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Madden: War-sports cliches drop like bombs

Saturday, March 22, 2003

War! Huh! Good God, y'all! What is it good for? Sports analogies, of course. Tyronn Lue of the Washington Wizards said his team is in a war to make the NBA playoffs, just like the United States is at war with Iraq.

Former Pitt basketball star Curtis Aiken said that if the Panthers meet Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, it will be all-out war.

Robert Morris College basketball coach Mark Schmidt previewed last night's Pitt-Wagner game thusly: "Being the favorite, Pitt has to strike quickly and decisively, just like the U.S. in Iraq." Schmidt did not suggest immediately killing Wagner Coach Dereck Whittenburg.

More generically, we all know about the 60-minute war (football, not Germany vs. France). You've got to win the battle in the trenches. You need to be a warrior out there.

Most sports are loosely patterned after war. You infringe on opposition territory, then thrust an object into a specific area to claim victory. In hockey, it's a puck into a net. In Iraq, it's a missile into Saddam's skull. I don't think clutching and grabbing will retard the latter pursuit for too long.

War analogies are the bane of sports talk shows. Aiken and Schmidt dropped the aforementioned, er, bombshells during my Thursday broadcast.

Some feel that such analogies are inappropriate during times of war. If that's the case, then they're inappropriate all the time because somebody is always fighting somewhere.

ESPN radio host Sean Salisbury nearly, uh, exploded over Lue's comments. How tasteless to compare basketball to war while brave men and women are fighting for our freedom, blah, blah, blah. But when the United States doesn't happen to be involved with armed conflict, Salisbury drops sports/war cliches more than any broadcaster alive.

It should be noted that Salisbury played pro football in Canada, having originally gone to that country to avoid the draft.

Oh, wait, sorry ... Salisbury actually went to Canada because the NFL draft avoided him. My bad.

I enjoy watching CNN during wartime. CNN is the ESPN of war, right down to the "Bottom Line" rip-off crawling across the lower edge of the screen and giving you bare-bones information that cuts right to the chase: "Thousands of Iraqi troops surrender, Baghdad in flames, rest of Arab world upset, terrorist retaliation imminent, upsets few in NCAA tournament." Hey, you can't totally forget about sports.

Hockey fans in Montreal booed the U.S. national anthem Thursday night. How long before disgruntled Penguins fans find a way to blame that on Mario Lemieux?

Women's rights crusader Martha Burk remains a model of decorum during these troubled times. Burk suggested that Augusta National cancel the Masters out of respect for those fighting in Iraq, quickly adding that if the tournament goes on, so would her protest regarding that club's lack of female membership. Out of respect for those fighting in Iraq, I'm sure.

Augusta should admit just as many female members as there are women fighting on the front lines in Iraq. But in the rear with the gear doesn't count.

Pardon this totally irrelevant note, but did you hear that Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz beat Annika Sorenstam in a round of golf? Plans for Sorenstam to pitch a few innings in the major leagues this season will still go ahead as planned, however.

Anyway, forgive the dopes (like me) that compare sports to war even as Iraq is awash in blood. I don't know what war looks like up close. Hopefully, I never will.

Forgive those who make inappropriate statements, and don't forget about everyone's right to free speech. This great nation of ours started out with a bunch of revolutionaries making statements that were, at the time, considered very inappropriate. You say Lue is an idiot. I say he might be a Thomas Paine for our time. Except for that part about common sense.

And respect the words of Pitt basketball player Donatas Zavackas, who witnessed war up close in his native Lithuania.

Before hostilities broke out in Iraq, Zavackas said the NCAA tournament should be canceled in the event of war. That's not going to happen. The games will be played, and not because America needs a diversion or because we need to keep on living normally. The games will be played because of money. There's nothing wrong with that. It's the American way.

But Zavackas had it right. From a human perspective -- forget the political perspective -- sports is totally insignificant compared to what's going on in Iraq.

By the way, the real answer to my original question is: Absolutely nothing. Edwin Starr got it right, too.


Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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