Don’t Rain on Our Parade
(Photo: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / June 17, 2009)
We’ve got to honor and respect the place of sports in society.
Following the Lakers’ world championship victory in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, there were reasons for L.A. fans to celebrate. A Lakers victory brought a well-deserved sense of pride to the players, and many messages to their fans. This Lakers team demonstrated some of the time-honored lessons of sports. They showed the beauty of athletic performance, the will to overcome adversity, the value of teamwork and individual leadership, and the determination to redeem oneself.
The arena of sports provides us with focused and measurable accomplishment. The invented constraints of time and regulations give the boundaries, while the immeasurable human forces of competition, determination and frustration give sports its spirit. At least since Greek times and the original Olympics, these things have been valued by Civilization. Kurt Streeter’s eloquent report from Eugene, Oregon on the Prefontaine Classic reminded us (“This is track as it should be”, Los Angeles Times, Monday, June 8, 2009).
But there have been two things to mar the Lakers’ victory, and we should be careful to nip them in the bud. First, of course, was the needless and mindless violence that erupted around Staples Center on Sunday night. Police chief Bratton rightfully called those involved “knuckleheads”.
Times editors must bear the responsibility for the other knucklehead, T. J. Simers (“Idolatry of Lakers is ludicrous”, Los Angeles Times, Monday June 15, page U2). When the Times continues to employ a sportswriter whose main concern is criticizing professional athletes’ personas (witness his on-going feuds with many a Dodger or Laker player, coach or owner), it does a disservice to the readership. “Winning it all makes them no more appealing, Kobe still over the top absurd in his mood swings, Pau still carrying on like someone swiped his rattle, Phil so above it all it’s surprising he doesn’t demand to be carried off the court like Cleopatra…” writes Simers.
What’s amazing to this sports fan is just how cooperative the athletes can be with television and print journalists. How strong and supremely patient do you have to be, in order to answer all those questions—from the immediate on-court interview at half-time, to the endless questions during the after-game press conference? Not to mention the pre-recorded features, the public appearances, and the competitive pressure of the game itself. And then to have some wisecracking hack write, “a victory doesn’t make unlikable athletes likable.”
The Lakers, with the salary cap, have to decide about bringing back Odom and Ariza. But for the Times, operating at a loss already, there should be no hesitation: Get rid of T. J. Simers. Bring on a brilliant writer, like Dan Neil, to review the sleek performance of the human athlete. Or assign the compassionate and eloquent Steve Lopez to the story of Derek Fisher’s challenges as a parent.
But don’t let us suffer through another column by T. J. Simers.