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While you were out: A round-up of summer’s sporting highs and lows

In the age of modern sport with its daily torrent of mindless give and take a couple of weeks on the beach can leave you fairly buried even if too much of what comes and goes is ragtime. Some artful catching-up is hence obliged.

 The NHL’s labor talks:  In the opening salvo, we discover we may have the ‘Mother’ of the all-time destructive sporting collective bargaining collisions on our hands. Borrowing from the playbook of the Robber Barons — hitherto believed to have been retired in the Gay Nineties —the owners are essentially declaring war on their own players. They vow to roll back wages roughly 22 percent while stripping their labor force of perks and rights they’ve enjoyed since the Original Six held them in total bondage a half century ago. To the players, the opening salvo was a bloody insult.
 
Many observers choose to regard the tactic as amusing, presumably on the assumption that the owners couldn’t possibly be that dumb and are merely posturing. Methinks they under-estimate the danger of these fools.

Serious degrees of incompetence and delusion characterize the ranks of the NHL’s oafish moguls, at least half of whom have no business being in the game. As but one measure of their collective wit and wisdom, owning a hockey team in Phoenix makes as much sense as establishing a surfing school on Golden Pond. The Sunbelt owners, who now constitute a tyrannical minority, won’t mind driving this alleged ‘negotiating’ process right over the cliff.

If the owners are not posturing there’s no way there will be a deal by the mid-September deadline; not with that worthy old Bolshevik, Don Fehr, calling the shots for the players. Nor is it likely that Commissioner Bettman — who is totally in the tank with the owners —- would allow the season to start without a new contract although he could do that if the talks were proceeding. To those few who care, be advised that it’s not too early to worry about whether there will be an NHL season, ‘next season’.

London Olympics beckon:  Featuring surface-to-air missile emplacements on top of apartment buildings abutting the stadium grounds to ward off would-be terrorists. Do you begin to wonder if the Games have outlived their reasonable necessity?

But it’s nice to see the U.S. Olympic Committee in familiar form. Allowing their team’s garb to be produced in China is merely dumb. It’s the pretensions of the thing that are truly amazing. The uniforms they’ve grandly authorized for the U.S delegation verify once again that the USOC doesn’t have a clue. Is it further possible that having high-fashion designer Ralph Lauren produce the costumes is vaguely out of step with the essential premises of this athletic festival?

Why do they need to be decked out like Swiss Air attendants, or an honor guard from the Kingdom of Zenda, or a chorus line from a Rudolph Friml operetta? Can’t you just see the assembled USOC poohbahs exclaiming in delight, ‘Ah now that’s the look we want our boys and girls to have!’ Perhaps, it’s the berets.

Pitiful Penn State:  Tragedy becomes laced with needless farce when the likes of Bill James, resident Red Sox guru, opts to blame the media for the classical failings of Joe Paterno. The Freeh Report slams the book shut. It’s clear that dear old JoPa was no latter day Lear sadly wronged by twisted fates but someone or something much deeper and darker. Whoever wanders into the minefield of apologia on this dreadful matter is a dang fool.

Meanwhile, the NCAA in all its legendary pomposity prepares to get involved. Heaven help us! The marching band and chowder society from Kansas —willing choreographers of all that’s wrong with collegiate sport — is said to be pondering further penalties for Penn State. How very gallant.

The dilemma is staggering. Should the University in Happy Valley be sanctioned for its monumental institutional failings? Few would object. But consider that those who would pay the heaviest price for any such sanctions are the kids now attending the university who had nothing to do with the crimes committed.

It would take Solomon himself to make the requisite very precise distinctions. Of this much, I can assure you. Solomon does not work for the NCAA.

Red Sox Notes:  Which you can take to the bank for whatever they are worth.

a. The high priced and under achieving Adrian Gonzalez blundered when he opted out of the last ill-fated Red Sox meeting with the Yankees claiming an alleged but ill-defined ‘illness’. No doubt his reasons were valid and his discomfort genuine and in Southern California, where he formerly performed, it would have passed unnoticed. But this is Boston and they were playing the Yankees in arguably the season’s most important game, as are they all. Moreover, his illness promptly proved rather less than ‘terminal’. Freddie Lynn, a better player who contributed more, got run out of town for much less.    
 
b. Regarding David Ortiz, there’s this question. When does likeable but increasingly irascible ‘Big Papi’ push the envelope too far? In his latest excess, Ortiz reveals he found this season’s contract negotiations that reaped him $14.5 million to have been ‘embarrassing’ and ‘humiliating’. Can you imagine Yaz getting away with that? Recall how Nomar Garciaparra  got hammered for whimpering that was hardly more indiscrete. Someone should remind Papi it was precisely three years ago that he promised to get back to us with an explanation for how he got included in Judge Mitchell’s list of steroid cheats. We’re still waiting.
 
c. Not sure what Bobby Valentine had in mind when he branded the departed Kevin Youkilis his clubhouse Quisling. But I do know this much. It was dumb. Valentine will never learn.
 
Patriots Cover Boy. That would be, of course, their herculean tight-end  Rob Gronkowski, emblazoned this week in what the tabloids used to call his ‘birthday suit’ on the cover of the latest ESPN the Magazine, a shallow rag under the best of circumstances.  

If Gronkowski feels he’s lacked attention the problem’s probably been rectified. But he ought also understand that notably depraved linebackers roaming the NFL minefield are likely to derive from his questionable photo-spread the inspiration to wipe the smile off his face, given the chance. If and when that happens you’ll understand where they’re coming from. This, apparently, is what sport has come to in our times. It’s a brave new world.

Wimbledon: On the other hand there is the annual tennis festival that well after a century and counting still exemplifies sport as its very best. There have been more dramatic tourneys at the jolly olde England in recent years but the triumphs of those 30-something paragons —Roger Federer and Serena Williams —was no less pleasing.

As usual, the tennis was terrific and the pageantry was elegant and everyone bowed politely to the starchy protocol of the thing and nobody grumbled about it nor sought to upstage it. In other words, it was wonderful. What is the finest sporting event of the year, every year? The answer is majestic Wimbledon, where essentially nothing has changed in a hundred years save for the addition of the roof they can roll out over centre court when it rains, as it always does. How grand!  

All-Star Baseball: At the other extreme you have the tired and increasingly dismal parody of what was once indisputably a wonderful idea but no longer works. The last all-star game worthy of the distinction was played at Fenway Park in 1999 when the spontaneous celebration of Teddy Ballgame charmed the nation. But who remembers what happened in the game itself.

This year’s flat and pointless renewal was deservedly rewarded with the worst television ratings in the history of the event. That this joyless exhibition should determine who gets critical home-field advantage in the World Series remains the most outrageous gimmick that the sitting commissioner has introduced in his interminably painful reign which has been full of them.

This party is over. Get rid of it. Nothing in Sport persists forever essentially unchanged. Except, maybe, Wimbledon!