Elton Brand is Good People ‘s personal take on a young athlete.

Aquarian Weekly 2/13/02 REALITY CHECK


Oddly, this is the second consecutive column on sports; but not literally, since every profession, in and out of the spotlight of celebrity, harbors the good and the lousy. And since this space mostly concentrates — with some notable exceptions — on the lousy, I thought it a welcomed respite to laud the good.

Sadly, this is a society addicted to the perception that young, brash celebrities make for interesting press if they are angry, criminal or just plain annoying. So it is quite refreshing when a relevant story pertains to a subject with a level of intellect, pride and a compassionate respect rarely displayed by even those of considerable maturity.

On the fourth day of February, Peekskill High School, a sizable institution located in a struggling economic hamlet of northern Westchester, New York retired the jersey of its greatest basketball players, Elton Brand.

Governor, George Pataki, a Peekskill HS alum and former mayor of the town, its current mayor and dignitaries from the school district joined the crammed gym to share in the pomp.

It was a profound experience to witness the growth of a physical specimen gaining complete control over the detailed elements and challenges of his game. With each passing season, his talents became refined, as if adding bolder colors to a painting or gorgeous counter melodies to a symphony, until it seemed there could be no more bloom on the rose.

I was among the represented sporting press mainly due to a local broadcasting gig I’ve enjoyed since the late 80s’. But, admittedly, I attended the event with the same pride I’d felt when a kid I’d seen play the game at the tender age of thirteen was chosen first in the 1998 NBA draft.

Brand arrived dressed in a stylish tan suit, still exhibiting the same genuine, almost innocent smile he’d displayed in his adolescence. At first shielded by a modest entourage, he broke ranks to welcome many of the people who were instrumental in his success. He hugged, shook hands and intermingled with everyone in the press area, but did so with none of the disingenuous condescension of a grubbing politician or a petulant punk star allowing the sycophants a whiff of stardom.

And when he spoke of his recent triumphs, he exuded a keen instinct that his achievements were not merely for himself or even his family, but a town, a generation, a culture, a race and a sport.

“I think I do understand the impact,” he said when I asked him if he knew what it meant to a small, decaying urban town that one of their own flourished in its graying pall. “People know that it takes more than just one talent to truly succeed,” Brand continued. “My parents always stressed a good academic background, to be good at what you do, but be a good person also.”

He trailed off when he said, “good person”, as if it seemed ludicrous to him that it wasn’t a given that anyone who could dunk a basketball, split an atom or sweep the gym wouldn’t try to be the best person they could be.

Having called most of Brand’s televised games for his four stellar years as the center for two title squads, I was impressed at how he handled it all. Our conversations on and off the air were never strained, many times I learned something deeper about the human spirit from him, this precocious boy embracing a burgeoning gift, cradling its jewels, but never squeezing too tightly.

There was never a doubt about his considerable skills as an athlete, an almost pristine ballet of power and grace on a basketball court. It was a profound experience to witness the growth of a physical specimen gaining complete control over the detailed elements and challenges of his game. With each passing season, his talents became refined, as if adding bolder colors to a painting or gorgeous counter melodies to a symphony, until it seemed there could be no more bloom on the rose.

But instead of becoming detached, the bane of the modern athlete, Brand embraced the responsibility of his considerable talents. He was a straight A student, quiet, but never reserved. I never saw him brood or recoil from the ridiculous stampede of attention, accolade or criticism a wunderkind must endure. He was a source of great support to his team and schoolmates, whether troubled or scholarly.

“There were great players before me,” Brand told me hours before the ceremony. “Hey, and there will be great ones coming. I’m just glad to be a part of that group.”

And it’s a tough group, the “too good – to soon” set, from any era and any school. Elton Brand, and others like him, experience what can only be described as a world wind youth. Athletes have a short window. The journey from novice to expert spans a third of the normal lifetime. The pressures of time begin immediately, and the clock runs quickly.

By the age of 13, Brand was already touted as a “can’t miss”, a throwaway sports phrase that usually renders children to the level of lucrative product. Peekskill’s head coach, Lou Panzenaro told me on local radio that winter that a 6′ 9” kid was dunking on his varsity players. As a freshman he was the best player on the team and by his sophomore year, the best in the region.

By his senior year Brand was one of maybe five to ten of the best talents in the country. He was elevated to a McDonald’s All-American, became a significant player for Duke University, the premier basketball and academic institution in the nation, and the number one draft pick of the NBA in 1998 by the Chicago Bulls.

Traded this past off-season to the Los Angeles Clippers, Brand has raised his level of play to near All-Star status, and his new teammates root the hardest for him. Two of them, Corey Maggette and Darius Miles joined Brand for what they described as “the long trip” from NYC earlier in the day.

“My boy is the best teammate,” Miles told me, as the crowded gym chanted Brand’s name moments before the unveiling of his retired jersey. “I’ve learned a lot about the game and more from him. There was no question I would come up here to see him honored.”

The late, great Dick Schaap, who’d spent quality time with every significant athlete for the better part of the past century, once told me something I won’t soon forget, and something that came streaming back when a mountain of a young man in a tan suit gave me a bear hug and thanked me for sharing in his honor.

“Only the smallest percentage of people ever perfect anything,” Schaap said. “And athletes do it before they even know who the heck they are as people. Not to mention they do it with everyone counting on them, watching their every move and expecting them to carry the day all the time.”

Elton Brand is carrying the day just fine.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Read More

Mike Tyson, Instant Replay and MLB Crimes – Essay on sports by James Campion

Aquarian Weekly 1/30/02 REALITY CHECK


I am no longer officially counted among the sporting press. It’s been almost a calendar year since my credentials in the sports world elapsed with the sudden halt of a Westchester radio gig, and aside from the occasional perusal of sports pages, rabid gambling on pro football and an impromptu sports trivia fest on New Year’s Eve, I have been woefully out of the loop. So in the interest of not allowing certain chickens to fly the proverbial coop, I shall use this week’s space to vent the foul odors emanating from the toy department.

Firstly, Mike Tyson should be shackled to a spinning platform in the middle of some designated town square like Hugo’s Hunchback. He is a freak of nature, a grunting slum ogre, whom the citizens of this nation apparently cannot get enough of; so the money boys keep parading his pathetic savagery out of moth balls every quarter for a taste.

Meanwhile, his raping and pillaging zooms merrily along under the radar. This is the same radar that saw fit to strip the great Muhammad Ali of his title for protesting an abomination halfway across the globe. Military fiascos over women’s rights; sounds about right for the boxing elite.

Boxing needs Tyson. Otherwise, it is a dead sport. The financial gluttony of pay-per-farce has rendered its faceless participants to fringe characters that only insiders and diseased gamblers have any use for. But Tyson is different. However tired his “angry street punk” act becomes, people still pay to see the madman implode under the weight of his own transparent sanity, or perhaps, there is the hope he might test the limits of an already sadistic exhibition.

