Boston Mayor Tom Menino recently delivered one of the most atrocious speeches in the history of oration when, during a dedication to hockey great Bobby Orr, he not only referred to Boston sports greats as "ionic" instead of "iconic" but also followed it up by reminiscing: "Havlicek stole the ball, Fisk waving the ball fair. Flutie launched the Hail Mary pass, Varitek splitting the uprights."
Now, for those of you who aren't sports fans—or who never would feign to be sports fans or can't afford a speechwriter with some tenuous familiarity with being a sports fan—Jason Varitek was the catcher on two Boston Red Sox championship teams, a franchise that went nearly a century without a title and, being a baseball franchise, one that has no interest in splitting uprights or winning Super Bowls.
In old war movies, spies often exposed themselves by lacking some rudimentary American sports knowledge. Politicians who rely on the cheap ploy of connecting with the common voters by piggybacking on the achievements of local heroes are also often exposed as pandering infiltrators. Sports fans can sniff out these ham-handed fakes rather effortlessly.
I still hold that Martha Coakley sealed her fate in the Massachusetts senatorial race when she said Red Sox hero Curt Schilling was a Yankees "fan." On Opening Day this season, Barack Obama was reminiscing with broadcasters about his all-time favorite team, the Chicago White Sox, but was unable to name a single member of that franchise—ever. Now, Sammy Sosa briefly played for the White Sox, but only after our previous president, as minority owner of the Texas Rangers, watched as the future 600-home-run hitter was traded to Chicago for nothing.
Even with their many tribulations, professional sports are comparatively uncontaminated by the bitterness and ugliness that taint most politics—aside from Philadelphia, where each and every fan should be ashamed of himself.
But ideology has no place—even on the periphery—in professional sports.
When Rush Limbaugh moonlighted as an NFL analyst for ESPN a few years back, it did not work out, not only because of what he said at the time but also because of everything he ever had said. When Keith Olbermann's career shifted from his main gig as sports announcer to political commentator, his subsequent appearances in the sports genre are tainted.
Take the recent immigration flap in Arizona. Leftist intellectual and El Sol all-star point guard Steve Nash—slumming it in Arizona at $13 million per year—is certainly free to lecture the proletariat. But like Jack Kemp, Jim Bunning, Heath Shuler or Bill Bradley, it probably would be better if he saved it for the post-game.
Those boycotting the Arizona Diamondbacks are equally grating. Obviously, I oppose any sort of discrimination by my childhood teams—unless the Yanks are exclusively signing Dominican stars; then they can call themselves Los Gringos for all I care. But I don't take out my exasperations over New Yorkers' consistently voting for Chuck Schumer on the New York Knicks.
Sports happen to be one of the most meritocratic institutions in this nation. They divide us into regional and traditional clusters. To inject corrosive political grandstanding into this thing that so many of us love can only undermine the camaraderie of fans, who are able to put aside their ideological differences, financial situations, and often their worries to partake in a communal gratification that politicians and "activists" only pretend to understand and foster.
And, after all, is nothing sacred?
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