Category Archives: Sports

Die, Newspapers, Die: Second In A Series

By ROBERT SMITH

Yes, leave it to Rupert Murdoch’s ever-so-tasteful, rabble rousing, sub-mental New York Post to put just the right spin on the recent, meaningless LeBron James Miami Heat signing for its Sunday, July 11 edition:

Of course, this is a country where, on one night this week, members of the public took to the streets in Cleveland, New York, Miami, and Chicago. War protests? Power grid failures? Job creation meetings? Worried about the oil spill in the gulf, perhaps?  Nahh…people wanted to know where James was going to sign as a free agent, and took to the streets – Clevelanders burned James’ jerseys, so incensed were they – to either celebrate (Florida) or scream in anguish (New York and the other cities). The Post apparently can’t get over the fact that James didn’t want to sign with the New York Knicks (owned by another enemy of a fair, balanced media, Cablevision owner James “Nepotism” Dolan, who now controls what used to be a newspaper, Newsday).

But back to the angry mobs on the avenues: Hey, dolts – when seafood is $11 a pound, you gonna take to the streets? When the neighbor’s kid comes home from the Middle East in a box, are going to pound the pavement? When temperatures hit 118 in the U.S. mainland this year thanks to “non-existent” climate change, you gonna hit the bricks?

Oh, sorry…y‘all only do what the TV box tell ya to. Forgot about that.

Thanks to The New York Post – not to mention ESPN – for keeping us so smart and informed.

© 2010 Robert Smith

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Die, Newspapers, Die

By ROBERT SMITH

They’re at it again.

In yet another attempt at cheap heat directed toward the dumbest of sports fans, the once-great Chicago Tribune – founded in 1847 and the place where Roger Ebert has penned some of the best film reviews ever written – printed this photo as a full-page poster, ostensibly to get local fans riled up for an upcoming Chicago Blackhawks versus Philadelphia Flyers NHL Stanley Cup Finals game.

This, of course, is a blatant rip-off and complete steal from last fall’s now-infamous New York Post cover that lampooned the Philadelphia Phillies, who had the unmitigated nerve to serve as the National League opponents of the New York Yankees in the World Series. Wait a moment: Aren’t there female baseball and hockey fans?

Journalism, we hardly knew you, particularly in the sports section.

Years ago, there was a weathercaster named Tim Welch, who worked at a television station in Albany, New York, who gave the shortest and most profound summation of his job as a TV journalist: “We’re not here to hurt, we’re not here to help. We’re here to report.”

Unfortunately, it’s easy to assume that Welch is in another line of work by now. Today’s newspapers, even in large markets such as New York and Chicago, have decided to become pom-pom waving cheerleaders for their area’s sports teams, but that’s only part of the problem. Instead of printing “Let’s Go Whoever” color posters in their papers, they’re printing name-calling, bullying war cries instead. This, of course, is right up the alley for today’s beered-up louts that make attending a major sporting event akin to walking into Mugsy’s Pub in the worst part of town and calling the proprietor “you old fart.” Today, it’s not enough to root for your team – one must vilify the other squad, as if simply singing a contract with an out of town team makes a person evil beyond human redemption. Gee, we thought that’s what a .226 batting average did, but we’re old school.

Fox News is ruining television news, broadcast by broadcast, and now other newspapers are whiffing Rupert Murdoch’s fart stench and deciding it smells like roses. It’s easy to remember the days when periodicals like the Post would write the headline “Mets Nip Cubs 3-2” on the back of the dailies the morning after a game. Gee, somehow that would tell us all we needed to know, wouldn’t it? Now, headline writers come up with pith and pandering and jibes and insults, as if the punniest headline wins the tabloid booby prize. Whatever happened to simply letting readers know what the heck happened?

