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Sports: People on Court, Not in Court

On the front sports page of Thursday's USA Today, three headlines: "NBA Suspends Heat's Haslem for Game 6,'' "The Problem of Slow Play'' and "Players Sue NFL, Claim Collusion Over Cap."

This is the toy department of life?

A rush to the laptop. At ESPN.com, "NFL Players Union Chief Says Group's Claim of Collusion Will Stand Up in Court.'' The story: "Doug O'Neill, the trainer of Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another, was suspended 45 days after one of his horses had an excessive level of carbon dioxide ..."

This is the world of fun and games?

The late Earl Warren, Supreme Court chief justice and governor of California, said he always read the sports section first because it recorded man's accomplishments and the news section man's failures.

Is anything being accomplished in the Roger Clemens perjury trial? (He'll avoid conviction, but that's another issue.)

It's not always like this. And there was actual competition, especially in the NBA, where, of course, the Heat made it to the East finals by beating Indiana.

Not a surprise, but a reassurance. People facing each other on court, not in court.

We understand, to a point. The fantasy sporting world no longer exists, as opposed to fantasy leagues. Too much communication. Too much skepticism. Too much realism. But at what price?

"All we are," Pete Rozelle once said when advised his Super Bowl was too big, "is a bit of entertainment.'' Exactly what sports should be. And opera should be. And ballet should be. And rock concerts should be.

Escapes, a few hours of what, as pointed out not infrequently, 18th Century English author and moralist Samuel Johnson called "tumultuous merriment."

Have enough of Greece and the euro, fraud with the Facebook IPO, that $2 billion loss by J.P. Morgan - makes Albert Pujols' salary seem like chump change? Then go to sports.

Yet when sports is about lawsuits and dawdling golfers who move like a Rodin sculpture, where do we go?

To read of a one-game suspension of the Heat's Haslem (which, assessing the Heat's win over the Pacers, didn't matter)? Depressing.

The last year has been about Ohio State firing its football coach, accusations of abuse at Penn State, an inappropriate relationship and motorcycle accident involving the coach - now the former coach - at Arkansas, the NFL lockout, the NBA lockout and too many other items either distressing of scandalous.

In another era, Babe Ruth's indiscretions never reached the public. (In another era, neither did John F. Kennedy's, but his game was flag football at the family compound. Well, one of his games was.)

There are no longer any secrets. And certainly no longer any perspective.

On the fields or courts. Or in print.

NBA players have shoved, hacked and punched as long as pro basketball has existed. Ever hear of Jim Loscutoff? He was the enforcer on those Celtics championship teams of the 1960s, as nasty as, well, Udonis Haslem. Opponents complained, not that it did them much good. He was part of the system.

But that was before every game was televised. Before ESPN. Before a poke to the ribs or an elbow to the chin was deemed a flagrant Foul. Before the league felt compelled to keep him from playing and a national publication felt compelled to make it the story of the day.

Over "golf's lagging pace.'' I love the game, and slow play is a problem, but to majority of sports fans, it isn't anywhere as significant as wondering whether Tiger ever is going to get it back of whether Bubba can win another major, like the next one, the U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club.

Over "Players Sue NFL.'' Tell me about Andrew Luck, about Tim Tebow, about Hakeem Nicks, but not about one more legal issue. Pro football is not judges and attorneys arguing in some small room. It's quarterbacks and cornerbacks battling in a huge stadium.

There was a time when the media paid virtually no attention to the evils of sport, concentrating only on what happened inside the lines. Now it's obsessed with everything other than the games.

That's why the tales of Tebow and Jeremy Lin, and now LeBron James and Bryce Harper, have such great staying power. They deal with men throwing passes, throwing in jumpers or driving balls in the gap. They deal with sports.

In Washington, D.C., it's the government trying to prove Roger Clemens lied to a jury and not too far away Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III trying to prove he deserved to be the second pick in the NFL draft.

You have to believe there's a great deal more interest in the new quarterback than the old pitcher.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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