And we know that the kids we pull out of the war zones to play these games are often damaged, angry, and unsocialized — in fact, we romanticize their bloodlust, making it plain every draft season that the kids who don’t have the “killer instinct” or are “too nice” can forget about getting first-round money. The meaner they are, the more we like them. (For example, check out this draft preview entry from a recent issue of Pro Football Weekly: “At a position where teams seek warriors, Richardson quite simply plays like a chardonnay drinker.”)
That is where the sick joke of sports crime comes in. The sports world seeks out these poor, screwed-up, angry kids, showers them with money, broads, and attention in high-profile college programs, and teaches them about responsibility by giving them no-show salaries and hiring the class geeks to do their homework — and then the same sports world acts surprised and mortified and makes judgmental poses when these kids go off the rails and start kicking out police cruiser windows or punching out bystanders outside of strip clubs.
The kids get extra chance after extra chance — so long as they can still contribute on the field. But once they get too confused to help the home team win, they get cut loose and pawned off on the criminal-justice system. It’s a con game, one in which everyone is guilty — the school boards that acquiesce in this charade (and impoverish their academic departments) in exchange for the money, the scouts and coaches who wink at eligibility rules and choose winning at all costs with coddled thugs over a mere best effort with tough love and teaching, the sportswriters who endlessly celebrate egomania and psychopathic violence, the boosters for obvious reasons, the parasitic agents and their “Get Paid” ethos, the networks who sell it all, the fans who buy it, everyone.
Getting back to this column: yes, a lot of it is about black athletes. But I also try to make it about the coaches, the colleges, the agents, and everyone else in the sports world who has a hand in this whole dastardly business. I try to make it about the cops who week after week are pulling over cars full of black kids for no obvious reason and finding their crimes only later, or who are shooting millionaires with Taser guns and getting away with it because their targets are black, physically imposing millionaires.
I’m making jokes about this stuff because that’s what I do, but if there’s some way to do this that sounds less like sneering white escapism, my e-mail address is listed below. In the meantime, I’m just going to watch the arrest reports as usual. The 2008 list, ironically enough, is going to start with suburban white skateboard icon Shaun White (winner of the 2007 We’d Most Like To Coat Him with Beef Gravy and Throw Him in a Tank Full of Hammerheads Award), who got himself busted last week for setting off a fire extinguisher in a Colorado resort. More on that next week — until then, Happy Holidays, sports fans.
When he’s not googling “chardonnay warriors” and “White out,” Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone. He can be reached atM_Taibbi@yahoo.com.