Every once in a while, things get to the point where sports fans won't take anymore. It doesn't happen often. Sports fans are slow to rile and even slower to revolt.
Remember how quickly we all got over the baseball lockout that trashed a World Series?
But, every so often somebody does something that gets sports fans riled, something that threatens to damage their sport's tradition, integrity and dignity. When that happens, sports fans all over the country rise slowly as one from their recliners, steel their jaws, drop their swimsuit issues, clench their fists at their sides and declare, like Popeye, "I've had alls I can stands, 'cause I can't stands no more."
These fans then strike back at sports where it really counts. No, they don't cancel season tickets or pitch satellite dishes into the woods. They write letters. They call sports talk shows. They burn selected items from their team wearables collection.
So what is the threatening event that has stirred the ire of sports fans and media types this time? Let's first consider some things that have not.
It is not Ray Lewis. A year ago, this same Lewis was allegedly involved in a murder incident after the Super Bowl. He ended up pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. Now, all is forgiven and forgotten because Lewis will be in the Super Bowl. At least that will keep him off the streets. That and his Pro Bowl status is enough to keep him off the hook as far as fans are concerned.
Another guy who isn't the target of fans' wrath is Baltimore's Tony Siragusa. A week ago, in the AFC final against the Oakland Raiders, the 340-pound defensive lineman landed full-body on Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon with a force that pegged the needles on seismographs all over California. Gannon was injured and knocked out of the game. A wobbly Gannon looked like Wile E. Coyote after fair-catching one of the Grand Tetons.
It is also not Jason Kidd, the Phoenix Suns point guard who over the weekend was accused of punching his wife in the eye in front of their 2-year-old. Kidd has not done much to deny the charge. The Suns issued a statement saying they "don't condone" what he did. Not that Kidd's action was inexcusable or that he would be suspended from the team, just that the Suns don't encourage that sort of thing, at least as a matter of team policy.
Back in the last millennium, the Vikings shelled out about $150,000 in settlement money to a secretary who didn't care for the way Dennis Green and an assistant coach allegedly demonstrated their appreciativeness of her work. Green was criticized more for his lack of offense in the recent playoff loss than his offensive actions in the office.
No, none of those folks has riled sports fans, media and officials the way a guy named Casey Martin has. Martin is the golfer who wants to be able to ride a cart while competing in PGA events because a circulatory disorder in his leg makes it painful and nearly impossible for him to walk. When Martin's petition to the PGA asking to be able to use a cart was turned down, he sued.
Now the case has reached the Supreme Court. All the rhetoric says this case is about the right of a sports organization to set its own rules and make them iron clad. Fans who favor the PGA position say this is about protecting the integrity and dignity of the game.
Many of these fans who are now so concerned with the dignity of sport are the same folks you see each week at sporting events dressed or painted like assorted animals, cheese curds or, in Minnesota, like Ernest Borgnine in the film "The Vikings."
But this case isn't about golf losing its dignity or integrity. It lost that when it turned Martin down.
This case is about request compassion. Rules are about shaping and modeling behavior, not to be followed blindly when common sense and compassion says something contrary. Unfortunately, compassion and common sense cannot be legislated.
When Martin made his request, the PGA had a chance to raise the level of its game by making a one-time exception to its rule. It blew that opportunity.
But the fact that Martin might end up not playing his game while guys like Lewis, Kidd, Green and Siragusa continue to participate and prosper in theirs, is not so much an indictment of the sport as it is of the people who continue to watch and care and who pay the bills.
We do not yet know how the case pled by Martin and his attorneys will turn out. But there is only one plea for fans who continue to look the other way on the important issues and that is guilty as charged.
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