It's time to reexamine some bellicose sports metaphors
Sportscasters and sportswriters carry around a mental thesaurus
that seems to have been compiled at the Pentagon. In times of
need, which is to say in the heat of the action or on deadline,
they pull it out to describe, in football, long passes (bombs),
areas where most blocking and tackling takes place (trenches),
linebacker pass rushes (blitzes) and offices in which team
executives determine whether to draft a lineman from Nebraska or
a wide receiver from Florida (war rooms). Baseball spawned the
gentler jargon that dominated sports reporting in the first half
of the last century--southpaw, perfecto, circuit clout, bingle,
etc.--but King Football is now the clear leader in providing turns
of phrase, most of them of the saber-rattling variety. It's good
to remember, though, that the Royals lead the majors in twin
In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy, it's possible that we're
linguistically oversensitive. Did you wince when Pentagon
appeared in the first sentence, as I winced when I wrote it? Here
at SI we're wrestling over what to do with THIS WEEK'S SIGN OF
THE APOCALYPSE, a popular feature started back when no one would
blanch at the tongue-in-cheek categorizing of greed and egotism
in sports as apocalyptic. In any case, the time seems right to
rid sports coverage of assaults on our sensibilities. (Hmm,
perhaps I shouldn't have written assaults.)
Many of the battlefield metaphors are just bad. Aerial attack and
field general certainly fit that description, and if any coach or
player tells me he's on a "mission," I'll tell him I'm on one not
to quote him. Still, there is no way around some of this. Blitz
lacks a simple synonym and is so ingrained in the football
lexicon that it would be hard to stop using it. For some reason
bomb doesn't bother me, though Kenn Finkel, a former New York
Times sports copy desk chief who has made it his job to stamp out
war terms in sportswriting, takes umbrage at it, particularly, he
says, "since it can just as easily be called a long pass." I
agree, however, with Finkel's assertion that editors should be
taken to task for permitting war references to appear on sports
pages as frequently as commas. Says Finkel, "If you refer to
baseball games as a war [as a New York City newspaper did before
the 2000 World Series], you don't have much to call on when you
get a real war."
September 30, 2001
I shall see to it that in my copy no opponent will "torch"
another, nor will I allow anyone to speak of a particularly
horrible defeat as Black Sunday. I'm extending my ban on war,
holy war and war room to border skirmish. I'm going to leave
suicide squeeze alone, but suicide squad is permanently on the
bench in favor of special team. As for the two large and skilled
members of the Spurs, they are no longer the Twin Towers; they're
Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
Above all, I pledge to recognize that a golfer who delicately
scrapes a shot from the fringe onto a steeply inclined green and
into a small hole is not courageous, fearless or heroic. We know
who those people are. --Jack McCallum
A GLOBAL CONCERN
While American sports fans focused on the return of baseball and
football last week, the events of Sept. 11 have also had a
significant impact on the international sporting scene. Golf's
Ryder Cup, which was pushed back to next September, was the most
prominent multinational event to be called off. Aside from the
question of appropriateness, the primary factor in canceling the
tournament was the possible risks of traveling overseas. U.S.
Ryder Cuppers were uneasy at the prospect of being "5,000 miles
from home if the bombs start dropping," says golfer Scott
There's also the issue of safety abroad. Although USA Track &
Field (USATF) has said it will not forgo sending teams to any
upcoming international meets, it has warned its athletes to
refrain from wearing U.S. team logos or clothing carrying logos
typically identified with U.S. companies while in foreign cities.
Says USATF spokesperson Melissa Beasley, "We advised them to be
more discreet when they're out and not to draw any added
attention. They have to be more aware of their surroundings."
Here's how other sports have responded:
WRESTLING The World Wrestling Championships, which were
scheduled for this weekend at Madison Square Garden, were
quickly postponed. FILA, the sport's international governing
body, has asked USA Wrestling officials to come up with an
alternative date and venue, the hope being that the event will
stay in New York City. If that's not possible, Iran, next year's
host, has offered to stage the 2001 championships. Because many
prominent wrestlers hail from countries close to the anticipated
conflict--in particular Turkey and Iran--U.S. wrestling
executives face the dilemma of playing host to a number of elite
athletes at a time when tensions in their homelands are high. As
of Monday, no competitors had bowed out of the championships,
and, according to USA Wrestling spokesman Gary Abbott, "no
countries have canceled due to travel, security or political
GOLF Like the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup, which pits the U.S.
against the rest of the world (except Europe), has been pushed
back a year, to 2003. The Ryder Cup will now permanently take
place in even-numbered years, the Presidents Cup in odd years.
