The Real Real World
Forget Survivor: Sports is the best reality television around
The games we watch, with the possible exception of those
involving the Clippers, are unscripted. Anything can happen.
Actually, that's why we watch them. To see if Kirk Gibson,
standing on a crippled leg, can turn a crucial World Series at
bat into a home run limp or if former supermarket bag boy Kurt
Warner can lead his team to a Super Bowl victory. Reality
programming is what sports are, raw feeds that tease us with
life's preposterous unpredictability.
You wonder how television execs went so long ignoring that
principle in the rest of their lineups. Network TV has been as
formulaic as a Globetrotters game, punch lines and hugs so
rigorously plotted that the shows are virtually indistinguishable
(and their ratings mostly in the tank). But now, hoping to arrest
the decline in viewership, the networks have been copping the
excitement of live sports with some novelty productions of their
own--not wholly unedited contests, but free-for-alls nonetheless.
The heightened viewership (voyeurship?) of such shows as Survivor
and Big Brother--which feature semireal people in semireal
situations--ought to validate the venerable approach to sports
broadcasts, which has been to trust in the drama of the games and
the people playing them. But isn't it strange that just as
entertainment shows begin to appropriate the spontaneity of
sports, sports shows are increasingly aping the prefab plotting
of your average sitcom?
Not that the Clippers don't play out like an old I Love Lucy
("Don-ald!"), but do we need U.S. track superstar Marion Jones
scheduled as a September miniseries, the kind of treatment NBC
promises to provide from Sydney? Olympic coverage has always been
massaged a little, as if the guys paying billions for broadcast
rights were worried that we might not be riveted by the world's
best athletes. So it was that their productions came to be marked
by orchestral arrangements, gauzy images and breathy hosts who
imagine they're channeling Orson Welles.
July 16, 2000
Well, that's fine for the Olympics, but it's not fine when
ordinary games start getting dressed up like Terms of
Endearment, all those pregame and postgame features telling us
when to laugh and when to cry. The games are fun enough, always
have been. Just leave them alone. Or we'll vote you off the
island. --Richard Hoffer
No Place Like Home
To one Kansas native, Roy Williams's decision to stay is a rare
validation for the state
We Kansans are, on the whole, a pretty insecure bunch. You would
be too if your state were known nationwide as a fly-over zone,
Dorothy's home, or a stepping stone to places bigger and
better--in other words, just about anywhere else. Small market?
Last year the NCAA moved its headquarters from Overland Park,
Kans., to the greener pastures of Indianapolis. The dominant
feature of our state flag is a mountain landscape from...where
exactly? Kansas has no mountains.
Which is why everyone in the Sunflower State, from Liberal to
Leavenworth, was smiling when Roy Williams (above) defied the
fates and turned down North Carolina to remain as basketball
coach at Kansas. Here was a Carolina native, a former Tar Heels
assistant who had been offered his dream job, and not a soul
outside the Great Plains thought he would stay in Lawrence. Last
Thursday, in fact, the Durham Herald-Sun ran a banner headline on
its front page screaming WILLIAMS SAYS 'YES' TO HEELS.
Dewey defeated Truman, too, didn't he? Williams stayed, he said,
because of his players, but there was more to it than that. Maybe
it was the 1,800 E-mails begging him not to leave (Williams's
secretary, Joanie Stephens, printed out every one for him) or the
offer of a lifetime supply of Krispy Kreme doughnuts by a local
franchisee or the HONK FOR ROY sign on Naismith Drive outside
Allen Fieldhouse, one of the hundreds of signs all over the
Kansas campus imploring the coach to stay. "This is truly a
fantastic place," Williams told the nearly 20,000 supporters who
gathered at the Jayhawks football stadium last Thursday to hear
him announce his decision. "I had a dream of North Carolina being
my dream place. But my players and the fans showed me this is the
So Williams, 49, the fastest coach in history to reach 300
victories, is staying in Lawrence, where he can chase Dean
Smith's alltime mark of 879 without having to do it in Smith's
shadow. But here's something not all of you coastal folks may
understand: By choosing Kansas over Carolina, Roy Williams gave
Kansans--all of us, not just Jayhawks fans--a victory worth more
than anything we could have earned on a basketball court. We've
won somebody's heart. --Grant Wahl
Don't Blame The Track
KENNY IRWIN CRASH
For the second time in two months a NASCAR driver was killed in a
single-car accident on Turn 3 at the New Hampshire International
Speedway. Kenny Irwin was the victim during Winston Cup practice
last Friday, eight weeks to the day after Adam Petty died while
practicing for a Busch Series race. Despite the similarities in
the crashes, responsibility for neither fatality lies with the
track. "People start pointing fingers at the racetrack, and I
don't think it's fair in this case," says NASCAR chief operating
officer Mike Helton. Adds driver Jeff Gordon, "There's nothing
wrong with New Hampshire."
That's not to say NHIS isn't tricky. It's a 1.058-mile oval with
long (1,500-foot) straightaways and flat (12-degree) turns.