Currently, a bunch of tabloid newspapers in New York are having a field day with Debralee Lorenzana, who is reportedly suing Citigroup for allegedly firing her just for being too attractive and dressing in a manner some deemed inappropriate for the workplace. There have been editorial cartoons mocking and editorials ripping the beautiful brunette – and, of course, at the same time those same papers are printing as many sexy photos of her as they can get their exploitive mitts on.

As someone who tried to learn journalism, who yearned to learn style and syntax and skill, who tried, no matter what size publication I’ve worked for, to adhere to the highest standards that I could, I now say this to the newspaper industry: Go to blazes. Day after day, newspaper after tabloid, more publications are yellower than a canary’s butt, rife with factual errors and typos and pure hype. Columnists take sides instead of reporting; gossip lowers the human experience; sports pages, where there once were agate columns of batting averages and box scores, are now filled with name-calling and sordid locker room mongering. Small town newspapers are just as bad, but in a different way; they print only what their advertisers dictate. Trust me, I’ve been there.

It’s all over. As someone who used to pick up four newspapers a day and seek them out in any city I’ve traveled to, I’ve had enough. Editors are now just salesman, pandering to the dumbest of the dumb, scrounging for loose quarters like hobos on street corners. They’ll print anything at all as long as it creates self-promoting “news” about their own publications, instead of having faith in their readerships to covet, as Joe Friday once uttered on “Dragnet,” just the facts.

Years ago, the Yankees’ Chuck Knoblauch made an error during the World Series. The next day, a local New York paper’s headline was “Blauchhead.”

Nope, that was I – for continuing to support an industry that no longer boasts even the lowest standards; they’re only in it for the money. And it’s not working; papers are closing up week by week, day by day.

May the printing presses slow and stop, one by one.

Robert Smith has been an editor and writer for … ahh, go look it up. Why should we print facts when no one else does?

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Deep freeze hits Florida. Sort of.

by Jon Pine

Okay, so it’s been kinda miserable and rainy today in Vero Beach, Florida. I have an outdoor photo shoot scheduled for tomorrow, so I decide to hop on to the Weather Channel Web site and see what the forecast holds. I punch in our ZIP code and then click on the “Hour-by-Hour” button and this is what I see:

Brrrrrr!

Yikes! 43 degrees at 4 p.m. dropping to BELOW ZERO between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.! But – whew! – it’ll heat back up to almost 70 degrees again by 10 o’clock. That’s a relief!

But what does the Weather Channel know that I don’t? That the sun will be “switched off” for most of the evening? Or maybe Batman’s campy nemesis, Mr. Freeze, will aim his freeze ray at the Sunshine State?

As I hastily rummage through my closet looking for a sweater, some boots and my winter coat, it comes to me. The source of this deep, numbing chill, the cause of this frigid aura that grips Florida tonight: It’s coming from Tiger Woods’ bedroom in Orlando!

Tiger’s not in there – oh no. But his wife, Elin Nordegren, is. And it’ll be a cold day in, well… you know where before the world’s greatest golfer will be allowed back in.

© 2009 by Jon Pine

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Requiem (almost) for a heavyweight

by Jon Pine

Jon Pine

Despite being indentured to one of the tiniest newspapers on the eastern seaboard, we DM Refugees occasionally got to play in the journalism big leagues. Perhaps the most exciting and rewarding of these experiences was covering the rise, during the mid-1980s, of a bona fide international sports superstar – heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson.

I was reminded of that heady time recently as I watched “Tyson,” James Toback’s extraordinary documentary, now out on DVD. So much more than a straightforward documentary, “Tyson” is the soul-weary pugilist’s attempt to bring some sort of closure to a turbulent life and career marred by bad decisions, chaos and tragedy – all of it played out in the public eye. More on the film later…

Like many African-American boys who grew up in the Brownsville projects of Brooklyn, N.Y., Mike Tyson barely knew his father and was drawn to an early life of hooliganism and petty crime. After more than 30 run-ins with the law, a 14-year-old Tyson found himself at the Tryon boys detention center in upstate New York.

