Just Say No

June 22, 2003

You look tired. And why wouldn't you? You have, for years now,
worked nights, weekends and holidays: the NFL on Thanksgiving,
the NBA at Christmas, baseball matinees every Easter. So I'm
inviting you, and all sports fans, to take a week off. For the
next seven days, don't watch sports, don't play sports, don't
read about sports. This is a comprehensive blackout--to say
nothing of a Brownsout, Bluesout and Redsout. You and sports,
after a lifetime together, are about to take separate vacations.

It's only one week. Think of it as 30,240 consecutive 20-second
timeouts, a couple of thousand five-minute majors or a 168-hour
rain delay. Or rather, don't, because you're not allowed to think
about sports until this time next week. Sports will be here when
you get back. Pardon the Interruption will pardon the
interruption.

We're not asking you to take a break from sports. We're telling
you to take a break. It's for your own good. For too long now,
you've put the rest of your life on hold. ThunderStix, alas,
aren't your only inflatable companion. Getting frisked at
ballparks should not be your primary form of human contact. As a
sports fan you've worked your finger to the bone--your giant
foam-rubber novelty index finger. Now you need a diversion from
your diversion.

And anyway, it's the easiest week of the year to go cold turkey.
The Stanley Cup and NBA Finals are over, NFL camps have yet to
open, golf is between majors, and baseball is, for the moment,
without meaning. Which may be why Sammy Sosa's corked bat was
given the same hysterical saturation coverage once reserved for
presidential assassinations. For several days, all over
television, men were sawing into Sosa's bats like magicians'
assistants, as you looked on in eager anticipation of...what,
exactly? Seeing demons escape from Pandora's barrel? It's time we
all stepped back, inhaled and got a grip.

Make sure it's not a Vardon grip. You won't be playing golf,
watching golf or driving a Volkswagen Golf at any time this week.
If you spill a sport drink on your sport coat in your sport
utility vehicle, you'll have failed in your assignment, for you
will not aspire, this week, to the sports lifestyle promoted by
such products.

Sports will carry on this week, you just won't be allowed to
follow them, as you've become accustomed to, on seven consecutive
morning SportsCenter repeats. (Which raises a philosophical
conundrum: If Linda Cohn falls in a forest and nobody is there to
hear her, will she make a sound?)

Frankly, I don't think you'll be able to do it. Sports are a
tougher habit to kick than smoking, drinking and gambling
combined. Indeed, watching sports frequently consists of smoking,
drinking and gambling combined. What we need is our own Betty
Ford Center, maybe a Whitey Ford Center, for the hopelessly
sports-addicted. For mark my words: Three days into detox this
week, you'll literally get the DTs, as half-forgotten sports
names--Dave Twardzik, Dick Tidrow, David Thirdkill--visit you in
the night and inhabit your dreams.

Sports have become so stealthily pervasive they may be impossible
to root out of our lives for even a week. They are now
inextricably embedded in the language. If your boss wants a
heads-up before you call an audible and raise the bar or move the
goalposts on your next slam-dunk sales opportunity, tell him: Not
this week. No, this week we'll have to improvise linguistically.
Athlete's foot will for the moment be called swamp toe, and jock
itch will be known as...pantsfire?

We'll figure it out. Life will require all manner of adjustments
this week. If you work at Foot Locker, wear solids, plaids, polka
dots--anything but stripes. You'll have to strip electrical tape
across the bottom of your TV so as not to see scores tickering
across the news channels. Throw away your sports page as it
arrives while resisting the urge to finger-roll it into the
wastebasket. We're not just biting the hand that feeds us here,
we're eating the hand whole, with some fava beans and a nice
Chianti. But it will be an interesting sociological experiment
that may, in the end, improve the nation's mental health.

After all, think of everything you can do with your week away
from sports. Call your Mom instead of the Mad Dog. Spend a day in
a park that doesn't charge admission. Visit, if all else fails, a
museum. (When I say "Art," you say, "Schlichter." You now have
seven days to remedy that shortcoming.)

You don't have to get a life. Just get a different surrogate
life--in film or politics or music, perhaps. If it proves
productive, we can make this an annual event. There was a TV show
in the '60s called That Was the Week That Was. Perhaps we will
say of the third week in June, every year in sports, That Was the
Week That Wasn't.

Oh, by the way. The week begins the moment you finish this issue
of SI, and ends when your next one arrives. After all, we
wouldn't want you to go overboard, now, would we?

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

You and sports, after a lifetime together, are about to
take separate vacations. Think of it as a 168-hour rain
delay.

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)