A useful rule of thumb for television viewing: Any program that includes footage of Mark Gastineau writhing in pain after crashing his bicycle deserves a look. To see that vainglorious, erstwhile member of the New York Sack Exchange eat asphalt, check out The Superstars silver anniversary on Sunday (2 p.m. EST). Despite the reunion flavor of the show, which also includes a new Superstars competition, an invitation was not extended to former Superstar O.J. Simpson, for obvious reasons: Flying to Jamaica for the taping would have interrupted the lifelong quest to which the Juice has devoted himself. Also, he suffers from arthritis.
For two decades The Superstars trotted out athletes who were supposed to be the best and brightest of our sporting world—many of whom turned out to be nothing of the sort. On the inside cover of ABC's glossy folder promoting the anniversary show is a collage of Superstars alumni, the caption of which ought to read SIC TRANSIT SUPERSTARDUM. There's Simpson, in happier times, inexplicably bowling lefthanded. Above him is Steve Garvey, whose carefree smile does nothing to indicate that later, while engaged to one woman, he would father children by two others. Beneath the impeccably groomed Garvey is Pete Rose, awaiting a serve in his too-tight tennis shorts and anticipating, no doubt, his initiation into the Hall of Fame. Among the old-timers seen on the reunion show is Joe Frazier, who nearly drowned in the swimming portion of his inaugural competition and not so long ago went to the bottom again when he mocked Muhammad Ali, who suffers from Parkinson's syndrome, and questioned the choice of Ali to light the 1996 Olympic flame.
The presence of Frazier does remind us of the one redeeming aspect of the show: Even as it exalted its participants as Superstars, it stripped them of their dignity by forcing them to compete in unfamiliar sports. After he sank like a sewer grate in '73, for example, Smokin' Joe fared almost as poorly in the baseball-hitting competition, causing Jim McKay to exclaim melodramatically, "The batting machine has struck out Joe Frazier!"
Contributions to slapstick humor notwithstanding, the show must be called to account for its role in suppressing the national I.Q. It was the first and most famous of those execrable made-for-TV events that came to be known as trashsport. As for this year's new Superstars, I have the following bits of advice: Hurdle the high jump bar at the end of the obstacle course because it'll knock five seconds off your time, and enjoy this gig while it lasts. If history is our guide, some of you are in for a bit of a struggle, post-Superstardom, on the obstacle course of life.