As fate would have it, Tryon had a counselor named Bob Stewart, an ex-amateur boxing champion. Recognizing a diamond in the rough, and concerned that Tyson would fall back into a life of crime when released from Tryon, Stewart arranged for Tyson to live with legendary boxing trainer Cus D’Amato. The semi-retired D’Amato, whose accomplishments included title victories for Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres, had moved from Brooklyn to Catskill, and opened a gym above the burg’s police department – directly across the street from The Daily Mail.

That’s where I first met Tyson, after watching him knock the stuffing out of yet another skittish sparring partner. Man, could he hit hard! A few insiders had begun calling him “The Hammer.” He was a quiet kid, almost shy then. But he clearly took the art of boxing very seriously. With D’Amato at his side, he talked enthusiastically about his dream to become the youngest heavyweight champion ever.

Among about 13 hats I wore at The Daily Mail was that of sports writer to its sister weekly, The Greene County News. Bob Costas I was not. But I did learn to fake my way through an interview, and I actually took a pretty good sports photo. I had saved up and bought a Minolta Maxxum, the first autofocus 35mm camera. Smart move, because Tyson soon earned a fierce reputation for knocking out his opponents in the first minute or two of the first round. Getting a usable shot with those kinds of odds was, to say the least, a challenge. In fact, while still an amateur, Tyson knocked out Don Cozad in a mere eight seconds – a record that stands today.

Tyson’s first dozen or so professional bouts were lined up against “tomato cans” – fighters of limited talent, has-beens and never-wases. D’Amato, wisely, wanted to bring him along little by little, gradually matching him with better and better fighters and increasing the number of rounds, to build an impressive record of wins, all of them by knockout.

Mike Tyson with fellow Cus D'Amato protege Jose Torres, who was the New York State Athletic Commissioner at the time this was taken. Trainer Kevin Rooney is in back at the far right. Photo by Jon Pine (Sorry, it's the only one I could put my hands on easily!)

Cus was the quintessential boxing trainer – one part Burgess Meredith’s Mickey from “Rocky” and three parts Yoda from “Star Wars.” Interviewing him was a trip; he was generous with his time and also with his Zen-like pearls of wisdom, which made for great copy. And with such short fights, I needed that copy to fill out a respectable story!

But D’Amato was more than Tyson’s Mr. Miyagi; he was the young fighter’s grounding rod, his connection to reality. Tyson said many times that D’Amato was the father he never had; indeed, D’Amato had taken legal custody of him when he left Tryon. Everyone who came close to them could see and feel that special connection.

Then, back-to-back tragedies struck in 1985. First, his mother died, which left Mike grieving that she never got to see him as anything but a troublesome kid. Then in November, D’Amato died rather suddenly from pneumonia. Mike’s world was turned upside down. Many of the bad decisions and most of the bizarre behavior Mike would later exhibit can be traced back to that tragic time.

We watched, mostly on TV and in other news accounts, as Tyson’s career continued its meteoric rise. The tiny Daily Mail did not have the budget to send its reporters around the world. After all – there were pressing matters of local importance to think about, like the Coxsackie Town Council meetings, barn fires, and other small-town doings.

Tyson finally got his title shot against Trevor Berbick in November, 1986. True to form, Mike knocked the champ out in the second round to earn the WBC belt. He was just 20 – the youngest fighter ever to win a heavyweight title. By August 1987 he won the WBA and IBF titles to unify the championship. He seemed unstoppable. The poor kid from the projects now had more money than he’d ever dreamed possible, and he was famous the world over.

But there were signs that all was not well in Mike’s head. There was the brief but tumultuous marriage to actress Robin Givens, who publicly accused Mike of infidelity, physical abuse and mental illness. In “Tyson,” he admits that he cheated on Givens and confesses that he was in agony during the Berbick fight. The reason? A raging case of gonorrhea that he was too embarrassed to have treated.

