Turn that frown upside down! Make those lemons into lemonade! Take the vices of your favorite sports figures and turn them into virtues! It's easy! Simply mix a cup of Shameless Rhetoric with two teaspoons of Twisted Logic and—voil�!—Albert Belle becomes Albert Schweitzer! John Rocker becomes Betty Crocker! David Falk becomes Jonas Salk! Don't believe us? Read on!
After Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley deliberately brained Canucks forward Donald Brashear with a hockey stick, ESPN analyst Barry Melrose made an on-air prediction. "He's gonna stand up and take the punishment of the National Hockey League," Melrose said of McSorley, who played for him when Melrose coached the Kings. "That's the way Marty is. That's the kind of guy he is." What kind of guy is McSorley? A stand-up guy! (In fact, that's what McSorley said to Brashear as the latter lay unconscious on the ice: "Stand up, guy!")
"There is no vice so simple but assumes some mark of virtue," Shakespeare suggested in The Merchant of Venice. So when the Merchant of Menace, Ray Lewis, was recently indicted for double murder, his lawyers explained that the Ravens linebacker was not fleeing the scene of a crime in a chauffeur-driven, double-stretch getaway car. "They said," as the Associated Press reported, " Lewis's only concerns were acting as a peacemaker and herding his friends... into a limousine and away from danger." The pessimist sees Lewis and says, "No bail!" The optimist sees Lewis and says, "Nobel!"
And anyway, the cynics will always dwell on the negative aspects of a double knife murder. What the naysayers never acknowledge is that multiple homicide can be a selfless act. As O.J. Simpson memorably told Esquire regarding the stabbing death of his ex-wife, "Let's say I committed this crime. Even if I did do this, it would have to have been because I loved her very much, right?"
It's that kind of irrepressible positivity that places elite athletes on a higher evolutionary plane. Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry surveyed his career as a drug-abusing, wife-contusing, tax-refusing ballplayer and knew this much: He was doing something right and ought to share his wisdom with others. Which is why Straw's recently published inspirational, motivational self-help book, Recovering Life, is on shelves today.
Straw, too, is on the shelf today, after last week's reports that he tested positive for cocaine in January. But even his serial battles against addiction are an act of valor. "It's a force, an evil force, that tries to get you in a death grip," Strawberry writes of this insidious sneak-attacker, "and it takes an awful lot of strength to get out of it."
In sports, virtue can be found in every action, from the benign to the ridiculous. On a recent morning The New York Times ran this caption beneath a photograph of the Yankees' star closer, who had just lost his arbitration hearing: " Mariano Rivera did not whine or complain after getting the news that arbitrators awarded him $7.25 million...." Let Rivera's forbearance and magnanimity be examples to us all.
Immediately adjacent to the Rivera story in that edition of the Times was a column praising the late Chiefs star linebacker Derrick Thomas. " Thomas had at least six children with five different mothers," the piece noted, but he "took care of the children financially and managed to be a father figure to them all. When he died, several of the mothers contacted the Chiefs and inquired about his financial situation."
Thomas was, by all accounts, a kind and charitable man. He was not, however, a paradigm of parental responsibility. But then the clocks have long since struck thirteen in sports: War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. It's 1984, in other words, and clear language has given up the ghost to "political language"—as George Orwell phrased it—"designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."