Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Little Right Lie

In the wake of the dogfighting scandal involving NFL quarterback Michael Vick, the women of “The View” held a “hot topics” discussion regarding the position athletes occupy in American society. We place them on a pedestal—do they deserve it?

Joy Behar argued no, cracking wise that “It’s not like these guys are sitting down reading Freud,” or something to that effect. Which was her way of saying, we shouldn’t place so much value on guys whose light bulbs are missing a few watts. Elisabeth Hasselback, herself the wife of a QB (albeit a back-up one), objected to this characterization: “I know lots of highly intelligent athletes.”

I hate to contradict The Hasselback. (We actually agreed this week that it’s important to say “I love you” to your spouse on a regular basis because you never know when it might be your last chance. If anyone in Hell can drop me an email, please confirm that the joint has frozen over.) So I’ll let Sports Illustrated do the job for me.

In the magazine’s weekly Pop Culture Grid, four athletes were asked to fill in the following blank: “Best thing I read last week…”

Jeff Francis, pitcher, Colorado Rockies: “How to Talk to a Widower,” by Jonathan Tropper, #15,272 on Amazon

Barrett Ruud, linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: “Now I Can Die in Peace,” by Bill Simmons, the sportswriter’s look back on his life as a Red Sox fan

Chris Gbandi, defense, FC Dallas (the soccer team that does not have David Beckham): Maxim magazine—the Lindsay Lohan edition

Dustin Pedroia, second base, Boston Red Sox: “I don’t know how to read.” [laughs] Note to Simmons: Perhaps a hooked-on-phonics version of your book?

The Grid is one of the first features I turn to when each issue of SI arrives in my mailbox, although I suspect it was injected into the magazine to capture far younger readers. While we may question whether it’s healthy for kids to idolize athletes, the fact is that they do, and I wonder what kind of message they’re taking away from a comment like Pedroia’s, which was in no way unique. I’ve seen plenty of his peers take their turn in the Grid and answer “I don’t read” [not laughing] or “I can’t remember the last book I read” [still not laughing] to this same question. (I’m not sure Gbandi’s admission of perusing Maxim isn’t more troubling, but he’s a soccer player, so nobody cares.)

I’m not asking these guys to start toting around copies of “War and Peace.” Although it could be beneficial to their biceps. But as long as kids take their cues from athletes and not, say, English teachers, I am asking players to lie. To lie and say that they have a passing acquaintance with the written word. I mean, they have no problem dissembling about steroids or the woman they’re photographed leaving a nightclub with, who happens to not be their wife.

Think of it as a little right lie.


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