prove that people are the same around the world.
Bennett comes off as a first cousin to the old baseball owners who used to call a game on a sunny day when their ace pitcher was not feeling well.
Punishment: Bennett should perform community service by volunteering to lean over the side and clean up debris like the stuff that clung to the Italian Luna Rossa during the second race. Wearing his blue blazer, of course.
Ice Hockey. Marty McSorley whacked Donald Brashear in the head with a stick. We can no longer blame the National Hockey League because it has worked hard to eliminate crude violence. McSorley's attack was a personal failure, and he must take the blame.
Punishment: McSorley has already been suspended for the rest of this season and the playoffs, but sports leagues do not exist outside the law. At the very least, he should sweat out the possibility of a criminal indictment for his cowardly attack with a weapon.
Auto Racing. Dale Jarrett apparently left a colleague in the lurch last Sunday after agreeing to ride in tandem with Mark Martin for a while. As soon as Jarrett saw an opening, it was "See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya," as he captured the Daytona 500. Martin's response: "I got lied to."
Punishment: The other drivers should put Jarrett in Coventry for a while and refuse to talk to him on his headset. It can get lonely out there in the land of the perpetual left turn if your pals are not chatting in your ear.
Baseball Umpires. Richie Phillips's last appeal was turned down by the National Labor Relations Board yesterday, meaning there will be a new umpires' union.
This is the outcome of the disastrous Jonestown-style mass resignation that Phillips engineered last season.
Punishment: Phillips should have to support the 22 umpires who were fired by Major League Baseball.
College Basketball. Jamal Crawford has been suspended from Michigan for writing a letter making himself available for the professional draft while still in high school. This is just the latest flap in this bloated feeder system of shady deals, silent friends, soft money.
Punishment: It's already happening. The great players are opting for the real money, forcing the traditional college "programs" to cobble together teams of one-year wonders and real students. Soon, the money from networks and advertisers will dry up, and it will serve the schools right for getting involved in this nether world.
Figure Skating. Tonya Harding pleaded innocent yesterday to charges of hitting her current boyfriend with a hubcap during a domestic dispute. The Associated Press reported she "looked sullen" in the Oregon court. That means we do not have to speculate, "Maybe it was a different Tonya Harding."
Punishment: If she is ever accused of violence again, Harding should be sentenced to hard time in the next hideous version of the Winter Goodwill Games, the made-for-Turner spectacle last week featuring the Over-the-Hill Gang trying to recapture the lost triple jumps of their youth.
Baseball Bigotry. Ted Turner had his chance to make a statement by saying he did not want a racist like John Rocker on the Atlanta Braves. But can Bud Selig really enforce a month-long suspension of Rocker?
Punishment: Let Rocker check into the Braves' clubhouse as soon as possible. Having made life difficult for teammates of many origins, Rocker will discover that he will always be an outsider to them.
Baseball Addictions. Darryl Strawberry has always assumed that if he stayed clean for a while, he would be welcomed back in the clubhouse.
Punishment: The best thing Bud Selig could do for Strawberry is force him to confront his emptiness without the locker room, the salary, the buzz. A lifetime suspension might help prolong Strawberry's life, while there is time.