FIGURE SKATING The U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA) has
withdrawn its entrants from all remaining Junior Grand Prix
events, seven of which are scheduled for the next two months in
Europe and Japan. "It's a concern to send a young athlete across
the world now," says USFSA spokesman Bob Dunlop. No foreign
competitors or judges have pulled out of the first senior-level
event of the season, Skate America, which will take place as
scheduled from Oct. 25 to 28 in Colorado Springs. Extra security
is being discussed.
FIELD HOCKEY The U.S. women's team withdrew from a World Cup
qualifying tournament being held this week in France. The sport's
governing body will allow the U.S. to attempt to qualify by
playing a best-of-three series against the seventh-place team
from the tournament.
SOCCER The schedule for next year's World Cup in Japan and Korea
is unaltered, but officials in cohost nations are considering
changing the slogan from "The e-World Cup" to "The Safe World
Cup," to reflect beefed-up security. Expected measures include
no-fly zones over stadiums, increased searches of fans and more
guards. Organizers are consulting with the CIA, the FBI and
British intelligence to identify terrorists.
A NEW GAME
After sporting events were canceled following the Sept. 11
attacks, where did Americans turn for an escape from grim
reality? To the baseball diamond--on the silver screen. Hardball,
an earnest comedy starring Keanu Reeves as the coach of an urban
Little League team, was the top box office draw over the weekend
of Sept. 14-16, earning a surprising $10.1 million. As film
critic Leonard Maltin, who saw Hardball that weekend, said, "I
know it's corny, I know it's predictable, but the film sends a
message that one person can do some good in this world. I was
vulnerable at that moment."
Expect more movies in the Hardball vein. Following the
tragedies, studios have been rethinking their development
slates, canceling several action-adventure projects. Instead,
lighter fare, including sports films, has taken precedence.
Among them are Balls of Fury, a comedy set in the arena of
world-class Ping-Pong; Against the Ropes, starring Meg Ryan in
the true story of female boxing manager Jackie Kallen; Head
Case, a tennis comedy starring Dustin Hoffman as a sports
psychologist working with a highly-ranked male pro; and an
untitled romantic comedy about women's tennis, to star Reese
Witherspoon. Although these projects were in the works before
Sept. 11, they're likely to become higher priority now. Says
producer Tom Brainard, who plans to start production in January
on Back of the Net, a drama set in the world of professional
soccer: "With sports movies, the themes are of working together
as a team to settle differences noncombatively. People feel a
need to be in this kind of setting."
One day in the mid-1980s Rusty Staub was paging through a
newspaper at his restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side when
he came across an article about a New York City police officer
killed in the line of duty. "He had a wife and three children,"
says Staub, "and the oldest of the kids was five. I decided to do
something about it."
In 1985 Staub, then a pinch hitter extraordinaire for the Mets in
the last of his 23 big league seasons, set up the New York Police
and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund (www.nypfwc.org) to
help families of the city's cops and firefighters killed on the
job. Before the World Trade Center attacks, the fund, which
provides $10,000 upon an officer's death, then an annual sum
(this year, $2,100) to the surviving spouse, had disbursed $8.3
million to 451 families. In the wake of Sept. 11, the fund's
financial obligation will nearly double. "We know we're taking on
a tremendous load," says Staub, "but we're working our tails off
to make sure the money will be there."
Since Sept. 11, Staub has been putting in 16-hour days. He has
collected $8 million, and another $8 million has been pledged. He
has stumped on the Today show and last week visited the White
House along with representatives of other charities. "I've been
doing this for years, and I know all about the generosity of the
people in this city," says Staub. "But the way the country has
responded--it makes you so proud of everything America stands
It's a Grand Old Flag
As demonstrated at stadiums across the U.S. last week, the
American flag has a special connection to sports. Over the years
athletes and sports fans have waved, worn and posed with the
Stars and Stripes. Here are some of Ol' Glory's more notable
moments of controversy and celebration.