Mike Tyson should be shackled to a spinning platform in the middle of some designated town square like Hugo’s Hunchback.

Every time Tyson turns a press conference into a prison riot, he titillates our darker side. Certainly, it is human nature to coddle a warped fascination of the villain. Tyson exploits this social malady quite well. We marvel at his anti-social, violent nature, and choose to blame it all on the brutality of his profession. All the while, Tyson serves our primal need for the grotesque, the sports version of the Elephant Man.

And it warms my heart to see the “boxing people”, the snuff pimps of sport, become self-righteous every time Tyson explodes, as evidenced earlier this week at another of their meaningless media events. Even though they know full well that as long as Tyson is the fire-breathing dragon to whatever dupe in shining armor they put in front of him, he will take the lowest road possible.

But mayhem makes good headlines and highlights, two things the realm of big-time sports must rely on for readers and ratings and sexy stories for smart-ass commentators and grizzled scribes to paint into instant calamity.

This makes it all the more curious that many of the same sensationalists who fill the quota of sports journalism do not spend more time carving up the evil empire known as Major League Baseball.

It seems defacto, commissioner, Bud Selig, architect of the assassination of the 1994 baseball season, with its convenient alliances, backroom payoffs and empty promises, has been at it again.

This glorified con man wants baseball fans to buy the idea that the contracting of teams from this miserably bloated league is some kind of charity solution to the drunken spree of spending that has gone on under the guise of an atavistic anti-trust exemption for a quarter century.

Who is swallowing this incredible sack of horseshit?

The owners expanded a league they claimed was careening toward bankruptcy time and again for two decades, diluting the talent and screwing up the competitive nature of a gorgeous game to pay for their self-inflicted wounds. Now entire franchises are being shifted around like plastic hotels on a monopoly board, while cities and politicians and judges and fans clamor and sue and lobby to save baseball from leaving their respective towns.

As a result, the 2002 season will begin with lame-duck teams, franchises with no ownership, glaring conflicts of interest and no concrete bargaining agreement. Only about six to ten teams have the funds to compete under the current structure, no one wants to play in Canada, Disney couldn’t turn a fucking profit in Hollywood and I could swear I heard some sick bastard suggest they put another team in the District of Columbia.

Finally, I need to get something straight about the National Football League’s stance on the arbitrary nature of this Instant Replay stuff.

Wasn’t this supposed remove controversy from the game?

CBS analyst, Phil Simms told me last year that he thought the whole thing was too ambiguous for its own good, that there are too many instances where no one understands its parameters; not the coaches, the fans, the media, or most importantly, the officials.

The league challenged the officials by ramming technology down their throats as a glaring second-guess machine, and then placated them with loopholes to circumvent its authority by coming up with new and exciting ways to void its use.

Despite the fact that this abomination saved me cash last week, what happened to the Oakland Raiders in New England last Saturday night is a tragic. The officials compromised the entire structure of the play-off system, and not a soul had a clue why, least of all my pal, Simms, who was standing in the frozen booth extolling the victorious Raiders while the anonymous Replay Official was changing the outcome.

The truth is the league is buoyed by the gambling culture; although anyone with any power would be loath to admit it. Hey, the league was tired of hearing that slow and incompetent officials were deciding the “integrity” of the game. There are photo finishes in horse racing, right? Instant Replay was supposed cure all of that.

Instead it has ground the game to a halt at key moments, put the already overwhelmed officials on the hot seat and sucked the life out of fairness by silly explanations, archaic rule interpretations and the always popular “inadvertent whistle”.

Makes you wish Vince Lombardi could be standing in the snow to listen to that dog crap. Now that would be worth the wait.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Read More

The Bucky Dent Game

Aquarian Weekly 10/1/01 REALITY CHECK


The week these words hit the newsstands it will be the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of what has now come to be known in the circle of baseball freaks as the “Bucky Dent Game”. It was 10/2/78, and I had just turned sixteen. I was a rabid fan of the New York Yankees. Insanely so. I have not been a fan of anything, save for sex and money, since. Realizing that now puts a perspective on the little absurdities of life and how the human capacity for memory maximizes the details of their impact, regardless of peripheral import.

And that is what is great about sports, really. Not all that other stuff you read and hear about like heroics or riches or drama or bloodletting. It’s about being a kid and remembering exactly where you were sitting and what – at the precise moment of a life filled with zillions of moments – you were thinking at 6:11 pm or thereabouts on the second day of October a quarter of a century ago. Sports has a way of crystallizing life, freezing it, making snapshots of otherwise lonely, boring fall afternoons.

In all corners of New England he would no longer be Russell, Earl or Bucky, but the infamous, Bucky “fucking” Dent. Another of the Bambino’s imps from Hades sent to torture the bastion of the Lord.

But this isn’t really a commentary on baseball or memory, but on the strange things which make up the minutest actualities of our lives, good or ill, and what chooses to remain in that eight percent of gray matter housed inside our skulls. Rattled every once in a blue moon by music or scents or a name from the bygone days or maybe a book or a film or a teacher or a lover that changed your world.

I spend a great deal of space in this column every week or so poking fun at things people claim they care about like social issues and world politics and national spats and whatever the hell the supposed intelligentsia or monosyllabic radio callers masturbate about incessantly. But it all comes and goes, and is most likely to run through our eight percent to reprocess any way we’d like anyway. So what’s the point?

Still, making the monumental personal is as old as dirt, but it isn’t any better than turning the seemingly inconsequential into seminal moments of elation. It’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald called the “high white note”. Everyone has them. Think about yours, right now; some ancillary event that attached itself to you for some odd reason and would not let go. Ever.

I had one on October 2, 1978.

Watching a baseball game might not always fit into that category, but sometimes it does. A bike ride. A sunset. An aria. A swim. A smile. Kids. Girls. Debates. Great paragraphs from people who know how to formulate them.

I can close my eyes and relive the feeling of that Monday afternoon way back then. The Yankees were 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox in July. Two months later they were three games ahead. One week later they were in a dead heat. Ninety-nine wins each. Both teams met on the ancient Beantown stage in the autumnal shadows of Fenway Park to decide six months of a season and sixty years of curse and rancor.

I had nothing to do with much of it. I had only been on the planet less than two decades, spent one decade living in an apartment ten minutes from Yankee Stadium, and for some reason I saw enough reason to attach some part of my psyche, my hopes, and my breathless sense of being to a baseball game. During it, the damn thing seemed almost apocalyptic, a madness borne of these moments that stick, despite their otherwise innocuousness.

Innocuousness for a sixteen year-old kid sitting in his living room in Freehold, NJ, but not for one, Russell Earl “Bucky” Dent, whose life changed that day. He was a light hitting poster-boy shortstop who had nearly quit the game a year earlier in a fit of frustrated anger, the kind young men sometimes wrestle with.