In a post-fight interview – I can’t recall which fight – he told reporters, “I tried to catch him right on the tip of his nose so I could punch the bone into his brain.” Whoa. Then, he broke his hand in a street brawl with boxer Mitch Green. The following month he crashed his BMW into a tree; Tyson told reporters it was a suicide attempt caused by “a chemical imbalance.”

Tyson’s frankness about these and other episodes is perhaps the most striking thing about “Tyson,” the film. Rather than falling back on a typical question-and-answer style of documentary, Toback lets Tyson control the narrative. The result is extraordinary. In his oft-imitated high-pitched, lispy voice, you can hear the weariness and regret Tyson feels about many of his missteps. He breaks down at times, his voice cracking, mostly when he talks about his relationship with D’Amato.

Regrets, he has aplenty. Of promoter Don King, who had wrangled Tyson’s contract away from his managers soon after he unified the heavyweight title, he now says, “He is a piece of shit, a wretched slimy, reptilian motherfucker” who would “kill his own mother for a dollar.” It was King who convinced Tyson to fire long-time trainer Kevin Rooney – the last vestige of D’Amato’s successful team, whom many credited with keeping the unstable fighter on track long enough to win the championships.

From there, things only got worse. With no one left to rein him in, the drinking, drugs and womanizing spiraled out of control. He surrounded himself with an entourage whose main purpose was to get him drugs and seek out women for him to have sex with.

Worse, he no longer took boxing seriously. When he faced James “Buster” Douglas to defend his unified title in February, 1990, he was seriously out of shape, both physically and mentally. The 42-1 underdog managed to keep Tyson on the defensive for most of the fight, eventually knocking him out in Round 10. The world was shocked, but Tyson was not. He was rudderless, both professionally and emotionally, he now explains.

Remorse and regret are repetitive themes in “Tyson” – except when it comes to the fighter’s most egregious offense: The sexual assault in July, 1991, of beauty contestant Desiree Washington. Calling her “a wretched swine,” he maintains that the sex was consensual and that Washington was simply after money and notoriety. A jury thought differently, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

He served three years, but the time behind bars hardened him, he says. He converted to an extreme form of Islam, “because I was bitter at the world.” The incarceration also resurrected in him a fierce determination to regain the heavyweight championship. But to do that, he needed to fight Evander Holyfield, and Holyfield wasn’t exactly anxious to give him that chance.

After months of negotiation, the two finally meet in November of 1996. Frustrated by a series of head-butts, Tyson’s head bleeds through much of the fight. It is eventually called in Round 11 when corner men can’t stop the bleeding. Tyson is clearly enraged, demanding a rematch. Following months of tense negotiations, a rematch is scheduled for the following June. It is one of the most anticipated bouts in the sport’s history.

Unless you were living in a remote cave somewhere, you know how that rematch ended: with Holyfield missing a large chunk of his ear, and Tyson’s boxing career in the toilet. In “Tyson,” he explains that, after Holyfield head-butted him again, he just snapped, and went into an “insane rage where I wanted to kill everyone in that room – even the people in my own corner.”

The fight is stopped after the second time Tyson bites Holyfield’s ear. A melee ensues as Mike tries to get at Holyfield yet again. Later that night, realizing that he probably just destroyed his career, “I just went home, smoked a bunch of weed and went to sleep.” Eventually, he would lose his license to box in Nevada and be fined $3 million.

Tyson’s bizarre behavior continued, and even intensified. After a traffic accident in 1998 in Maryland, he kicks and punches the other driver before being restrained by his own bodyguards. He later serves one year in prison and pays a $5,000 fine for the incident. In February, 2000, he settles out of court with two women who accuse him of sexually assaulting them in a Washington restaurant. A few months later, a topless dancer in a Las Vegas night club accuses him of punching her in the chest.

