Sympathy for pros

June 15, 2010 7:01 AM



It is the start of a strange week when one feels sorry for three world class professional athletes, but my sympathies go out to Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Robert Green, England’s soccer goalkeeper with the glancing glove.

As this is written, all three are in the depths of despair, although Bryant, by will and brilliance, still can wind up a winner. Woods and Green are marked men.

Watching Bryant suffer as his teammates dropped the ball Sunday, one could understand the passion and burning desire that drives him and his incomparable skills. He is clearly the Michael Jordan of his day, with as much intensity and more emotion.

As he watched the Boston Celtics steal away to their third victory Sunday night, despite his mighty 38-point effort after scoring 33 last Thursday, Bryant bit his lip in disappointment. And the resolute cameraman who kept focused on Kobe’s face lingered long and without respite, showing the emotion. It was interesting that Bryant, knowing the close-up was in progress, averted the camera entirely, with his eyes held steady on the action.

Our guess is that he will bring the Lakers back with another Herculean effort, although the Celtics showed just how great a defense their coach, Doc Rivers, has fashioned. It is easy, of course, with guys like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen and, yes, Glen Davis and Nate Robinson, on the floor.

Bryant told the story succinctly after last week’s first loss. "They got all the energy points, the hustle points, second chance points, points in the paint, they beat us to loose balls." They did indeed, and did again on Sunday. Regardless of how you feel about the Lakers, you had to feel sorry for Bryant, who played his heart out in both of those Laker losses.

In Tiger Woods’ case, there could be less sympathy as he continues to struggle to regain his touch of greatness. He must recall, with constant reminders, the awed tales of his record 15-stroke win in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach 10 years ago. Every golfer who saw it still remembers that 210-yard blast with a 7-iron from the rough of the par-5, 523-yard sixth hole, which put Woods on the green….and in the green. Unfortunately, neither the press nor the public will let him forget his career-jolting gaffes since then, mistakes that brought down his game as well as his image.

It will be easier to restore the game, and the likelihood is that he will, once the demons disappear, if not at Pebble Beach this week then later on. Restoring the image is a far more difficult task, and it obviously is haunting Woods with every swing.

As for Robert Green, the recollection of letting the ball slip off his glove in goal against the United States in the first round of the World Cup in South Africa last week will haunt him the rest of his soccer life. That is how he will be remembered, and as I looked at him, crumpled up in misery at giving the U.S. a tie against England, I could not help but think of a good friend who spent a lifetime reliving a similar moment.

Ralph Branca was a friend through racing, not baseball, but he is remembered in that game not for his accomplishments but for his single pitch to Bobby Thomson of the Giants that cost him and the Brooklyn Dodgers the World Series in 1951.

Robert Green may be more fortunate – for one thing, he accepted it as "a horrible mistake….a horrible mistake" but that wound may be deepened by the eyes and ears (and mouths) of soccer fans around the world.

Green deserves better. How many times have you dropped a wife’s valuable glass in the kitchen? The world will go on – hopefully – despite the old colony tying the Mother Land for the first time in 60 years in soccer.

Both countries, and hopefully Robert Green, will survive.