Profiles in Courage In today's sports spin cycle, all manner of moral failure is repackaged as virtue

March 06, 2000

Turn that frown upside down! Make those lemons into lemonade!
Take the vices of your favorite sports figures and turn them
into virtues! It's easy! Simply mix a cup of Shameless Rhetoric
with two teaspoons of Twisted Logic and--voila!--Albert Belle
becomes Albert Schweitzer! John Rocker becomes Betty Crocker!
David Falk becomes Jonas Salk! Don't believe us? Read on!

After Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley deliberately brained
Canucks forward Donald Brashear with a hockey stick, ESPN
analyst Barry Melrose made an on-air prediction. "He's gonna
stand up and take the punishment of the National Hockey League,"
Melrose said of McSorley, who played for him when Melrose
coached the Kings. "That's the way Marty is. That's the kind of
guy he is." What kind of guy is McSorley? A stand-up guy! (In
fact, that's what McSorley said to Brashear as the latter lay
unconscious on the ice: "Stand up, guy!")

"There is no vice so simple but assumes some mark of virtue,"
Shakespeare suggested in The Merchant of Venice. So when the
Merchant of Menace, Ray Lewis, was recently indicted for double
murder, his lawyers explained that the Ravens linebacker was not
fleeing the scene of a crime in a chauffeur-driven,
double-stretch getaway car. "They said," as the Associated Press
reported, "Lewis's only concerns were acting as a peacemaker and
herding his friends...into a limousine and away from danger."
The pessimist sees Lewis and says, "No bail!" The optimist sees
Lewis and says, "Nobel!"

And anyway, the cynics will always dwell on the negative aspects
of a double knife murder. What the naysayers never acknowledge
is that multiple homicide can be a selfless act. As O.J. Simpson
memorably told Esquire regarding the stabbing death of his
ex-wife, "Let's say I committed this crime. Even if I did do
this, it would have to have been because I loved her very much,
right?"

It's that kind of irrepressible positivity that places elite
athletes on a higher evolutionary plane. Yankees outfielder
Darryl Strawberry surveyed his career as a drug-abusing,
wife-contusing, tax-refusing ballplayer and knew this much: He
was doing something right and ought to share his wisdom with
others. Which is why Straw's recently published inspirational,
motivational self-help book, Recovering Life, is on shelves today.

Straw, too, is on the shelf today, after last week's reports that
he tested positive for cocaine in January. But even his serial
battles against addiction are an act of valor. "It's a force, an
evil force, that tries to get you in a death grip," Strawberry
writes of this insidious sneak-attacker, "and it takes an awful
lot of strength to get out of it."

In sports, virtue can be found in every action, from the benign
to the ridiculous. On a recent morning The New York Times ran
this caption beneath a photograph of the Yankees' star closer,
who had just lost his arbitration hearing: "Mariano Rivera did
not whine or complain after getting the news that arbitrators
awarded him $7.25 million...." Let Rivera's forbearance and
magnanimity be examples to us all.

Immediately adjacent to the Rivera story in that edition of the
Times was a column praising the late Chiefs star linebacker
Derrick Thomas. "Thomas had at least six children with five
different mothers," the piece noted, but he "took care of the
children financially and managed to be a father figure to them
all. When he died, several of the mothers contacted the Chiefs
and inquired about his financial situation."

Thomas was, by all accounts, a kind and charitable man. He was
not, however, a paradigm of parental responsibility. But then
the clocks have long since struck thirteen in sports: War is
peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. It's 1984, in
other words, and clear language has given up the ghost to
"political language"--as George Orwell phrased it--"designed to
make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an
appearance of solidity to pure wind."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)