The following month, after a fight with Lou Savarese is stopped, Tyson knocks over the referee to keep punching his opponent. That one would cost him $187,500 in fines and almost lose him his Nevada boxing license for the second time. In January, 2002, a press conference to promote an upcoming fight with Lennox Lewis breaks out into a brawl; Tyson later admits biting Lewis on the leg. (Somebody get this guy a chewy toy, for pete’s sake!) Lewis would go on to knock Tyson out in the eighth round.

In August, 2003, Tyson files for bankruptcy. He sells his New Jersey mansion to rapper 50 Cent. Later, he says, he stays with friends and even in homeless shelters at times. Drug dealers and pimps take pity on him, he says, occasionally tossing him freebies. Strictly for the money, he fights Danny Williams in July, 2004, getting knocked out in Round 8; and fights Kevin McBride in June of 2005, quitting after six wobbly rounds, saying “I don’t have the stomach for this anymore. I’m not going to disrespect the sport by losing to this caliber of fighter.”

“Tyson” is as honest a tale as can be told by a man eternally fraught with contradictions. He describes himself in one moment as “not quite human, almost an animal,” and in the next moment, in loving, gentle tones, describes himself as the quintessential family man. He claims to be deep in rehab, but does not go into detail.

Even his tattoos are contradictions. The curly lines on the left side of his face, he explains, are the markings of New Zealand’s Maori warrior tribe. On his torso are tattoos of Communist Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung and Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

I can’t help but feel sad for Mike Tyson. Not so much for the magnificent sports hero who tumbled from grace in a most self-destructive manner. But for the 18-year-old kid I first met in a musty gym above a small-town police station. Full of promise, full of hope, and with a surrogate father by his side to help keep him on the straight and narrow. Had D’Amato stayed with him just a little bit longer, his life might have had an entirely different outcome.

© 2009 Jon Pine

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Letter To The New York Post: Update

Amazingly, The New York Post actually acknowledged our outrage over the October 27 Photoshopped cover depicting The Phillies’ Shane Victorino in a cheerleader’s skirt. For more, log on to:

http://www.nypost.com/news/opinion/letters

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A Letter To The New York Post

front102709

The October 27 cover of The New York Post. What follows is an actual letter written to The New York Post by our Robert Smith, which obviously will never be published by its editors.

To The Editors,

To think that the New York Post does not even attempt to be an actual newspaper any longer should be shocking, but it’s par for the course.  Tuesday’s amateurish cover and accompanying article were far more bush league than anything the Phillies could ever do.  The job of a newspaper is to report, not to stand from afar and resort to petty, juvenile name calling – but then again, isn’t that the mode of operation of anything owned by Rupert Murdoch?

Tuesday’s edition was an insult to Kevin Kernan, Joel Sherman, and other baseball reporters on your staff who try to be, dare I say, actual journalists. The cover was an insult to the Phillies, to sports, to women, and even to Yankees fans; the most intelligent of them realize that sports is a battle of athleticism and wills, not a reason for false pride.

The New York Post has really outdone itself this time. You’re already a laughingstock at places such as WFAN and in the Phillies clubhouse. And now, you’re even more of a rag in this house.

Since you’re so fond of calling names, allow me this: The Post is a piece of crap.

Never again will I waste a penny of my money on your truly awful, embarrassing newspaper.

Robert Smith

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Miracle In Pinstripes

Ryan Howard of the non-Yankees Phillies, a pauper who doesn't stand a chance

Ryan Howard of the non-Yankees Phillies, a pauper who doesn't stand a chance

Text and photo by Bob Smith

Just what these troubled times need – with 10 percent unemployment, a pending H1N1 epidemic that President Obama has declared an emergency, two never-ending wars, and a gradual coarsening of the American psyche, something wondrous and nearly completely unexpected has happened – the New York Yankees are once again in the World Series.

How did they do it? How did this downtrodden, ragtag bunch of fresh-faced youngsters overcome the odds to compete for the richest prize in all of sport? Even a cursory glance at the events of the past 13 months show that lady luck can still – even in an era when breast enlargement ranks as the top graduation gift for female high school seniors – be the only logical reason for unexpected glory.