In the seventh inning, with 162 games and sixty years on the line, Mr. Dent hit his third or fourth home run of the 1978 season barely clearing a mythical thirty-seven foot monolith called the Green Monster to erase a two-run deficit and allow the Yankees to win the game 5-4. In all corners of New England he would no longer be Russell, Earl or Bucky, but the infamous, Bucky “fucking” Dent. Another of the Bambino’s imps from Hades sent to torture the bastion of the Lord.

Hold it. I’m there right now.

Suffice to say, I tried putting these thoughts about satellite emotions attached to sporting events into what was to be my first book about six times in fifteen years. I talked to nearly everyone living who played on both teams, and have had drinks with at least ten people who were in the place that day. I’d dissected the tar out of it, and it was a labor of love for a while, but alas, for millions of reasons, I never finished that book. Since, three others sort of got in the way.

A veteran of the business, and arguably the finest sportswriter this country has produced, helped and inspired me to finish that damn thing. His name is Roger Kahn, who wrote the quintessential baseball book called “The Boys of Summer” when I was nine or ten years old. I read it in the fateful summer of 1978. In the early 90s’ he became a friend and a mentor, while I was making my way around major league parks as a professional. I even ran into him during one of the World Series I covered, and felt I’d let him down somehow.

Well, this past summer Roger picked me up and released his gazillionth book called “October Men” about the game and the summer and that magical autumn late afternoon. His publisher sent me a copy. I read it twice. It is more than I could have done, naturally, and I’m happy for it. The story is deeper than I can go here, but Roger more than managed to hit its “high white note” with a sting worthy of an aging wordsmith viper.

I’ve covered elections, sporting events, wrote songs and poetry and ran madly and strongly with jewel friends and passing ghosts and fell in love with the coolest woman on the planet. I have wrestled with the big boys and toiled in the back alleys, and no matter where I may be at any point, I still recall this “high white note”.

So, on this anniversary of small miracles and stolen moments, close those peepers and gather up yours.

Be my guest.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Read More


North County 1/18/01 REALITY CHECK


What transpired last Friday night at Peekskill High School during the closing seconds of one of the finest basketball games I had the pleasure to broadcast can be best described as a mistake. Most riots start out that way. And make no mistake about this, there was a riot in that gym, and to be in there for five seconds was nothing short of frightening. No one seems to want to talk about it, least of all those held overtly responsible for the actions of its students. But although those in positions of responsibility like to deflect the issues related to such a mess, there has to be reconciliation with the truth here.

Firstly, the security people were excellent. The police presence was optimum. And although the game, an overtime thriller between JFK and Peekskill, was hard fought and at times highly volatile, there was little reason why there should have been an atmosphere on the brutish level displayed before the incident occurred. This includes an angered contingent of youth pelting other fans with food and coins, a consistent rain of ringing expletives and the type of pack mentality conducive for bad trouble.

For twelve seasons now I’ve worked local cable broadcasts for a variety of high school athletic events. A good deal of them took place on the otherwise peaceful Peekskill campus, but I have never felt as vulnerable to verbal, and more importantly, bodily harm than I have over the past year. I must address this now; even at the risk of loosing some of the work I truly love.

Whether these were actually students, local punks or just silly children with misguided agendas, they were an integral part of the evening’s unfortunate ending. But it must be said that for every one of those who would have jumped at any chance to cause mayhem, there were two or three more embarrassed for them. They were also scared, and mostly troubled about what kind of angst could make a person run from the stands of a basketball game and sucker punch a defenseless athlete in the back of the head. They would have most certainly been saddened at the sight of that athlete emotionally broken down in his coach’s arms in the visitor’s locker room after the game. And they might have cringed to think that when it was over he and his teammates would need a police escort home.

Maybe those concerned kids I spoke to, as the police tried desperately to bring order to this event, might want to speak out against spiteful thugs who choose a measure of hate over restraint. Perhaps they’d want to tell them that pride in your school and community starts with self-respect. And just maybe they’d want their parents to force those paid to make decisions on scheduling, security and the safety of their children to face the raw fact that although every school has these potential problems, Peekskill has now hosted two major brawls within a calendar year.

Last season’s full-scale melee at the conclusion of the Hen Hud/Peekskill affair turned out to be the fault of someone rooting for Hendrick Hudson; another case of a boisterous ass flexing whatever load of unchecked testosterone was running through his perturbed system. This ignited a fight not unlike last Friday’s. We taped and aired that fight, and to my ultimate consternation, were prompted by Peekskill Supervisor, Dr. Sal Corda not to air the footage the scheduled second time or risk not being able to cover games at Peekskill again. Corda’s reasoning was protection of the school’s reputation. After our lengthy debate on freedom of the press and my responsibility to an audience and sponsors to bring the story, the whole story, to the fore, the tape did not air again. Despite the nagging voice of my journalistic id, I chose to put the athletes and the broadcast in front of hard reporting. In essence, Dr. Corda won and the truth lost.

Since the Hen Hud mess, Peekskill promoted Art Blank to athletic director, and to his credit, he has taken a no-nonsense approach to the presentation of boys’ football and basketball games. So it isn’t as if the incident went completely without address, but fifteen minutes after the wave of Friday’s ugliness subsided, Blank was offered a chance to immediately address the proceedings and defend the honor of the school’s predominantly well-behaved students and overworked security on camera. He hesitated, then, declined, acting like a man unable to speak for the whole. But if not him, Dr. Corda, or myself who will?

For twelve seasons now I’ve worked local cable broadcasts for a variety of high school athletic events. A good deal of them took place on the otherwise peaceful Peekskill campus, but I have never felt as vulnerable to verbal, and more importantly, bodily harm than I have over the past year. I must address this now; even at the risk of loosing some of the work I truly love.

This has nothing to do with the athletes, the coaches or the hard-working volunteers, but someone has to take a hit for this latest eruption of violence, get up and make an aggressive stand to confront the perpetrators and grab their school back. Certainly the parents of those using these events as springboards to potential bedlam deserve the true blame, but at the center of both these incidents, to which I have been a first-hand observer, the best the Peekskill hierarchy can provide is spin doctoring. Whether it’s parents or staff, or perhaps myself this time, someone must face these events head-on with a respect for the whole truth and not a Pollyanna view buried in the sand.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Read More

A Subway Series Memoir – James Campion’s 2000 World Series Journal.

Aquarian Weekly 11/22/00

Subway Series Memoir Part II – (read part I)

And so the crazed and frenzied follow this mess over bridges and under tunnels, digesting hype-job articles about the Mets being wimps and the Yankees stomping their psyches, and broadcasters calling for a full-scale war. This is the atmosphere for the third game of this Subway Series, pulling into the parking lot of Shea Stadium and the circus maximus provided by every radio station in the tri-state area. Unlike the grandeur of Yankee Stadium, this is an edifice built on the fumes of 1950s’ affluence and 1960s’ swirl, the place where the Beatles played and Joe Willie Namath used football sidelines for a fashion show. This is the home of miracles and strange happenings in post-season affairs. This is where the Yankees aim to continue an unfathomable 14-game World Series winning streak.

