Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Apparently I'm a player-hater

Last week on Page 2, Alan Grant wrote a story titled, "Stop hating on Prime Time." The impetus for this diatribe (I can only guess) has to do with all the press Deion Sanders has received since he rejoined the playing ranks last week. And while Sanders has decided on a comeback, it's not even in the same neighborhood as a Michael Jordan un-retirement (any of them), and perhaps it's more comparable to a Larry Holmes or maybe even a Jim Palmer attempt at a return to glory (I'm kind of kidding about Palmer, but do you remember that? At what seemed like the age of 60, Palmer showed up in spring training with a 75 mph fastball. I think he lasted a week before he was back doing underwear commercials).

Anyway, I encourage you to take a look at Grant's article and see if you can make any sense of it.

If you don't like Deion Sanders, then you don't like football. Can't put it to you any more simply than that.

Actually, I can.

If you don't appreciate Deion Sanders the baller, then chances are you're one of those people who lives by this ethos: I love sports, but I hate athletes.
Um. I thought I liked football and I definitely have quite a distaste for Deion. Don't misunderstand, he was the best cover cornerback ever to play, but when he wrapped up his career (and in the process swindled a few million out of Dan Synder) in Washington, he was injured and for the most part ineffective. That said, I think Sanders is a loud-mouthed, double-talking blow-hard.

After having to listen to his dopey pregame commentary for a couple of years, in addition to all the other crazy things he did (like preaching and hosting the Miss America contest -- by the way, isn't that some sort of conflict of interest), I think it's OK if I didn't see him for a while. And I thought I had my wish when CBS wisely decided not to give him a raise for whatever he thought he added to the 'NFL Today' pregame show.

But no. As soon as Deion realized he wouldn't be in the spotlight somewhere, he let Ray Lewis talk him into making a comeback. And now he's in Baltimore. As a Steelers fan do I think he'll make an impact? Nope. Unless Deion is going to line up at wide receiver and can also play quarterback, I don't care. Adding a washed-up former great player to the Ravens defense is like adding Dr. J to the original 1992 Dream Team -- it's good PR, but on paper it won't matter. The Dream Team would be hard-pressed to improve on that team they took to Barcelona. And the same can be said of the Ravens defense. I'm sure they'd love to have a Champ Bailey or Julian Peterson, but Deion Sanders ain't near the top of anyone's defensive wishlist.

Back to Grant. What makes this guy think that Deion's four years of sitting around doing pregame shows and primping in front of the camera will have changed anything for the better? And more importantly, why do people who hate Deion, "love sports but hate athletes" according to Grant?

Let me tell you something, I hate the Ravens, Patriots, Yankees and Duke Blue Devils. Nonetheless, I have a lot of respect for Ray Lewis (primarily because I don't want him to kill me), Tom Brady (I still hate him), Derek Jeter (I hate him more) and Coach K (I hate him a lot too, but the guy wins every year).

So I think Grant makes the wrong point. If you're a fan, then your favorite team naturally has a rival, and if you don't hate your rival, then how is that fun? It's like watching the 1 AM ESPN showing of the Idaho - Montana State college basketball game in the middle of December. For the most part, no one cares who wins those games because I don't think anyone would mistake this for a rivalry. It's OK to hate players on the opposing team, but I think the more important question is whether you respect them for their abilities. And while I hate the players (and coach) mentioned above, I still have a lot of respect for what these guys can do and how they have a knack for making the big play at a crucial point in the game (usually to my game-enjoying detriment).

Actually these first three paragraphs are Grant's most lucid, but after that things get weird.

Nonetheless, Grant is kind enough to give his definition of a player-hater -- and it's one that I think most people would have a hard time reconciling with their own beliefs. Either way, here it is:

How do I define a player-hater? Easy. A hater is one who's jealous of any man who succeeds by doing his own thing, who is his own man, and who risks isolation because life is too damn short to please everyone. For the past 15 years, there has been no greater divining rod for haters than Deion Sanders.
Actually, I should have mentioned this earlier in the post, but I figure now is as good a time as any. The term "player-hater" has been around for at least seven years and even all of the tired urban slang I use has a shelf-life of about five years (my all-time favorite: "I'm just keepin' it real!"), which means that I haven't used the term since 2002. So for Grant to use "player-hater," or any of it's derivates ("don't hate the player, hate the game"; "PhD: Player Hater degree"; "Hatorade", blah blah blah) should automatically raise some concerns and disqualify him from being taken seriously.

Anyway, to say Grant's definition is lacking is like saying that Deion Sanders doesn't like to tackle. Look, I think Chris McAlister is one of the best CBs in the NFL and I've always thought as much. This guy's had a lot of success, he's done his own thing and he's risked isolation because life is too short (remember McAlister held out this summer because he was tired of being franchised).

I wonder how Mr. Grant would explain that. Maybe I can help him. Sanders can't stand not being in the spotlight. His nickname should be "Red Light" because everytime the camera's on-air 'red light' flashes you can expect to see Deion's mug somewhere nearby. That's something you don't see with a player like McAlister.

I'm not sure why ESPN gave Grant the space to write this silly article, but it certainly hasn't changed my opinion of Deion. In fact, if nothing else, it's probably strengthened my resolve as I wait for the week 2 matchup with the Steelers. And while I never wish injuries on any player, I wouldn't mind seeing Hines Ward knock the wind out of Sanders a couple of times. Maybe Grant will label Ward a player-hater too.