Drivers reach 160 mph approaching Turns 1 and 3 before they brake
hard and slow to about 100 in the turns. Though the causes of the
Petty and Irwin crashes have yet to be officially determined, in
both cases fellow drivers speculate that the culprit was a stuck
throttle. (NASCAR said last week that it could find no evidence
of mechanical failure in Petty's car, but that doesn't rule out a
stuck throttle, which might have come unstuck by the force of the
impact.) When a driver's throttle hangs open, about the only
thing he can do is kill the engine manually by flipping a switch
on the dashboard. NHIS's configuration makes that difficult,
because the flatness of the turns means an out-of-control car
will go straight into the wall before the driver can react. But
the New Hampshire track isn't unique in that regard; it's neither
the flattest track on the Winston Cup circuit nor the one with
the tightest turns.
Rather than blaming the New Hampshire oval, drivers were
suggesting that damage caused by the impact of crashes could be
reduced by placing energy-absorbing barriers against the concrete
walls at some tracks, a proposal Helton says is among those that
NASCAR is looking into. But, he says, "we don't want to use the
guys in the car as guinea pigs when it comes to wall materials."
As for the throttle issue, some drivers--including Rusty Wallace
and Terry Labonte--have begun using devices that allow them to
unstick a hung throttle with one of their feet. Darrell Waltrip,
a 29-year veteran, would like to see them become mandatory.
"There has to be a solution to these throttles sticking wide
open," he says. "I'm so sick of hearing, 'Well, he was doing what
he loved.' I do a lot of things I love. I don't expect them to
SPORTS ON THE SCREEN
From the It Came from Hollywood file (also known as the We're
Not Making This Up file) come these recently announced movie
--Warner Bros. has begun casting Juwanna Mann, a comedy about an
NBA star who gets kicked out of the league for his on-court
antics, then disguises himself as a woman to join the WNBA.
Miguel Nunez (Life) and Vivica A. Fox (Soul Food) will star.
Think: Big Momma's House meets Hoop Dreams.
--Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan--yes, Joe Morgan--has signed
a deal to headline producer-director-writer Craig Corman's
feature Coming Alive, about a nerdy kid who wishes his
baseball-card hero to life. The player then teaches the boy to
be a star. Think: Field of Dreams meets The Karate Kid.
--Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon, Gone in Sixty Seconds)
is developing a movie centered around a John Rocker-like
character. The pitch, which has been bought by Disney, involves a
big-mouthed hurler for the Red Sox who requires special security
measures when visiting New York City. The player ends up bonding
with the cop assigned to protect him, a diehard Yankee fan.
Think: Bull Durham meets Midnight Run.
The Wagers Of Sydney
Australians are so keen to gamble that they'd bet on which
shrimp will pink up fastest on the barbie. Last November's
Melbourne Cup, the nation's premier horse race, attracted $60
million in wagers, just short of the $65 million bet on this
year's Kentucky Derby. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that
Australia's legal betting outfits expect to handle a
bundle--upwards of $30 million--on the Olympics come September.
Odds for some popular events have already been set. American
sprinters Maurice Green and Michael Johnson opened as even-money
favorites in the 100 and 200 meters, respectively. USA softball
is a 1-to-4 favorite, and the U.S. women's basketball team is at
1 to 2, while the American men's hoops team is an overwhelming
favorite at 1 to 14. The oddsmakers' patriotic favorite, however,
is hometown swimmer Ian Thorpe. A dollar bet on Thorpe to win the
200-meter freestyle will win you just 12 cents, and the same bet
in the 400-meter freestyle, with Thorpe the 1-to-20 favorite,
will earn a nickel.
Australian bookies anticipate substantial action from overseas,
especially on soccer, expected to be the most heavily bet-on
sport. (Brazil is the 3-to-2 favorite). According to Gerard
Daffy, manager of CentreBet, the country's biggest international
sports book, Asians regularly bet big bucks on world soccer
matches with Aussie outfits. He also notes that
Scandinavians--"perhaps because it is so cold up there that they
stay home to study performances"--show an "exceptional knowledge
of the participants and their form."
Australian bookmakers have been taking action on such sports as
swimming and track for years without incident. The one exception
was a series of death threats in 1995 against Aussie swimmer
Daniel Kowalski before a Grand Prix race against '92 Olympic gold
medalist and countryman Kieren Perkins, which investigators
concluded were gambling-related. The culprit was never
identified, and Kowalski's coach, Bill Nelson, blamed his
swimmer's poor finish on the stress caused by the threats: "If
gambling is going to [create] a situation like this, it shouldn't
One place it won't be allowed in September is New South Wales,
Sydney's state, since the IOC prohibits gambling in the state
where the Games are held. No worries, though: New South Wales's
6.5 million residents need only jump on the Internet or pick up
the telephone--the preferred medium of gamblers worldwide.
