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No More Mr. Nice Guy March 15, 2010

Posted by dczarum in Uncategorized.
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The idea of mic’ing players is commonplace in the world of sports. Nearly every televised sporting event features some sort of “Mic’d Up!” segment, where the viewer gets to see and hear a game from the athletes’ perspective. More often than not it’s a waste of time; fans are treated to a minute or so of inaudible grunts and stirring phrases like, “let’s get a stop here!” (Chauncey Billups, guard, Denver Nuggets) or “c’mon Lamar!” (Phil Jackson, coach, L.A. Lakers). Sometimes it’s more worthwhile: during a live game broadcast in 2009, a mic’d up(!) Steve Smith noted to his then-Carolina Panther teammate Jake Delhomme, “Hey, I know you feel like crap.  I mean you’re not a very handsome guy… I never liked you as a quarterback. But as a person, I love you as a person. You know what I’m sayin’?” Um, kind of.

Every so often, however, these Microphone Moments remind us of why we watch sports in the first place. This past weekend a number of tennis’ biggest stars took part in Hit for Haiti, an internationally-televised fundraising event in California. The main draw pitted all-time greats, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, against their respective natural rivals, Andre Agassi and Rafa Nadal. With all participants wearing microphones, a verbal sparring match erupted between Sampras and Agassi in front of an audience of millions. At one point, a trepid Nadal even tried to quiet his partner, but failed miserably. After Agassi mocked Sampras for being a cheap tipper (whoa, keep it above the belt…) Sampras responded by purposely missing his next serve, instead firing the ball straight at Agassi’s head. It’s been nearly a decade since they’ve last played and clearly they still hate each other! Even though it made for strangely uncomfortable television, good ol’ fashioned, cold-blooded rivaries like this should be the norm.

The truth is sports are more exciting when there’s some degree of genuine hatred between opponents. Great rivalries like Sampras/Agassi, Larry Bird/Magic Johnson, and Adam Morrison/JJ Redick (they never actually played each other in college, but still) remain entrenched in our collective memory as sports fans. We agree that when Patrick Roy explained, “”I can’t hear what Jeremy [Roenick] says, because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.” it was purposefully vitriolic. And perfect. Recently, in a meaningless spring-training game, San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito made headlines when he intentionally nailed Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder with a wild pitch. Zito and the Giants, you see, had felt disrespected by Fielders’ excessive celebrations six months prior amidst the final game of the 2009 regular season. And so, the plunk was justified. Of course, in my world- the real world- I can’t throw a baseball at someone when I’m upset. In the world of baseball, of course, its part of the game and that detraction from reality is something of a theme in sports. It took, of all things, a Haitian benefit tennis match to remind me how to benefit from hate. Funny how it works sometimes.

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