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You may divide the world into two kinds of people. No, I’m not talking about men and women, or Republicans and Democrats. I’m talking about people who listen to sports talk radio, and those who would rather gouge out their own eyeballs than listen to that ceaseless blather.
I fall into the former camp. I don’t listen to the ceaseless blather on a daily basis, I don’t stream it on my computer, and I certainly don’t call in or send emails. But if I’m bopping around town on errands or making a long drive on I-5, I often tune in.
Let me tell you (a phrase I learned from sports gasbags), the world is a bleak place right now for the sports talk radio crowd.
For these folks, there are only five sports worthy of endless discussion, analysis and argument: pro and college football, men’s pro and college basketball and Major League Baseball. There’s a modicum of interest in pro hockey, men’s golf and auto racing, but the “big five” sports probably fill 95 percent of air time on most sports talk programs.
The problem is that both the National Football League and the National Basketball Association are closed for business because their labor contracts expired and the owners have locked out the players. Although both sports are in the off-season right now, the situation is not sitting well. I actually heard two guys on ESPN radio griping that an in-season shut down of both the NFL and NBA would force them to spend more time with their families. The horrors!
Although most yappers say the NFL dispute will be settled in time for the 2011 season to begin as scheduled in September, there exists the real possibility that once the World Series ends in late October, the only big five sport conducting actual competitions will be college football. And the college football scene is very ugly these days, as one major program after another is wracked by scandal.
Earlier this week, Damon Bruce, a host on San Francisco’s KNBR, asked rhetorically, “Remember when sports was fun?” These days, reading the sports page in the newspaper, he said, is just like reading the business page. Every story is about money. Bruce did not point out the obvious, which is that sports talk radio is no different. Whether you’re listening to ESPN, Fox or one of the syndicated shows, the discussion frequently centers on “CBAs” (collective bargaining agreements), salary caps, revenue sharing, retirement plans and such. Attorneys, agents, labor negotiators and economists provide the punditry.
Sheeze, remember when sports talk radio was fun? When ex-jocks and Larry calling from Sausalito got to pontificate about last night’s game, potential player trades, draft prospects, who should start at wide receiver for your fantasy team this week, and why some coach is the biggest moron ever?
Well, I don’t have to remember when sports was fun, because my sporting universe is not limited to the big five. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy four of the big five (you can have Major League Baseball). But most of my sporting world centers on what “Mike and Mike In The Morning” would consider esoteric (a word probably foreign to both Mikes) or minor league sports that are of no importance. That’s fine. I don’t need electronic media validation. I only need to see with my own two (well, four) eyes people participating in sporting competitions simply for the love of the game. Sometimes I even join the game myself.
In late June, I had the opportunity to watch world-class athletes competing in one of their most prestigious events. Fans paid no admission charge, and the athletes received no money. There wasn’t an ESPN camera or corporate luxury suite to be found.
The event was the Western States 100-mile endurance run from Squaw Valley to Auburn. It’s the granddaddy of long-distance trail races in North America and has become a major international gathering. This year’s overall winner is from Spain. The women’s winner is a Scottish ex-pat living in Alberta, Canada. Both defeated deep fields of competitors and finished in near record times. For their efforts, they received a large trophy of a cougar and the same belt buckle given to every runner who finishes in less than 24 hours. Again, they received no prize money. Rather, like every other runner, they paid a $370 entry fee.
I won’t prattle on about the Western States 100 (although I do congratulate Jim Scott of Chico, Luanne Park and Mark Swanson of Redding, and Steven Greuel of Etna, for finishing this year’s race). My point is this: I get more joy and inspiration out of serving as a volunteer at the Western States 100 and spectating at the finish line than I do from watching allegedly big-time basketball or football. The athletes at an event like the Western States 100 are genuine and their motivations pure. No one is padding his stats to improve his marketability, or concerned about positioning her global brand.
Thankfully, you can find uncorrupted sports all over – inside high school and community college gymnasiums, on short race tracks like Shasta Raceway Park and Silver Dollar Speedway, at a Colt .45s game, at the Lemurian mountain bike race, and in many other locations. Admittedly, there are small amounts of money involved sometimes, but cash isn’t the primary motivation. And while the level of competition may or may not be high, the level of effort is always 100 percent.
Sports really is supposed to be fun. It’s a diversion that can entertain, educate and motivate those who are in the game and those who aren’t.
But if you listen to sports talk radio these days, you’d think sports is about money and its companions, greed and power. Maybe it’s time I changed the radio station.
Paul Shigley is a freelance journalist based in Western Shasta County, CA, and has many opinions about sports. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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