Thanks to an insightful email I recently received from my friend Scott Jackson, it prompted me to spend the past few days pondering about his premise that sports consists of two vastly different realms: They are: 1) The spirit of sport, and 2) The business of sports.
The impetus for Jackson's email was Rick Reilly's recent column, which was highly critical of BYU basketball star Jimmer Fredette's final performance in the NCAA Tournament and pooh-poohed his prospects for playing in the NBA. Reilly is certainly a gifted writer who has long been recognized as one of America's best sports columnists, but BYU fans were incensed by his sarcastic remarks, and rightfully so.
Jackson said there was something about Reilly's caustic comments that bothered him, too, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
It wasn't until after Reilly wrote a follow-up piece, responding to the firestorm of criticism he'd received for his first Fredette column, that Jackson figured out why Reilly struck such a disharmonious chord with him.
It was because Reilly wrote about the business of sports by giving Fredette little or no chance of ever having a decent NBA career — a somewhat harsh and premature prediction that "violates a fan's right to enjoy the spirt of sport without always having to be confronted by the business of sports," according to Jackson.
"As a fan, I watch because I know that anything can happen once the competition begins," Jackson wrote. "If this wasn't the case, then there would be no need to play the games. We could just plug all the variables into a computer or have all the analysts predict the outcomes of every game or season and determine the winners and losers.
"Easy, right? If this is the case, then what's the point?"
Jackson also blames the business of sports for prompting schools to cheat by paying their athletes or giving them illegal benefits, and for only allowing certain conferences to compete for a national collegiate football championship. He goes on to say that the business of sports encourages athletes to do steroids, "causes a team to trade its star player and exhausts its Hall of Fame coach into retirement."
Instead, Jackson advocates that fans continue to hold close to the spirit of sport, maintaining "the consummate optimism that comes with the beginning of a new season and the amnesia of seasons past.
"Fans are fans because they have a belief, a hope, they choose to believe that there is always a chance for success each time their team steps out of the locker room and onto the field or court," wrote Jackson, whose dad, Bruce, was one of the best friends — and finest people — I ever knew before being claimed by cancer in 2006 at age 53.
"Each new season brings with it a new hope, a new beginning, and a rebirth of the spirit of competition. In the spirit of sport, anything is possible: VCU can make it to the Final Four, a wild card team can win a Super Bowl, and a 'cursed' baseball team can come back from being down 3 games to none and win a 7-game series."
I can certainly relate to that last statement. As a life-long, diehard Baltimore Orioles fan, I have suffered through a long, miserable drought of a dozen straight losing seasons.
I try to tell people that, once upon a time for more than three decades, the O's were a great franchise, winning three World Series championships and losing in the Series three other times between 1966 and 1983.
But nobody under the age of 40 believes me.
Still, when the Orioles started this season 4-0, I couldn't help but hopefully think, "Hey, maybe this is finally their year."
I know, I know. It's way too soon to start thinking about pennants or making playoff plans. After all, they've still got a hundred and fifty-something games to go. But at least they're off to a strong start and, like we always say, hope springs eternal.
That's why Cubs fans keep coming back despite 100-plus years without winning a World Series. That's why Jazz fans will be back next season — if a lockout doesn't keep 'em away — despite a disappointing 2010-11 season.
I'm very grateful for Scott Jackson's insight. He certainly made some great points and essentially wrote my column for me.
So here's hoping that, in the true spirit of sport, Jimmer Fredette proves Rick Reilly wrong and winds up enjoying a solid if not spectacular NBA career.
And, while we're at it, here's hoping that the Orioles keep winning, too.