Teams that win 14 consecutive games in June are hailed as something of a juggernaut. In October it is ridiculous. And as the media throng descends on this orange and blue building, and the fans pour in carrying hundreds of placards screaming, “BELIEVE”, many think this could be another Yankees Fall Classic sweep. Tim McCarver, Fox analyst sent packing by the Mets and onto the Yanks to dissect the bunt forty ways to Sunday, was standing at a urinal in the Stadium Press box Saturday night bemoaning the Mets verve. “This is the World Series for crying out loud,” he whined. “You think these guys could run out a ground ball?”

Believing is good, but made better when Orlando Hernandez is considered “due for a loss”. The Yankees Cuban defector ace is 8-0 in October games. But the Mets are loose and play games with each other’s motivation before the first pitch, hanging with N’Sync who appear more like lost boys from the Con Ed bus trip than a pop group. One kid with blonde, curly hair asks me where the exit is and I cannot help but lead while asking him politely to sing the national anthem better than Billy Joel. “What?” he says, mouth agape. “Just do it,” I order.

N’Sync found the exit, kicked ass on the hardest melody to negotiate through a public address speaker, and by the eighth inning the Mets were tired of stumbling and threw up a two spot to take a 4-2 lead into the ninth that, this time, would not be relinquished. World Series win-streak halted, El Duque defeated. Strange happenings for road teams in October and life in this series.

Wednesday night there is an air that all had been tossed into some cauldron of doubt and pressure. Now we have a contest, a meaning to this push-and-shove, but there is an old adage that a series cannot be considered competitive until the road team gets one. That is what the eyes of Yankees wonder boy, Derek Jeter says. He tells us that he is lucky to be with a team that provides him three rings in four years. “The problem with other teams is that they don’t have this kid,” NY Times, stalwart, Dave Anderson tells me. He is one of only a handful of reporters here to actually cover a Subway Series. “Jeter is one of the best players I’ve ever seen in any sport,” he smiles.

The optimistic air of Shea and the cheering and the believing takes a hit when Jeter deposits the first pitch of game 4 into the left-field pavilion. By the fifth, the Yanks hold a 3-2 lead and Torre goes to the bullpen for David Cone. The once proud starter, relentlessly pummeled throughout the season, is asked to get one out, Mike Piazza, the Mets catcher and recent controversy tornado. Piazza had homered previously. Cone pops him up. Through the next four innings both teams threaten, but the Yankees win.

The mood changes immediately.

The next night, what would turn out to be the final game of the long-awaited Subway Series, goes on without me. I am physically and mentally ill. Constant parades of meaningless sound bites and media cramming, along with rapacious Woodstock-like merchandising, has rendered me unable to attend what becomes a coronation of a team that everyone with half an inkling about this game knew was going to find a way to win the last game of the year.

So from the comfort of my couch, and not those lame auxiliary media seats five hundred feet above home plate with the biting winds creasing the back of my head, I watch Al Leiter and Andy Pettitte chase the echoes of Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax. Both are brilliant from the start and pitch their hearts out, but Leiter leaves a hard-luck loser. The Yanks scratch a two-run lead in the ninth with another string of two-out hits and walks, and when that Piazza guy drives a ball to the fence and it nestles into Bernie Williams’ glove the historical becomes history.

Since 1995 the core of this Yankees team has battled for championships, winning four. Along the way they have broken records, set impossible standards, and overcome every obstacle from disease, addiction, age and pressure. Still, facing the Subway Series with nothing more to gain, but much to lose, may have been their greatest challenge. Veteran’s Paul O’Neil and Tino Martinez hit, Martiano Rivera pitches, and Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter.

There is no way the Yankees could lose this one and make it feel alright. The Mets can speak of “close games” and “almosts”, they were pushing an envelope unopened. But when you win, like this Yankees team wins, you are expected to keep winning. This is especially true in New York where silly slogans and happy tunes are suddenly replaced by yesterday’s news for the “once golden.” From spring training to champagne pouring, it is always win or nothing for the New York Yankees, the boys of autumn.

Tough chore. Tought team.

Maybe the best in three or four generations, or a Subway Series ago.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

Read More

A Subway Series Memoir – James Campion’s 2000 World Series Journal

Aquarian Weekly 11/15/00

A Subway Series Memoir (Part I)

After ten years of covering baseball in one form or another, and entering my third consecutive season entertaining a journalistic meandering at the World Series, it is easy to see from the moment I glide off the Deegan Expressway toward Yankee Stadium that these will not be games, but times. These are times that this cathedral of baseball has known for nearly 80 years. Times from Harlem and the Polo Grounds to times in the friendly band box in Brooklyn called Ebbets Field, where the hated Yankees took 11 of 14 Subway Series building an impossible resume of winning. This was long before the times in the 60s’ when the National League came back to New York in the form of the hapless, but lovable NY Mets.

Thousands of people, hundreds of vendors and little walking room in the expansive courtyard surrounding this building, where the air is unseasonably warm, but thick with smoke and voices and music. Rock concert and a professional wrestling buzz cuts through a sport better suited for picnics and beaches, an urban, bucolic flavor that is both tense and uplifting the way Manhattan can be on any given night. It is the core of New York City when New York City embraces being the center of the world.

Inside the ballpark, down in its bowels with the sporting press and grunts and celebrities groping for a glimmer of the spotlight backwash, the atmosphere is even more cramped. The makeshift interview room is mobbed to listen to Yankees manager, Joe Torre. He is looking eerily calm despite the weight of four worlds on him. His team is attempting to do something only four other teams had done previously; win a third consecutive world championship. And his team will be asked to do it by beating another New York team in the first such a World Series since 1956.

The owner doesn’t like losing to the Mets in exhibition games, much less the grandest stage. George Steinbrenner was so worried he might give the Mets locker room fodder through a rankled slip of the lip he didn’t even attend the Yankees pennant celebration a few days earlier. Despite his team’s recent success, this is for all the cards in the deck. Torre knows this well. He says he doesn’t like people comparing this series to ones in June or July or any Mayor’s Trophy. His shortstop, Derek Jeter told me after the Yankees won the pennant a few days ago, “Forget that other stuff about rivalries, this is for the championship.” Secretly, the people upstairs didn’t want any part of the Mets. My friend, and general manager, Brian Cashman assures me that I don’t want to be any part of him over the next ten days.

Mets manager, Bobby Valentine also appears relaxed. He doesn’t carry the same pressure as Torre, save the millions of Mets fans who are sick and tired of surrendering the Big Apple to the condescending Yankees fans and the inevitable band-wagon chic who don pinstripes to feel a part of something. But Valentine’s team didn’t even win its division and it is the first time the franchise has been in one of these in 14 years. In fact, he spends most of his press conference defending his team’s right to battle history. “The Yanks are not as good as they once were,” says Mets eclectic reliever, Turk Wendell. “We’ll win in five,” Hawaiian born, left fielder, Benny Agbayani tells Howard Stern and Regis Philbin. No one wants to lose a Subway Series, but no one wants to feel they don’t belong. “We’re good too,” Valentine tells us.

