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When did ‘sport’ go out of sports?

Mar 16, 2004 5:41 AM

In Vancouver, Supergoon Todd Bertuzzi, as part of his $6.8 million salary, breaks Steve Moore’s neck.

In Boulder, Colorado, sex parties for the college bound (and musclebound) recruits who hope to play for the Buffaloes.

In Tampa, a Yankee reprimand for a legend like Reggie Jackson, who dared violate baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s ban on talking about major leaguers using drugs.

Way to go, Bud! The good old American way: muzzle’em.

I’ve covered sports all my life, college and pro, and have never been as disgusted as now.

Bertuzzi first.

There he was in print, the obligatory picture with his wife, everything cozy and domestic tranquility, except for a shot of him petting the family dog.

"I had no intention of hurting you," he said, addressing his remarks to the hospitalized Moore. "I don’t play the game that way. I’m not a mean spirited person, and I’m sorry for what happened."

Sure you are, Todd. That’s exactly the way you play the game, and the world has videotape of you doing it. You’re not a mean spirited person, but you planned your revenge on Moore and executed it, from behind, like every red-blooded goon, sucker punching him and then smashing his face into the ice. If there is a shred of sorrow in you, it’s for the half million you’ll lose, and then you’ll be back bashing someone else. That’s what you get paid for.

Bertuzzi’s boss’s remarks were even more disgusting. Brian Burke, general manager of the Vancouver Canucks and the former director of hockey operations for the National Hockey League, took the idiotic tack that the news treatment of Bertuzzi was "shameful."

Speaking of Bertuzzi as if he were on the cross, Burke said, "What he is is a great hockey player, and he’s an excellent human being. All you have done is crucify my player." Hey Brian, how about if we have this "excellent human being" go around to schools and teach the kids the way to live their lives. "Always get even," he can tell them. "Plan the right time for retaliation and revenge and then sneak up behind your enemy and slam him on the side of the head, then drop him and fall on him."

As for Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, I can just visualize his preparing for the press. Reaching into his desk drawer for the "post attack" speech, he faces the cameras and pontificates, without prompting or needing the notes since he has delivered the same words so often, "The message we’re sending is that this is not part of our game, it has no place in our game, and it will not be tolerated in our game."

Right, Gary. Until the next goon attack. Then give the speech again. And again and again.

In Tampa, part of the Republic of Florida that elected our minority president last time out, free speech was suspended by order of the Lord of Baseball, Bud Selig. Bud had mandated that team officials not talk about Balco, the west coast company that is charged with dispensing steroids and other substances to Selig’s minions. Reggie Jackson, one of the real heroes of the game, was bold enough to talk to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about it and say baseball should crack down on steroid use.

"There’s a gag order," said the Yankees’ public relations director, "and we just had to remind him," as if Jackson were some junior high kid just learning how to swing a bat or speak his mind.

  Jackson gave the right answer to all of the nonsense. "I’m not worried," he said. I have a nice home. I can go there."

So, incidentally, can Todd Bertuzzi. I’m sure, on his salary, he has a nice home too, and he can go there. And stay there, without being missed. Or, if he gets bored, he always can travel around British Columbia and tell the kids how to get even with people they don’t like. Just break their necks.