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Posted: Friday July 11, 2008 1:42PM; Updated: Friday July 11, 2008 3:43PM
John Rolfe John Rolfe >

Favre and A-Rod afloat in the sports gossip fishbowl

Story Highlights
  • Star athletes can't expect privacy when gossip is a huge part of sports coverage
  • Complain about the A-Rod-Madonna nonsense, but our traffic proves you care
  • Now-he's-retired, now-he's-not atthletes are the sports equivalent of The Who
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As a superstar/celebrity athlete, Alex Rodriguez can expect that his every move, utterance and wheeze will be covered and reported -- endlessly.
As a superstar/celebrity athlete, Alex Rodriguez can expect that his every move, utterance and wheeze will be covered and reported -- endlessly.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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I gotta say thank heaven for the rise of the once-lowly Rays, the Cubs' quest for a Series title in the 100th year of their drought, the Nadal-Federer epic at Wimbledon, Tiger Woods' one-legged U.S. Open triumph, and that amazing Giants-Patriots Super Bowl. It's really nice to get a little sports with your sports these days. That ain't always easy in this age where the mind-softening wealth and fame of athletes have made them residents in the madhouse of pop culture and celebrity, with all of the gossip page nonsense that goes along with it.

Two recent examples: Brett Favre and Alex Rodriguez. One is a legitimate sports story, the other is not, and while there appears to be at least a nugget of truth buried somewhere in each, both were rapidly inflated to Hindenburg-size saturation coverage thanks to the hot gas of gossip and rumor.

It's easy to feel like crawling into your rootcellar and bolting the storm doors until Favre formally announces his return from four months of tearful retirement and A-Rod actually tells Barbara Walters that he was, indeed, shvitzing his Kabbalah instructor. You just can't get away from this stuff. It's everywhere -- on the front pages of tabloids and on news sites and all the talk shows (sports as well as entertainment), with everyone from Favre's brother and mother to A-Rod's former trainer dishing opinion while the principals deny everything or try to remain mum.

As a card-carrying media vulture, I know we're guilty of keeping the drooling beast well-fed and watered. We've got a section on almost every page of our site entitled Truth & Rumors -- a collection of links to the juiciest stuff from daily papers around the country. We're not the only site that provides them. And I'm the pond scum who wrote and posted the "Wife Swaps A-Rod For Kravitz" headline on this site's front page last week as part of our Morning Jolt feature ... and watched as more than a quarter of our total traffic clicked on the item within minutes and continued to do so for more than an hour.

I often get complaints from readers along the lines of, "This crap would go away if you idiots in the media would stop covering it." Well, as the great Ray Davies once sang, "You gotta give the people what they want."

The bottom line is that enough of your fellow humans actually give a fig about who's-canoodling-who to keep virtually every for-profit media outlet happily running the rat race with stuff that may turn out to be nothing more than the rantings of a crazed sterno bum with "inside knowledge of the situation." But if everyone else out there is running with the story, you can't afford not to if you profess to be up-the-second with your coverage. Hopefully, along the way you step back to offer some sober analysis and perspective on the story.

As I said, even in this time of ubiquitously nebulous "inside sources," there often is a grain of veracity floating around in a hot rumor. In A-Rod's case, his marriage was indeed in Le Crappeur -- something that ordinarily wouldn't matter to a pure sports fan unless it affected his performance on the field -- and Favre apparently began feeling and expressing his old stirrings as training camp drew near (not a surprise, really, but an annoyance to some -- such as the Packers and his successor Aaron Rodgers -- not to mention people who paid good money through their facial air ducts expressly to see Favre's "last game.")

The sad lesson here is that in this age of the infinite internet, a bazillion cable channels, satellite radio, traditional media outlets and camera phones murdering what's left of everyone's privacy, an athlete of any consequence can not expect to go anywhere or say anything to anyone without it ending up in the public's eye and ear. And as long as athletes are filthy reach and super-famous and happily consorting with the super-famous and filthy rich, much of the human race is going to be endlessly fascinated by what transpires outside of the game-day arena.

If you're a sports fan who is only concerned with on-the-field doings and talent-in-the-pipeline stuff, I hate to tell ya that it's gonna stay like this 'til further notice.

A final thought on Brett Favre

As the old song once asked, "How can I miss you if you won't go away?"

No doubt, a man has the right to reconsider a decision and continue to pursue something he loves to do, but after Favre's tearful retirement press conference in March, he's in danger of joining Roger Clemens as the sports equivalent of The Who.

You may recall that in 1982, the revered British band announced their "Farewell Tour."

In 1989, they embarked on their somewhat ill-received "25th Anniversary Tour" and never quite went away.

Two years ago, they put out a new cd, Endless Wire, and hit the road again.

The problem with these endless comebacks is that so much sense of occasion -- not to mention monetary value -- is attached to final anythings that you feel like you've been had if you forked out a big lump of dough for a ticket to The Who's "final" show or Favre's "final" game -- or stood dewy-eyed while Clemens accepted a Hummer before a packed Yankee Stadium crowd in 2003 only to watch him ride back into baseball with the Astros in 2004, not to mention the Yankees in mid-season last year. No doubt, he'd be riding back with someone right about now if not for that nasty little Mr. McNamee and all the Page Six gristle from his alleged dalliances with assorted road squeezes.

In any case, you can burn the stubs and flush the memories.

So if Favre does come back, with the Packers or the Ravens (the subject of the latest rumor) and plays another season, do you eagerly cough up the cake for his final game the next time he declares one? Do you care as much? Not that it should matter to him, but maybe next time he does the paying public a favor and waits a little longer before deciding to proclaim to the world that he's going away.

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