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Throwing in the towel

I'm not sure exactly when I started to obsess about professional sports. Maybe it was in 1983, when the Broncos drafted John Elway. Or maybe it was in the early '70s, when I lived in New York and followed the Mets, the Rangers and the Knicks. Or perhaps in the '50s, when I loved the Dodgers (Brooklyn Dodgers if you please -- the so-called Los Angeles Dodgers are just a bunch of sleazeball carpetbaggers, and so what if it's been 50 years!). Or maybe even in the '40s, when my mother, a Red Sox fan since her birth in 1898, thought that the splendid splinter, Ted Williams ("He looks like a poet," she used to sigh), could take the Bosox all the way.

It's been a long, leisurely, mostly pleasant ride. I remember Sam Hairston and Pat Serie playing at the end of their careers for the original Sky Sox at Memorial Park. Catfish Hunter staring down the Mets batters at Shea Stadium. Ernie Banks stepping to the plate for the Cubs on a cold spring day at Wrigley Field. Sitting in the south stands when Elway threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to beat -- Pittsburgh? Cincinnati? Frazier, Debusschere, Bradley and the Knicks in the championship year. Peter Forsberg circling the net three times, and finally flipping the puck impossibly over the goalie's shoulder. Doug Moe watching helplessly as the Kareem/Magic Lakers casually destroyed his Nuggets in the playoffs.

Yup, it's been wonderful, but it's over. I'm withdrawing, giving up my official Guy card, and banishing big professional sports from my consciousness. No more NFL, no more NBA, no more NHL, no more MLB. It won't be easy -- might as well ask a Frenchman to give up wine, or a Republican to stop hating the Clintons -- but I'm on the wagon, starting today.

Why? Are the tickets too expensive? Yes, but no. Are televised sports so commercial-ridden, so stuffed with loud-mouthed, boorish, know-nothing announcers -- not to mention empty-headed sideline bimbos -- that no sensible person can watch for more than five minutes? Yes, but no. Are you turned off by the preening and posturing of professional athletes -- most 'em overpaid, overprivileged, arrogant jerks? Yes, but no.

Let me tell you why. Like virtually everyone in America, I've been following "The Kobe Thing." And I have no particular opinion as to his guilt or innocence -- that's what a trial's for. But I've been appalled by the bullying nastiness of his attorneys, and the way in which they've sought to demonize, delegitimize and destroy his accuser.

And their tactics are working. According to her mother's account, as reported a few days ago, the accuser/victim has received hundreds, even thousands of threatening or obscene e-mails and phone calls, and is so harassed by the vipers of the trash media that she's had to move constantly for the last several months.

Meanwhile, the media are largely dancing to Kobe's tune. The Bonnie Fuller-edited Star had a fulsome little puff piece this week about how wonderful Kobe and his forgiving wife Vanessa are doing. The sports press, locally and nationally, are full of heartwarming little stories about Kobe's heroic performances despite the cloud hanging over him, blah. blah, blah.

Should we be surprised at all this? Of course not -- the NBA is big business, run by cold-eyed billionaires with an eye for the bottom line. They're not gonna let some 19-year-old reservations clerk derail their gravy train; they'll do whatever they have to do to keep Kobe out of the slammer.

At some point, I just did a figure-ground reversal. Why do I care? Why should I care whether one randomly selected group of very large guys beats another random group of very large guys? I care because they're mine -- don't they have my city's name on their back? Aren't they wearing my uniforms? And then the clincher: I realized that if Kobe were a Nugget, I'd be on his side, sure that he was just an innocent celebrity being victimized by a gold-digging slut.

So that's it: Big-time sport no longer seems like fun. Being a fan seems obsessive and crazy-making, like being addicted to Internet porn, or believing in UFOs. It's scary and exhilarating to think that I'm free -- no more playoffs, no more World Series, no more Stanley Cup, no more NFL season, no more Super Bowl.

But I can do it. I know I can do it ... I'm pretty sure I can do it ... I need a 12-step program! Hello, I'm John and I'm a sportaholic.

E-mail me ...

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

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