Sam Donnellon | Our actions speak louder than our words

Posted: July 05, 2007

A GEORGIA PHYSICIAN is arrested for supplying massive amounts of illegal drugs to wrestler Chris Benoit, a week after he killed his wife, child and self.

The National Football League, compelled by increased stories of brain-damaged ex-players, triggered by the sad suicide of ex-Eagle Andre Waters - and perhaps the onset of a Congressional inquiry - finally begins to address the effects of concussions in its sport.

Barry Bonds collects 2,325,391 All-Star votes, assuring the tainted recordholder will appear in front of his hometown fans in next week's, um, midsummer classic.

Amid protests that the sport has become too soft - i.e., not enough fights - hockey continues its slide into the murky waters of who-cares sports, its closest ratings competitors no longer the three major professional sports, but arena football and the WNBA.

Ultimate fighting, which incorporates martial arts and boxing and concludes only when one man is incapacitated, is among the fastest-growing sports in the nation. NASCAR racing is another.

The fiber that connects all this, of course, is you. You asked for all of this. You tuned in to Vince McMahon's freak shows, you celebrated the big hits made by Waters (and the ones made now by Brian Dawkins).

You nod your head when Don Cherry gets on NBC during the Stanley Cup Finals and says, "The fans love the fights. The players love the fights. ''

"I have to laugh,'' Cherry said that night. "And I hate to get NBC hacked and everything, but I'm told the reason they cut it down is because they wanted USA people to watch it. Families! Can you believe that? That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life. U.S. . . . NASCAR, where there's crashes; football, kill the quarterback; ultimate fighting. Who's kidding who?''

We are, Don. We're kidding ourselves, each other, and those in the media to which we occasionally express our outrage. (OK, for some of you, it's more than occasional.)

That line your mother used to use, about it always being funny "until someone gets hurt?''

We make fun of it in our advertising now.

The next line now: "Then, it's hilarious.''

It's the philosophy of "Jackass'' - most reality shows, really. Our moral compass seems broken these days, the ante for our bloodlust increases each Nielsen ratings period. Sports writers, sports anchors, Michael Barkann - we are all finding it harder to take a stand when we sit down to do our jobs.

Where is the line? If Bonds is such a jerk, then why were 2.3 million votes cast to start him next Tuesday in San Francisco? All these old football pros with their diminished motor skills and memory losses are as much on our conscience as that of any coach, past or present, in the NFL. Didn't we praise the toughness of Dawkins when he returned from la-la land in the late stages of that Giants game last year? Didn't I?

Anyone for canceling their Eagles season tickets until the sport becomes safer? Didn't think so. Anyone recognize these names - Brian Pillman, Chris Candido, Davey Boy Smith, "Ravishing'' Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, Louie Spicolli? All are wrestlers who have died young since 1995, unexpectedly. There are many more; those are just the more famous ones.

McMahon is a fun and easy media target, especially since we are not compelled to cover his scripted "entertainment sports.'' But no one would be paying thousands of dollars for phony prescriptions, or ingesting lethal amounts of steroids, if no one was watching. The pay-per-view numbers for the latest wrestling show were its highest in nearly a decade, I am told, and that's with ultimate fighting pay-per-view shows in the mix.

Ah, yes, ultimate fighting. The story of former pro football receiver Johnny Morton entering one of those bouts recently and leaving on a stretcher in a neck brace is actually used by supporters of the sport to emphasize its legitimacy.

The blood, the broken bones, the brutality - hey, it's all real!

Which, of course, separates it from the movies and video games that are sometimes used to defend its existence. No doubt, we are a society increasingly calloused to acts of violence. It was instructive that in the newest "Die Hard'' installment, innocent casualties were in the hundreds rather than the few of the original. These days, you can blow up Washington, D.C., and still hold your PG-13 rating. It's only a movie, right?

As for our current reality, well, it's all in your hands. You buy the pay-per-view. You furnish the ratings. You legitimize the "human cockfights,'' as Sen. John McCain called ultimate fighting a decade ago, with your disposable income and viewership.

You cast the All-Star votes, you sold out Citizens Bank Park when Barry came to town recently.

We may claim we're for safety and clean living. But when it comes to our sports, clearly we don't vote that way. *

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