An ode to the world of sports

On my 60th birthday last week, I got a call from a reporter writing about a murder case
I had covered 35 years ago in Rhode Island. That single call left me revisiting my decision to work in sports media.

The murder case was a hideous story, involving the abduction of a 5-year-old boy, the horrors suffered by his family and the eventual arrest and conviction of a thrill-seeking teenager who lived right down the street.

I realize it was a complete coincidence that the call came on the day that it did, while I was reflecting on a 40-year run in the media and trying to figure out where I go from here, but it left me revisiting my decision to work in sports. When I left news 32 years ago, it was one of the most difficult choices of my career — and one I have never regretted.

Sports is a refuge for all of us fortunate enough to catch the fever. It is real enough, with all of the greed and stupidity and outrageous behavior, without being too real. What is too real? Well, the tragedy unfolding in Japan right now is a painful example. I’d rather deal with relatively minor inconveniences, like Chase Utley’s bum knee or the NFL lockout, than real human suffering.

Like so many fans, my love of sports was inherited from my father, who sat me down in 1957 and explained to me why the World Series — viewed on a black-and-white Admiral console TV — was important. We bonded in front of that TV and our wooden Philco radio for years after that. Our conversations in his final years were almost entirely about sports. When he died, his obit identified him as “lifelong Yankees fan.”

It wasn’t easy to stay on the path of sports. When I confided to my advisor at Columbia University in 1976 that I intended to pursue sports journalism, he cringed. He told me I couldn’t change the world covering games. I told him I didn’t want to change the world. Our compromise was that I’d try to change the sports world.

I haven’t really succeeded in that quest, but the sports world has changed me. Who couldn’t be affected by meeting Wilt Chamberlain, sharing a table with Muhammad Ali, feuding with Larry Bird, covering countless World Series, Super Bowls and Stanley Cups or savoring that Phillies parade in 2008?

This is probably the most personal column I have ever written in the Metro, but it is not indicative of a new direction for me. I simply felt the urge (just this once) to express my
appreciation for the world of sports and all it has meant in my life. Every 60 years or so, that’s probably a good idea.

Another Banner day

It must be hard living in the world Joe Banner has created for himself, a place where logic and reason are treated like illegal aliens. In Banner’s world, his side never loses, his cause is always noble and his generosity is never appreciated.

The Eagles’ president took a predictable — and ridiculous — public stand in favor of the owners in their ugly labor battle with the players. Banner said the players were getting a sweet deal that included major money increases over the next four years. A few days later, union leaders called the final owners’ contract proposal “the worst in sports history.”

Banner also endorses the owners’ strategy not to open their books to support the claim that the players are getting too big a piece of the $9 billion revenue pie. Hey, would the owners lie about profits and losses? Ruthless billionaires who were so successful in their original businesses that they could afford $500-million toys like NFL franchises?

Using Banner’s logic, fans should call the Eagles today and say they need a rebate because the cost of tickets has made it much harder to balance their household budgets. If someone asks for proof, just tell them to take your word for it. Yeah, that would work just fine. Banner wouldn’t question that reasoning at all.

Giving it a college try

It is a rare day when I feel compelled to discuss the NCAA tournament, the most overblown sports event on the U.S. sports calendar. But, in the interest of protecting the reputation of Philly, I must make this one exception.

The best thing that happened was the ouster of Villanova and Temple because now we will no longer have to endure the cloying media coverage of their two coaches, Jay Wright and Fran Dunphy.

When Wright’s squad melted down in the final minutes vs. George Mason, it was the sixth consecutive defeat for a team once ranked fourth in the nation. Wright did a terrible job of coaching. Even he said if he were a pro coach, he would be fired. Has anyone offered a word of criticism? Not that I have seen.

The story after Dunphy’s double-OT loss was how tough the Owls hung in against a superior opponent. OK, I’ll buy that. But I won’t buy the decision by Dunphy to hold the ball for 30 seconds with a minute left in the first overtime. The game was tied. If Temple shot more quickly, they would get another possession. Why didn’t they? No one asked that.

Look, I get it. College isn’t the pros. The same level of scrutiny isn’t appropriate. But our chummy media coverage goes way beyond that reality. It is unprofessional and it is a disservice to the savvy fans of our city.

–Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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