From the moment the capacity crowd begins its crescendo of noises with the seesaw chants of “Let’s go Yankees” and “Let’s go Mets”, the opening game is as tight as a sealed drum. The Mets take a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning. The Yankees win in the twelfth. One young man repeatedly stabs another young man in the chest in a sports bar eight miles from my house over a baseball argument. But at nearly 2:00 am in the Bronx there are still hundreds of people waiting for the players to get in their cars or board the buses pointing toward Queens. The city that never sleeps goes overtime.

The next night there is talk of the Mets’ star slugger, Mike Piazza’s beaning at the hands of the Yankees’ newest villian, Roger Clemens earlier in the season. Even though the pitcher is from Boston and the catcher is from L.A, this is a NY thang.

Piazza’s teammates want to get Clemens back and the macho posturing reaches epic levels by game time. This brings rolling eyes and pooh-poohs from the veteran press, who think it beneath them to scour such depths of sensationalism when just playing a World Series entirely inside one town is enough. They convene for hours in the print room, literally rubbing elbows while tickling laptops, downing gallons of coffee and tearing off miles of chewing gum. Buried under a barrage of literature, stats and numbers, never to be used by anyone not acting as a nerdish, baseball actuary, they rumor, they curse, and they write anything twice. This is their turf.

In the first inning of game two, amid the flashbulbs and squeals, Piazza’s bat cracks in half and the splintered barrel fatefully skids toward Clemens’ feet. The pitcher whips it at the Piazza’s feet. Defacto commissioner and emissary of Satan, Bud Selig sees riot flashing before his eyes from his box seat as the Fox people call Los Angeles and tell them to run post-game polls. Organist, Eddie Layton plays a soothing tune. Piazza screams. Clemens points. The benches empty, but nothing happens. Yanks enter the ninth up 6-0, as Clemens did the rest of his intimidation, 2-hit shutout routine with the ball. Mets rally late against the Yankees bullpen, but lose again 6-5.

Clemens tells us he thought the bat was the ball, and more about never seeing anyone or “no intent.” Boston writers attack him and Torre with spiteful, if not useful, questions. Torre, forced to defend this lunacy, threatens to walk out of the press conference. Later, Piazza laughs and says something about it all being “bizarre.” Valentine claims to be the only man in NYC to not see anything. Mets utility man, Lenny Harris wants to fist fight Clemens right there in the hallway below the Stadium. “We have to go to their house now,” says Yankees centerfielder, Bernie Williams. “We’ll see.”


Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

Read More

james campion.com

Aquarian Weekly 9/27/00 REALITY CHECK


Nothing is worse than authority, except, of course, abusive authority, or abusive, teacher/coach, dickweed authority. And no one over the past quarter century has cornered the market on that then Bobby Knight, who used his abused players to win a ton of basketball games and three National Championships for him. Now his employer over the length of this unprecedented reign of atavistic terror, Indiana University, has finally seen fit to fire his sorry ass.

As laughable as that may sound, a university allowing a man to physically and emotionally wreak havoc on officials, NCAA employees, players, students, faculty and the media, while lauding him as a font of society, it is all sadly true. Even in sacking him, members of the board could not bring themselves to revisit the details of Knight’s latest grabbing and berating of a student for not referring to him as “Mr. Knight.” Instead they watered down this predictable ugliness by pointing out in excruciatingly long and tiresome fashion that he didn’t respect fundraisers, the board of trustees or professors. These infractions were, of course, all fine and dandy when the man was winning, but he hasn’t been doing much of that lately, with early exits in the national tournament.

The truth is Knight should have been bounced the second these overpaid pedantic jokers saw video of this cretin choking a player on May 15. That wasn’t enough. They needed a four-month review of his chair-throwing, head-butting, expletive-laced tirades, many on video and well documented, for over two decades. Then they took the onus off themselves and put it on this nut by imposing on him impossible guidelines under the heading of a “no-tolerance policy.” They were still working on the parameters of this mess when Knight accosted the kid.

Before the hammer came down, Knight pathetically performed an impromptu discussion session with reporters, complete with visuals and reenactments, in order to deflect what he surely knew would be his swansong. Throughout, he used the same smug tone that turned every other one of his boorish acts of savage lunacy into something akin to the late Mother Teresa coddling the starving children of Calcutta. His cushy place in denial-land continued during a live interview on ESPN days after the firing when he seriously wondered why no one explained what “zero-tolerance” meant.

To say the very least, university president, Myles Brand dropped the ball on this one. For years he, and the legacy of cash-bloated basketball pimps at Indiana, chose to look the other way as Knight piled up an embarrassing litany of belligerent violence wrapped up nicely under the guise of discipline and leadership. Turns out their fat coach/god was having trouble disciplining himself.

Indiana University’s hypocrisy notwithstanding, Bobby Knight is everything wrong with the always-prevalent jock mentality in sports. Everyone reading this, especially us rough and tumble male types who played any sport, can remember having some sick oaf screaming or ranting at them. This used to pass for hard-edged teaching in an age of stupidity that had the expression of any emotion beyond anger as sissy, fag stuff to be ridiculed and suppressed. Bobby Knight is its product, a small, but annoying mutation spanning centuries of macho bloodletting.

Knight started this psycho garbage at the home office for berating, West Point. This agenda is all fun and frolic in the secret society of the U.S. Army because these victims of mental anguish reside outside the structure of American culture. This is the reason that when one of them is released from their duty they are once again considered civilians. Civility has no place in the training of men to rip, roar and kill, but playing a sport at a major college for millions of dollars a year pumped into a voracious system is another story.

The saddest part of the Bob Knight story, and its endless parade of fiascos dancing along side it, is that he survived every incident with the respect reserved for conquering heroes. Didn’t we call him “the general” with a smirk, waiting impatiently for that moment when his head would explode in a vein-popping crimson globe during every game? How we chuckled at his constant derision of officials. After all, we would like to be the ones nearly strangling the dumb fucks for not calling a foul on that last play. We need to win these games so much we turn into maniacs at the sight of a human mistake. Somehow Knight’s blow-ups became an extension of our own tired act.

So now the crazies on the Indiana campus scream and yell for Brand’s head on a platter and burn likenesses of Knight’s latest victim in effigy. They threaten to kill and pillage for their hero. They love their basketball and their icons and paint Knight as a martyr for the glory of the game.

Many of Knight’s defenders cite his clean NCAA record. He never broke any recruiting rules and made sure his players went to class and at least attempted to graduate. But that is the same logic that has abusive fathers and husbands passing muster because they pay the bills and tuck the kids into bed.

