The good, bad, ugly and hard knocks of pro sports

Richard Carter | 9/2/2011, 11:46 a.m.
"I'll hit you harder than Joe Louis ever did..."-Buddy Baer, "Africa Screams" (1948) They say...
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"I'll hit you harder than Joe Louis ever did..."-Buddy Baer, "Africa Screams" (1948)

They say everything old is new again, and that certainly is true in the often upside-down world of big-time sports in America. For example, where else would two multibillion-dollar businesses in the same year order their employees not to come to work?

I refer, of course, to an ignominious lockout by the National Football League-which, mercifully, is over-and the similar ongoing silliness by the National Basketball Association. In the case of the NBA, it's the second one in the last dozen years. Ugh!

The basketball lockout-which began July 1-could threaten the entire 82-game regular season. When it happened in 1998-99, the result was a truncated, 50-game season that left everyone dissatisfied. How can they permit a repeat of this nonsense?

I continue to wonder what pro hoops movers and shakers-billionaire owners and millionaire players-are thinking. This would be a public relations nightmare after the exciting 2010-11 season that tantalized existing fans and attracted millions of new ones.

Surely the rich owners-who play the stock market-are aware of the horrendous economy plaguing our country. They know unemployment is at 9.1 percent, gas prices are astronomical and that Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. long-term credit rating from AAA to AA-plus. However, I'm not sure about professional players.

For example, in a recent interview with Bryant Gumbel on HBO's "Real Sports," New York Jets' ex-con Plaxico Burress-formerly of the New York Giants-discussed talking with his attorney prior to being arraigned after shooting himself in the leg in a local night club. When told that Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on TV that he felt the player should be punished to the full extent of the law, Burress said, "Who is Mayor Bloomberg?" Ugh!

Regardless, even overpaid pro athletes not known for brain power must know about the hard time confronting everyday Americans. People are filling their gas tanks less frequently, eating out less, leaving smaller tips, cutting back on dry cleaning, buying generic products, getting fewer haircuts, brown-bagging lunches, canceling cable TV and wondering if they voted for the right presidential candidate in 2008.

But this isn't about lockouts, this is about knockouts-and the good, bad and ugly that has characterized America's big-time pro sports over the years. It's a world that has always been full of high-profile people, places and things making good, bad and ugly news.

No sport lends itself more to the reality of American life-which not only condones violence but often encourages it-than my lifelong favorite: professional boxing. As stated by character actor Paul Stewart in the great fight film "Champion" (1949): "I can't help myself. I just like to see a couple of good boys in action."

The new book, "At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing," features essays by James Baldwin, Jack London, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, Red Smith and Gay Talese. Subjects include the ring deaths of Benny "Kid" Paret at the hands of Emile Griffith; Jimmy Doyle by "Sugar" Ray Robinson; Duk Koo Kim by Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini; and Davey Moore by "Sugar" Ramos-Moore had been brutally softened up by Roberto Duran.