“The Yankees win! Thuhh…Yankees…win!” Such has been Yankees radio announcer John Sterling’s impassioned, from-the-heart cry at the end of 110 regular season and playoff contests during 2009. His spitting, sputtering, shaking,

Bob Smith

Bob Smith

nearly tearful simulation of a professional sports broadcaster is bellowed into his microphone at incus-splitting decibels, and why not? Sterling, who reportedly was cannily dipping his fingers into the Yankee press room’s public ice cream bins during the previous season and has been shown on regional sports programming wearing light colored socks with dark suits, probably can’t believe what he’s seeing. Oh, the greatness and glory of the most storied franchise in the history of the free world! For the Yankees, as any clear-thinking sports fan knows, are the architects and the experts of what clearly is the hardest form of “the grand old game” to play: checkbook baseball.

Since 2000, the Yankees have gone without a world championship, despite the disadvantage of having a payroll that’s about twice as large as that of the second place ranking team. For 2009, the Yankees regular reason payroll was only about $1 million over the $200 million mark as play began in April; that’s nearly $8 million less than their mark in 2008, yet far eclipsing the mark of the second place club, the New York Mets, who parlayed their reported $149 million payroll into a next-to-last place National League East finish. So the logical question comes to mind: How can any franchise overcome the enormous burden of having so much money that even their AAAA relief pitchers such as Damaso Marte can wipe their asses with twenties if they so choose?

Indeed, this latest sports miracle, every bit as startling as Tony Garea and 600-pound, overall-clad country bumpkin Haystacks Calhoun somehow defeating the wily Japanese duo of Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji for the WWWF world tag team title in 1973, seems all the more incredible the more one thinks of it. How in the wide, wide world of sports can a team overcome the obstacle of having the highest paid first baseman, the highest paid shortstop, the #1 and #4 highest paid starting pitchers, the highest paid catcher, the highest paid closing relief pitcher, and, of course, an insurmountable problem in having to deal with the world’s highest paid athlete – self-kissing, public-tanning, Kate Hudson-mounting, supplement-admitting third baseman Alex Rodriguez? Indeed, of the sport’s 20 highest-paid players, only six cash paychecks issued by the New York Yankees!

After failing to make the playoffs in 2008, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, reportedly facing the ax after failing to “bring home another world championship” (the words of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s son, Hank, one of several relatives that the aging “Boss” has open-heartedly given top ranking jobs to), acted like a man defeated. His lazy off-season was highlighted only by giving new free agent contracts to pitchers C.C. Sabathia (only $161 million) and A.J. Burnett, and, as an afterthought, picking up first baseman Mark Teixeira at the bargain basement price of only $20,625,000 per annum.

Add to that the worries of opening a new, tax-break laden Yankee Stadium; manager Joe Girardi’s penchant for pulling pitchers throwing shutouts in favor of lefty-righty switches in the sixth inning; radio color person Suzyn Waldman’s frequent on-air mood swings (“Oh, my goodness gracious!”); and the day-to-day problems of running a profitable TV network (the beloved YES Network, which features such journalists as the esteemed Michael Kay, whose work in hosting sports autograph parties is the stuff of legend), and the prospect of winning baseball games seemed so impossible.

And yet, here they are, about to take on the Philadelphia Phillies in the fall classic. Like the incredible “Miracle On Ice,” Taylor Hicks, and the Garea-Calhoun tag team, such are the upsets that serve as such a tonic for our societal ills. And, like our dear Republican friends love to do, it only goes to prove: If you have a problem, throw bales of money at it.

And of course, who gives a flying fuck about franchises in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C.? They’re only de facto farm systems for teams such as New York in the first place. All is as it should be. All is right in the world.

The Yankees win! Thuhhhh…Yankees…win!

Robert Smith steadfastly refuses to give up using Brylcreem, and when he chooses to drink beer, he prefers Fort Schuyler.

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