Mother Knows Best
Truth be told, Kateree Davis doesn't resort to popping out of
airplane baggage compartments to make sure her Terrell is getting
his Chunky Soup. (That's an actress in those ads.) The Broncos
back's mom did, however, attend the third annual preseason
meeting of the Professional Football Players Mother's Association
(PFPMA) at Orlando's Wyndham Hotel last weekend. About 50 women,
including Zenobia Anderson (mother of the Falcons' Jamal), Gladys
Bettis (mom of the Steelers' Jerome) and Alkay Williams (Cowboy
Erik's mother), gathered to discuss strategies to keep their
millionaire sons wise to the dangers of everything from
get-rich-quick schemes to fast food.
The notebook-toting matriarchs attended seminars on such topics
as The Media and the NFL ("Many of our sons are under attack,"
read the description in the program), The After-Life ("Are our
sons prepared for their life after football?") and Player
Security ("Learn more about how to protect our sons from fraud
and shady characters"). In response to the death of Kansas City
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas in February from injuries
suffered in a high-speed car crash, a lecture on air bag and seat
belt safety was also on the agenda. The women later presented an
emotional Edith Morgan, Thomas's mother and a PFPMA member, with
two dozen roses.
"Our sons are in a tough business, and it's our job to provide
both support and unconditional love," says PFPMA founder
Cassandra Ogden, who started the organization not long after her
son Jonathan was selected by the Ravens in the first round of the
1996 draft. "People think that once these boys make it to the
pros that they don't need their mothers anymore. That's when
we're needed more than ever."
Though All-Stars were dropping like flies last weekend, American
League manager Joe Torre still opted not to invite White Sox
slugger Frank Thomas, whose turnaround this year (.333, 26
homers, 75 RBIs) has been as remarkable as his team's. Thomas's
vengeance could come in the postseason--if Torre's Yankees make
Finish-line ticket holders for the U.S. Olympic track trials
who'll be moved to accommodate NBC's cameras.
Votes cast over the Internet for this year's big league All-Star
teams, nearly three times the '99 total.
Pitchers the Indians have used this season, three short of the
major league record.
K's per nine innings by Arizona reliever Byung-Hyun Kim, .03
better than Billy Wagner's single-season mark.
Cost to rent a suite at Salt Lake City's Delta Center for 14
skating sessions during the 2002 Olympics.
French cyclist Laurent Jalabert, who led the Tour de France at
the 14-kilometer mark of the sixth stage when he stopped by the
side of the road to relieve himself. Flouting an unwritten code
of cycling, 12 riders took advantage of the leader's pit stop to
break away from the pack; Jalabert finished 10th in the stage and
relinquished the yellow jersey.
Rudy Martin, as coach of the Columbine (Colo.) High boys'
basketball team. Martin's teams went 226-79 in his 14 years as
coach and won a state title in '97, but he said the May 4
suicide of star junior guard Greg Barnes--a year after the
massacre at the school--"opened my eyes.... I want to spend more
time with my family."
Embattled former agent William (Tank) Black (SI, May 29), in
Michigan on money laundering and drug charges and in Louisiana
for conspiracy to commit bribery.
Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson, who blew a 7-0 lead to the
Yankees in New York and lost 13-9 in an afternoon game on July
6, the day after he and teammates Scott Erickson and Jeff Conine
took a limousine to Baltimore and back for a Metallica concert,
without team permission.
ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale, who was choking on a piece
of melon while attending a Devil Rays-Tigers game at Tropicana
Field. St. Petersburg paramedic John King, who was nearby,
administered the Heimlich maneuver, dislodging the morsel.
Before dismissing former St. Louis Blues enforcer Tony Twist's
lawsuit against Spawn comic book creator Todd McFarlane as
frivolous, and before pillorying the St. Louis jury that on July
5 awarded Twist (left) $24.5 million in finding that McFarlane
had used Twist's name for the Spawn character Antonio Twistelli
without Twist's permission, please consider the driving force
behind Twist's legal action: his mom.
Yes, it was Twist's mother who called him, crying, about the
trading card she had seen featuring Twistelli, Spawn's murderous
Mafia kingpin (right). Twist was so angry that he sued, claiming
his good name had been sullied (his 10-year career as a
celebrated goon notwithstanding) and his endorsement potential
(such as it is) damaged. McFarlane, who in addition to his
comic-book work dabbles in hockey as part-owner of the Edmonton
Oilers, says he didn't purposefully use Twist as inspiration for
his mobster, adding that he would have named the character
Wayneatelli Gretzkyello if he wanted to exploit someone's star
power. He plans to appeal.
After the verdict, a relieved Mother Twist said, "I'm happy the
public knows Tony had nothing to do with this character."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Oscar De La Hoya's rematch with Shane Mosley, which had been
tentatively scheduled for October, is being pushed back because
De La Hoya will be too busy that month promoting his first CD.
Reality programming is what sports are, raw feeds that tease us
with life's preposterous unpredictability.
They Said It
Prime minister of Bangladesh, on the news that his country had
been made a full test member of the International Cricket
Council: "We don't get much to celebrate. This is the happiest
hour of our nation."