Bobby Knight has many psychological problems. These problems have been excused by being defining as old-fashioned values and stringent methods. You know, back in the day when screaming, belittling, choking and pushing was a sign of love and authority.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Read More


Genesis Magazine 9/00

CBS Sports number one NFL analyst dissects Instant Replay, defends parody and puts the big money fishbowl of pro football into persepective…

For 15 grueling seasons Phil Simms played quarterback for the New York Giants. In that time he was sacked more than any other signal caller and heard the jeers of fans who expected him to be the next Y.A. Tittle. Even after leading the franchise to its first play-off birth in 18 seasons, he felt the sting of reports that someone somowhere could do a better job.

That all changed in 1986 when his Giants won a Super Bowl highlighted by his MVP performance. Simms completed a record 22-25 on a day he has admitted time and again was destined to be his. Four years later Simms had the Giants at 10-1 before suffering a season-ending foot injury and missing the team’s second triumph in the big game.

But when he retired in 1994 Simms’ left behind a resume that put him in the pantheon of Giants greats that has his name bandied about in Hall Of Fame discussions. During his tenure behind center those who swore he’d be missed once he was gone were proven right. Since his last game the Giants have had a host of starting QB’s with little to no success.

When Simms headed for the broadcast booth a few years later he became NBC’s fastest rising analyst. Calling Super Bowls and even Olympic events he combines an honest, no-nonsense style that speaks to fans aboove the din of professional sports hyperbole. When the network lost its football package, rival CBS scooped up the talented Simms and made him its lead anylist.

Mostly, Simms is anything but shy when discussing the game he’s loved for most of his life, a game he cites as a daily lesson learned everyday he slipped on a helmet. He doesn’t appologize for defending the National Football League, but he sees its faults and potential greatness better than most.

As the league enters the 21st century the man many have called a “thowback” sees both sides clearly. From Instant Replay to Free Agency, Salary Caps and a wide open run for the Super Bowl each year, Phil Simms still views the game as both beauty and grit, talent and effort, and most of all, a 60 minute drama filled with subplots and heroes played out over frigid Sundays of grandeur.

It was a tough year for the NFL, with the Ray Lewis trial, the Ray Caruth incident down in Carolina and the death of Derrick Thomas. Most of the off-season news has been negative for the league.

I’m not going to let a couple of incidences destroy everything the league is all about. Yes, there has been some very bad publicity. It has been extremely unfortunate, but does that change the way that I personally look at the NFL? No, it does not. I still view it as a great league, great entertainment and I always say this — it is made up of a lot of outstanding people. That’s from owners on down to the players. Most of the players.

I have high regard for the way many of the players go about their business on and off the field, the way they play and the way they live their lives. There’s always going to be trouble. Now, these are extraordinary cases this past off-season. What happened to Derrick Thomas is an incredible tragedy. But there is always going to be some trouble when you’re playing in the spotlight of the NFL. You’re a high profile athlete with so many people involved peripherally. There’s going to be trouble always. You and I both know that in that spotlight, it’s always going to be a big deal. Everyone is looking.

Certainly, three bad stories are always more interesting than hundreds of good ones.

C’mon, people really don’t care about those. They want to read about bad stuff. They want to hear about accidents and crime on television. That’s what sells. And I’m not saying that has anything to do with what happened this past off-season. I’m not apologizing for Ray Carruth. Derrick Thomas? He did a lot of good things in Kansas City. Was he a saint? By no means, he was not. He’s like a lot of young people. He liked to have fun. He made mistakes in his life. He also took time out to share his good fortune with a lot of kids. Athletes need to be commended for a lot of the good things too. He should be remembered for that.

I think we do forget that these are young men maturing in the limelight.

That is a wonderful point. You’ve got young men who play in a sport with tremendous high visibility and all of a sudden you have fame and money that most men their ages, or any age for that matter, will ever have. And that allows you to do so much more, but also puts you in different atmospheres and environments when you’re doing it. And you’ve got to be careful.

That’s the one thing that upsets me about players in the league. You’ve just got to know that people are watching all the time. You’ve got a different set of standards to live by. That’s the way it is. Deal with it. You better know that when you mess up it’s going to be big news.

Big news last year was the return of Instant Replay. Are you a proponent of it, and, if so, do you think it was used correctly this time around?

Wasn’t a big deal either way. That play at the end of the Tennesee-Buffalo play-off game. What did that replay tell you? If someone says to me it was definitely a forward pass I’d have to say get a life! How many times can you look at it? It was inconclusive.

That drives everyone nuts.

But it was inconclusive! Is replay perfect? No. Is it useful? Absolutely. It stops the really big-time errors like the Vinnie Testerverde non-touchdown in 1998. It eliminates a lot of the controversy a high percentage of the time. I don’t think people, writers, announcers and many fans know the rules with replay. It leads to further confusion. It has to be conclusive to overturn a play. It has to be clear cut, otherwise there is no point. All replay can do is take the pressure off the officials and put it on the coaches. That’s the way the NFL wants it. One thing is for sure, it’s here to stay.

Parity is the big word around the league now.

That’s because nobody can come up with something else, so they just throw this “parity” around. (sing-song) Parity! Parity! “Who’s gonna win the Super Bowl this year?” I honestly don’t know. “Parity!”

You have to admit though that in the past two seasons you had four completely different teams in the championship games. Two seasons ago the Atlanta Falcons went worst to first. Then last season it was first to worst. Who could’ve predicted the St. Louis Rams winning the Super Bowl after going 3-13 the year before?

Listen, parity is happening in every sport. It’s in college sports too. Take the college basketball now. Even though you have Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and all those programs that can have a tremendous advantage, who can go out an basically hand-pick who they want, still does not guarantee them winning the tournament.

There are just more talented players available to more teams. A program can only recruit a certain number of players. There are much more out there for other programs. And how that correlates to the National Football League is that there are so many more talented football players available than anytime before.

But the league has set it up where with the way the draft is conducted from worst record selecting first to best picking last, and the fifth place schedule being easier than the first place schedules. This was the late Pete Rozell’s dream, to have it truly be “on any given Sunday.”

It’s true. The gap between the top athlete to the bottom athlete in all sports has changed dramatically. That’s the main difference in the league today to when I played. The mid-level player is better. The level of play between the superstar and the role player is no longer as glaring. Of course, the system helps. Worst team drafting first and free agency keeps the talent pool spread out.

Would you say that free agency has been the biggest change in the league in the last few decades?

I always say — and I never hear anyone agreeing with me either — the biggest change in the league is coaching! Coaching has gotten so much better. It’s hard for coaches to go out on a Sunday and out-coach the other team. Winning because you’re a better coach is not as much a factor now.

When I was playing back in the mid-eighties to the late-eighties we had three or four games a year that I knew we couldn’t lose because the coach on the other sideline wasn’t going to let us lose. He was going to mess it up eventually. You can’t say that as much anymore. The coaching today is more aggressive and highly inventive, and it’s nearly impossible for a team to gain an edge with the X’s and O’s like we did in the past.

Speaking about a coach who gained an edge on your sideline when you played, Bill Parcells has called it quits after a very successful career. You guys have remained friends over the years. You did the New York Jets pre-game shows the past two years. But you two are inseparable not only as legendary coach and quarterback. You had your acrimony and mutual respect, an almost father/son battle.

