Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Acid in His Eyes

Sports kowtow to the oddest conventions. While 10,000 fans stamp their feet, scream, and wave things behind the backboard, a 17-year-old son or daughter of the inner city will be asked to decide a basketball league championship by either making or missing a free throw. Before a 35-year-old golfer, a son of the affluent suburbs, putts, he will expect rapt silence from all around him, as too will his counterpart at a tennis match.

Poor folks: sink or swim in spite of all hell breaking loose around you. Rich folks: mum is the word.

In football, one who has scored a touchdown — or, in recent years, intercepted a pass, or sacked a quarterback — will gloat madly, and, indeed, often perform elaborate predetermined dance routines intended in large part to increase the bettered opponent’s humiliation. In baseball, though, if one who has just hit the ball over the fence runs too slowly around the bases, he is adjudged to have rubbed his opponents’ nose in their deficient virility. A base runner attempting to steal a base when his team has a comfortable lead late in the game can result in mayhem. The delicate sensibilities of the team behind must be scrupulously respected.

In baseball, one may be struck in a sensitive area by a pitch traveling at nearly 100 miles per hour, but if he does the natural, human, reflexive thing and rubs the traumatized region area to try to ease his agony, he is seen as what Ty Cobb, the fervently sociopathic greatest star of the dead-ball era, would have called a mollycoddle. Even one who recognizes that chewing tobacco can cause cancer of the pharynx, not to mention eukoplakia, recession of the gums. bone loss around the teeth, abrasion of the teeth, and foul breath is required to slobber implacably or risk being seen as no less a sipper of pink tea than one who’d rub a spot off which a fastball had just bounced.

I thought of these things the other day while watching Brazil’s World Cup victory over Ivory Coast. In the 87th minute, with the score 3-1, Brazil, and virtually all hope lost, the Ivorian Abdul Kader Keita hurtled toward Brazil’s brilliant midfielder Kaká, who reflexively held up his right arm to defend himself. Running gently into said arm, Keita fell to the ground writhing as though Kaká had sprayed battery acid in his eyes. The referee, noting his great anguish, gave Kaká his second yellow card (sort of like a personal foul in basketball, but much more grievous) of the game, which meant that he was automatically ejected, and will be banned from Brazil’s next game, against (reasonably) mighty Portugal.

Which is to say that because of Keita’s ridiculous display, the world will be deprived of the pleasure of seeing two of the sport’s greatest players (Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo, you see) leading their respective countries on the same pitch.

So here’s the question. Professional athletes are forever being told that winning isn’t the best thing, but the only thing. If an American baseball player — one who wouldn’t, for fear of appearing unmanly, rub the spot where a 95-mph fastball had just hit him — writhe agonizedly around in the infield dirt if it meant the ejection of the opposing team’s best player? Food for thought!

Kaká, by the way, is pronounced with the second syllable emphasized, as witness the accent mark. Nobody likes a wisenheimer.

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]

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