Wonderful world of sports is fun, so why don’t we see more of it?
God forbid you act like the game is any fun in a sport that actively tries to keep its players from being entertaining. The NBA is the only pro sports league that seems to understand that.
So, Goose Gossage is back in the news. Asked the Hall of Fame reliever about Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees reliever awaiting a 30-game suspension after a domestic violence incident, and Goose had some thoughts about things that were outrageous.
“(Jose) Bautista is a f—ing disgrace to the game,” said Gossage, according to ESPN’s Andrew Marchand. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. (Yoenis) Cespedes, same thing.”
Uh, okay. Gossage played with Reggie Jackson, but at least he speaks his mind, great. We went through this back when Bautista flung his bat aside in a righteous rage in the seventh inning of Game 5 against the Texas Rangers, and the obvious counterpoint then and now is that bat flips are fun, and Bautista’s bat flip was pure honest emotion. And pure, honest emotion is the stuff.
But Goose’s crankiness is part of a bigger argument, and not just in baseball. But let’s go to Bryce Harper, the 22-year-old, fancy-haired, cock-of-the-walk outfielder for the Washington Nationals. Here’s what the National League MVP told Tim Keown in a profile in ESPN The Magazine that came out this week.
“Baseball’s tired,” Harper told Keown. “It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go, ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.’
“That’s what makes the game fun. You want kids to play the game, right? What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players — Steph Curry, LeBron James. It’s exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton — I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It’s that flair. The dramatic.”
Cam Newton’s celebrations became a national conversation in a game that could kill someone, and the NFL is martial in its limitations on on-field behaviour. But at least you can understand the resistance to personality in football: the less human its players seem, the less it hurts the fans when they fall apart later on. As Seattle safety Earl Thomas tweeted while watching the NBA all-star weekend, “The NFL should take notes from the NBA. Allow us to express our creativity without fining us. Celebrate our players while we R still living.”
But in baseball, it’s just the culture, in which showing another player up — with a stare, with a bat flip, with a slow trot around the bases, Rickey Henderson-style — is a sin that requires punishment. Hurt feelings must be protected against. There is a system. God forbid you act like the game is any fun in a sport that actively tries to keep its players from being entertaining. Where have I heard that before?
“The perception is that in order to be a good team player, you need to be like everybody else. And I don’t understand that,” Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban told Sportsnet Magazine’s Shannon Proudfoot last year. “The NHL doesn’t market individual players — they market teams. The NFL markets players. NBA? Markets players. The Montreal Canadiens don’t really market players. They market the Montreal Canadiens.”
Subban is loud and flamboyant and fun, and his sport, including some part of the media and his own team, have been trying to pin that Gulliver of a personality down for years. Roberto Luongo is one of the funniest men in hockey, and the only way he felt comfortable expressing it was with a secret, anonymous Twitter account that eventually went big. In hockey, standing out is not, as a rule, good for the team.
Oh, and the NHL is fighting a concussion lawsuit, too. In a happy coincidence, the more players fall in line with authority, the less likely they may be to sue you when they’re done.
Look, not every player’s personality should be widely known. There is plenty that sports wants to sanitize, and hide. So many teams in so many sports are paranoid about their athletes, and it’s not always just a question of getting the good stuff for their own website. The question to Gossage was, remember, about Aroldis Chapman.
But the actual fun of sports, the honest emotion and the personality, should be encouraged, or at least not discouraged. Not everyone has to be P.K. Subban, but let somebody try, will you? The NBA is the only sport that gets this aspect of entertainment right, and even there, Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson is one of several ex-players to criticize the Golden State Warriors and Curry — not based on how they act, but saying they couldn’t survive in the bygone game.
To that, LeBron James talked to USA Today about current stars, and said: “We’re doing our job. We’re doing our job to continue to make this game beautiful.” What an idea. Curry, meanwhile, dances and shimmies after his feats of magic. He smiles and poses, and he’s the best show in the world. The Warriors let their players be themselves, and somehow they’re still 57-6. Everyone, take notes.
Article Written By: Bruce Arthur0