I was giving a talk in front of a group recently and somebody raised their hand and asked if I was a general manager, what kind of coach would I look for, and told him I want a guy like Bill Parcells every time. Does he have to put off the persona Bill does? Does he have to be media savvy? Not at all. I want a guy who can stand up there and inspire people. And I don’t mean some speech before the game, “Let’s go win!” Nobody cares by then. Can he inspire people to make them work harder –physically and mentally– than they want to without alienating them? You have to somehow find a way to relate to the players on about 20 different levels, because that’s what you have in that locker room.

You can hire coaches to do X’s and O’s for you, but to create a working atmosphere that will allow people to excel, that’s the trick. There are a lot of coaches out there who can make it look good on the blackboard, but can you make those people do all the little extra things during the off-season and during the week that make them excel on Sunday. That’s what a great boss does. That was Bill Parcells when he coached.

Did you ever consider coaching?

People asked me that all the time, and that was my goal in life. I wanted to play and then try the coaching thing. It does fulfill a lot of things I love like teaching. But it’s too late for me. I’ve been out of the game too long. The game is progressing so fast. I’ve forgotten a lot of the little finer things.

No kidding?

To run the ball off tackle takes tremendous work. Just designing one play to block 40 different fronts and all these defensive looks. I don’t have the time. I’m 45 years-old. By the time I put in my five years of work I’d be in my mid-fifites before I could take on the job of head coach. I’m not that patient and I don’t think I’m tough enough anymore. I couldn’t go in there at six every morning and work until ten, eleven every night of the week. I’ve gotten spoiled doing what I do. I’m just trying to hang onto this job.

You’re one of the top analysts in the game now. How hard was it making the transition from the guy who has to deflect the media, to the objective journalist getting the story and reporting on it live?

Anytime you change jobs it’s tough. The one thing I had going for me is I really love the sport. I love talking about football at any level. It intrigues me. It was getting down the mechanics of the business that took time. Taking the expressions in the locker room that may take awhile to translate and getting it across in under a minute on television. Then, it’s… “can you do the same thing in 20 seconds because a minute is way too long.”

It’s a lot like playing. I say this all the time — if you really like what you’re doing it will work. If you’re doing it for some other reason, forget it. If I was broadcasting NFL games strictly for the money, I think it would show in the work. It’s like a professional athlete getting to that level because they love the work. The money comes as a result of that. Sometimes the money gets in the way, but the first thing is the love of it. And the first time I’m not loving it anymore you’ll say, “You know, he’s not as good as he used to be.”

John Madden has his thing. Now you have Phil Simm’s All-Iron Team. What would be the number one credential to making the squad?

The player’s just gotta be eaten up with it. He’s gotta be obsessed with trying to do his best. Does he have to be the best player? No necessarily. You’ve just got to live and die the game. It has to be part of you. Mostly it’s the second tier guy that gets in. Hey, even though I’m an ex-quarterback I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them. They have a chance to be stars. I’m looking for guys who are really out there working and no one is paying attention to them when they should be.

Last year we gave a truck to fullback, Sam Gash because he’s out there making the play develop while nobody is noticing him at all. Anytime the skill people are out there having great games it’s because someone else is busting it and allowing them to excel on the football field.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

Read More

The Top 25 Sports Personalities – Author James Campion’s list for the most influential athletes ever.


East Coast Rocker 7/3/96 The Last Shot


Just a little Star Spangled food for thought this Fourth of July. I submit the list that will launch a thousand Independence Day picnic arguments. Upon the festival celebrating our nation’s birthday the roll call of the 25 most influential, celebrated, infamous, and far reaching figures of the 20th Century in American sports.

Now, before you break out the heavy verbal artillery and call me those names usually left for those really ugly donnybrooks, I only spent 24 hours on this list. So don’t be calling the poor editors of this paper up around Christmas time to tell them what form of torture I should be subjected to before snuffing me out all together. I might have left somebody out who might otherwise belong, but that’s the beauty of lists, and more importantly, the beauty of sports lists. So read along at your own risk and just try and dispute the greatness before thee.

1. Muhammad Ali – Transcended all sports and was the most recognizable and influential figure in the latter half of a century dominated by the black athlete. Saved the sport of boxing and used the lofty pulpit of the heavyweight championship to exalt the underdog, express his freedom, and spread his love of God and man. Ali not only belongs at the top of this list, but near the top of any list of Americans period.

2. Babe Ruth – Professional sports first superstar. The most famous man on the planet who didn’t commandeer an army. Saved the national pastime after the 1919 World Series gambling allegations and then proceeded to change the game by introducing a little thing called the home run. The Bambino was not only the best everyday baseball player ever, he was probably the best pitcher as well. He practically invented the American sports hero as celebrity.

3. Jackie Robinson – The bravest man to ever don a uniform in any sport or era. He not only changed a game, but an entire country, by just stepping on a field. His pulling on a Brooklyn Dodgers hat was the most important event in American sports history. And, by the way, he was a damn good ballplayer who scared the hell out of opponents the moment he hit first base.

4. Billie Jean King – The mother of all modern women athletes. She stood in the face of pressures way beyond tennis and was always the rock from which respect was built. King stopped the nation cold when she wiped up Bobby Riggs in the Astrodome. She came a long way, baby.

5. Jim Thorpe – Arguably the greatest pure athlete this country has ever produced. A true American who re-invented any sport you’d put in front of him. Thorpe became a martyr for all amateur athletes and Olympic hopefuls when the government stripped him of his medals. The century’s shining beacon and hero of native Americans for eighty years.

6. Knute Rockne – The quintessential American coach. Invented modern football and the author of more inspirational speeches than anyone before or since. Ask the Gipper.

7. Joe Namath – Changed the pay structure of modern sport. A rebel, a hippie, a late night ladies’ man with a thirst for whiskey and mink coats. My first hero and the last hero to sport white shoes. There is no #12 or Super Bowl without him. I guarantee it.

8. Howard Cosell – The most hated man in America for an entire decade. Still the only true journalist in the history of sports, Cosell attended and commented on nearly every important sporting event of his time. There is no Monday Night Football without him. Just telling it like it is

9. Michael Jordan – Biggest sports star on the planet today. Solidified top ten status after the incredible events of this past year when he returned from a two-year hiatus after the death of his father to reclaim his kingdom as champion and finest to play the game. Nobody ever dominated a team sport more completely.

10. Joe Louis – Pound for pound the greatest pure boxer of all time? Yes. Threw the first punch of World War II when he dropped Max Schmelling in a title bout.

11. Curt Flood – Decided he wasn’t anyone’s property one hundred years after the Civil War, and as a result, established the voice of the professional athlete. Free agents of all sports owe him a feast of thanks.