Oct. 18: After finishing first and third, respectively, in the
200 meters at the Mexico City Olympics, American sprinters Tommie
Smith and John Carlos refuse to look at the flag while on the
medal stand, giving a Black Power salute instead.
Oct. 26: In a pointed rebuke to Carlos and Smith, heavyweight
boxer George Foreman proudly waves a small American flag as he
walks around the ring after beating Ionas Chepulis of the Soviet
Union to win the Olympic gold medal.
Aug. 4, 1984: After winning the 100 meters at the L.A. Olympics,
Carl Lewis grabs a flag from a fan in the stands and carries it
during his victory lap; critics say the move was a premeditated
publicity stunt, while Lewis insists it was spontaneous.
Feb. 24, 1980: Moments after beating Finland to win the hockey
gold medal at the Lake Placid Olympics, U.S. goaltender Jim Craig
wraps himself in an American flag that is handed to him by a
teenage fan slipping and sliding on the ice.
Aug. 8, 1992: After winning the gold in basketball, Nike
spokesman Michael Jordan uses an American flag to obscure the
logo of U.S. Olympic Committee sponsor Reebok on his warm-up
jacket during the medal ceremony at the Barcelona Games.
Jan. 27, 1991: During the gulf war, Super Bowl XXV, held at Tampa
Stadium, turns into a star-spangled spectacle, highlighted by a
rousing rendition of the national anthem by Whitney Houston and a
halftime show featuring 2,000 flag-waving children.
Sept. 30, 2000: After winning the men's 4x100 relay at the Sydney
Olympics, U.S. sprinters Jon Drummond, Maurice Greene, Brian
Lewis and Bernard Williams mugged for photographers and flexed
their muscles while draped in an American flag.
Sept. 15, 2001: Even though Ohio State's football game against
San Diego State is canceled in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy,
12,000 flag-waving fans show up at Ohio Stadium to honor those
who died in Pennsylvania, the World Trade Center and the
North Dakota State record for receptions in a game, set in 1968
by split end Chuck Wald, who now commands the U.S. Ninth Air
Force and will oversee the air component of the campaign
Games, through Sunday, in which the Brewers had struck out at
least 10 times, contributing to their big-league-record 1,291
whiffs this year.
Hours it took 6'5", 320-pound Patriots tackle Greg
Robinson-Randall to get from his home in Galveston, Texas, to
Boston via bus last week; he was afraid to fly.
Weeks' pay that four Chelsea soccer players were fined for a
raucous five-hour drinking binge at Heathrow airport on Sept.
12, in front of scores of stranded U.S. travelers; the fines,
about $146,000, will go a charity for victims of the Sept. 11
Road wild-card teams to make the Super Bowl since the NFL
playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990.
Drop in Braves first baseman Julio Franco's career batting
average since he rejoined the majors on Aug. 31, leaving him at
.30031 as of Sunday.
Fumbles lost by the Ravens in their first two games, two fewer
than they gave up all of last season.
Combined score by which Rutgers has lost its last two football
games, to Miami and Virginia Tech.
The logo for this year's Breeders' Cup, to be held on Oct. 27
at Belmont Park. The original featured the World Trade Center in
the background; the new one features the outline of a globe.
By the IOC, the addition of women's wrestling to the 2004 Summer
Olympic program. Boxing has to trim one weight class, and
tug-of-war--an Olympic event from 1900 to 1920--rejoined the
IOC's list of officially recognized sports.
The Mavericks' new uniforms, as well as a line of Mavs casual
wear, in a runway show at Dallas's workout facilities. Said owner
Mark Cuban of the clothing line, which will range from bowling
shirts to pajama bottoms, "We tried to design it so people could
wear it just about anywhere."
By the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, that Knicks
guard Latrell Sprewell has the right to another hearing on his
desire to sue the NBA and the Warriors for what he alleges was
unfair treatment when the league suspended him for grabbing
Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo's neck in 1997. A lower court had
thrown out Sprewell's lawsuit.
The price of beer at Dover Downs raceway, by $1, in response to
a ban for security reasons on the coolers that fans have
traditionally used to tote their own beverages to the track.
On the scoreboard of English soccer club Norwich last Saturday,
the out-of-town score MANCHESTER UNITED 1 SCUM 0. Norwich
officials apologized to their counterparts at archrival Ipswich,
who played Man U that day.
"It's a concern to send a young athlete across the world now."