12. Jesse Owens – The father of American track and field. Joined Joe Louis in running circles around racist dogma.

13. Joe DiMaggio – Elegance, grace, and power. Defined a nation and married Marilyn Monroe. “Where have you gone…?”

14. Mickey Mantle – The only man who could have followed Joltin’ Joe. The Hercules of the Baby Boomer Generation.

15. Willie Mays – The human highlight reel.

16. Red Auerbach – Eleven consecutive championships? Look it up

17. Secretariat – The crown jewel in the sport of kings.

18. Pete Rozelle – Fall, Sunday afternoons, pro football

19. Red Smith – THE American sportswriter.

20. Walter O’Malley – Villain.

21. Rocky Marciano – Undefeated.

22. Arthur Ashe – Hero of humankind.

23. Arnold Palmer – Don’t care about golf. Cared about Arnie.

24. Jim Brown – Unstoppable.

25. O.J. Simpson – Notorious

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

Read More

The Legacy and Legend of Howard Cosell ‘s eulogy to an American broadcasting icon.

North County 4/26/95


Howard CosellThis country has not known a more influential journalist than Howard Cosell. His innate ability to dissect an event, infiltrate a personality and offer honest analysis at the point of attack made him a unique voice in an otherwise antiseptic profession. The resonance of his talent is an echo in the world of reporting today, but it is a faint reminder of the man whose voice served as a sonic boom that shook the walls and shattered the windows of broadcasting.

Ironically, Cosell died quietly this past weekend after a private three-year battle with cancer at the age of 77. The doctor’s report told the world it was a heart embolism, but anyone who knew anything about the attorney with a microphone and the massive chip on his hunched shoulder was convinced that he was too stubborn to succumb to anything, much less a deadly disease.

His staccato delivery was immediate legend, his hawkish looks an instant caricature and his powerful ego a massive hammer swung sometimes with little control, if not definite, direction. These were the odd attributes that combined to make Cosell a superstar among faceless haircuts and scribbling notepads. But his greatest asset was that he was utterly fearless. There was no crusade too big, no injustice too imposing, and no human power too intimidating for his prodding sarcasm and razor-sharp wit. “I tell it like it is,” was his catch-phrase.

“I did what I believed in,” he reflected to a reporter a few years ago. “I saw myself as a person who wanted to bring to public attention that which I thought was wrong. No more. No less.”

Throughout the 60s’ and 70s’ the appearance of Cosell at a sporting event signified its importance. If there was ever a question of its relevance, it was answered by his presence alone.

He was the living embodiment of the first amendment and the shining example of what truths can be uncovered by the oft-challenged “freedom of press”.

Not unlike John F. Kennedy and the Beatles, Howard Cosell was a figure perfectly fit for the times in which he found himself. Ten years earlier, or perhaps, even ten years later, an editorial voice like Cosell’s might have been shoved aside as too assertive, or worse yet, ignored altogether. But in the age following McCarthyism and the Red Scare, a country swirling in the tornado of events from Vietnam to Watergate we were just cynical and thick-skinned enough to handle him.

He could have covered any corner of the news, but chose sports because of the immediacy and likelihood of the impossible to explode at anytime. Moreover, he precociously knew sports needed him. “If ever a broadcaster sought to bring sports out of the banal,” he once mused, “this, you see, is my mission.”

Throughout the 60s’ and 70s’ the appearance of Cosell at a sporting event signified its importance. If there was ever a question of its relevance, it was answered by his presence alone. In one predictably pompous moment, he once compared his celebrity to Walter Cronkite. But unlike the security and warmth of Uncle Walty at the time of breaking news or crisis, Cosell exuded the fastidious tension of a literate watch dog that needed not only an answer, but the answer.

If there was no Howard Cosell, Muhammad Ali would have still been an icon for a generation locked in turbulence, people would’ve still crowded into bars on Monday nights to watch prime time football, the tragedy of the 1972 Munich Olympics would’ve had the same impact on a stunned and riveted television audience, Joe Willie Namath would still have his middle name, Chris Chambliss would’ve probably hit that homer to win the pennant for the Yankees, and Joe Frazier still would have tumbled to the canvas under the thunderous blow of the brooding force of young George Foreman.

Order Books by jc Now! Trailing Jesus Autographed CopyAmazon Barnes & Noble Fear No Art Autographed CopyAmazonBarnes & Noble Deep Tank Jersey Autographed CopyAmazonBarnes & Noble

The difference is that Cosell was there, and for some strange reason, we remember that. Cosell and the event seemed to take on an inseparable quality as time passed. Yet, despite his propensity to find a space in the spotlight of a sporting event, like an annoying relative trying to squeeze into a family snapshot, Cosell never usurped the game itself. He somehow joined its magnitude by riding along, often times actually becoming the only voice that mattered when the dust settled.

He could sense a story as it unfolded and enlarge its aura as if it were a moment already recorded, digested and reflected in history.

In this way, Cosell clung to the light and fury that was Muhammad Ali, arguably the largest sports figure of the 20th century. When the young heavyweight, Cassius Clay embraced the Muslim faith and changed his name, only Cosell would honor it by calling him Ali during interviews. When Ali fought the draft because of his religious beliefs, and was stripped of his championship belt, Cosell was there beside him.

Cosell’s interviews with the always poetic and vociferous Ali were masterpieces in entertainment. “I’ll take you out Cosell,” Ali would pronounce with that ever-present smile biting down on his bottom lip. “I’ll knock you out and take that rug off your head.”

“You wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me,” Cosell would quip in his laconic drone.

His powerful radio show, “Speaking of Sports” lasted the longest of any of his projects. Probably because he didn’t have to share the spotlight with anyone else. And when I was a kid, it punched its way through the mono speaker on my little portable every Sunday morning. He took on racism, the wrongful treatment of pro athletes by monolithic leagues, the absence of a commissioner for prize fighting; but it what made those shows special, was those priceless moments when a unsuspecting guest would need to wiggle out of a finger-pointing diatribe on the hypocrisy of something somewhere.

Cosell’s best-known pulpit was the crowded booth on of the most popular experiments in network history. Monday Night Football was the perfect place for his pedantry and bluster, and he made it his stage. A man who had never played the sport, offering strong commentary, most of it derisive, led to a TV Guide poll that during the mid 70s’ had him the most hated and most loved sportscaster of all.

After denouncing boxing as a “disgusting mess” and pro football as a “stagnant bore”, Howard Cosell rode off into the sunset, leaving a 35-year body of work in his indignant wake. His last public jab came in the form of his fourth book, What’s Wrong with Sports, a truculent attack on everything he ever encountered along the way. Cosell went out the way he came in–swinging.

Howard Cosell never received a big sendoff like Johnny Carson of Cronkite, but one would have to wonder if he would’ve either expected or embraced it. But every one of us who have ever offered an opinion or covered an event, or tried to procure a quote from a newsworthy subject have a debt to pay to Howard Cosell. Because in the end, reporting is the search for truth, and as a reporter, you’d hope a little justice prevails. Right or wrong, the reporter strives to, at the very least, make people think. That is Howard Cosell’s legacy.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

Read More
Page 4 of 6« First...«23456»