Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why can't we NOT be friends?

  Hank Williams Jr. lost his place as the intro singer to ESPN Monday Night Football 2 weeks ago when in an interview with Fox News, he compared President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner playing golf last week to “Hitler playing golf with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu." When pressed, Williams said Obama was 'the enemy', making it clear that he was not comparing Boehner to Hitler in his comparison.

  I didn’t think there was a terrible outcry to remove Williams from Monday Night Football. ESPN probably decided to jettison the singer before there was one. The song had run its course, having followed Monday Night Football from its descent as one of the highest rated and longest running prime time shows on network television to featuring Dennis Miller, offloaded to cable television featuring Tony Kornheiser and now its current incarnation as a straight football show with no pretensions of trying to have any other audience beyond beer-drinking football fans and gamblers trying to break even for the weekend. The show didn’t need a 60+ year old country singer ‘rocking’ how his rowdy friends were getting ready for Monday Night and adding new lyrics each week with whatever can rhyme with ‘Night’.

  Lost in all the hype over Williams Jr. losing his night job is that he asks a good question. Why were Obama and Boehner playing golf together during the heat of a budget crisis or any other time? Obama has recently accused the Republican Congress of wanting to have‘dirtier air, dirtier water’ and called on his supporters to 'punish our enemies' during the last congressional election (he later backed off that comment) . Boehner wasn’t giving Obama a mulligan over the ‘enemies’ comment and in July compared working with the White House to ‘dealing with Jell-O’. And now they’re playing golf? I don’t mind Obama and Boehner insulting each other or golfing together, but I wish they’d either be friends or enemies so I’d know where they stand.

  Baseball’s not as popular as it used to be, but one thing I hardly ever see on a baseball field is the players from opposite teams hugging and congratulating each other after a game. The winners congratulate each other on the field and the losers head to their clubhouse. I don’t like watching 3 hours of a violent football game and seeing all the players shaking hands and patting each other’s rear ends afterwards. It was big news this Sunday when the coaches of the Lions and 49ers got in a big argument during their post game handshake, with both being accused of poor sportsmanship. If my team just got beat in the last minute like the Lions did on Sunday, I don’t want the coach of my team congratulating his conqueror.

  I wouldn’t want the star of the team I rooted for having a pre-game kiss with the star of the other team like Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas did in the 1988 NBA finals. At least they were proved to be phony about their kisses after they got in a scrum over a loose ball and almost came to blows in Game 4 of the series. After that, the kissing stopped, at least in public. The hockey players have a tradition of shaking hands after the end of a playoff series. It seems stupid to do in the only sport where a fistfight comes at the price of a 5 minute penalty to both sides, but the players have to go through with it under the threat of a hefty fine. After a particularly violent series between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 where Claude Lemiuex’s dirty hit on Red Wing forward Kris Draper broke his jaw, nose, and cheekbone, Detroit forward Dino Ciccarelli said of Lemiuex "I can't believe I shook this guy's friggin' hand after the game. That pisses me right off".

  I always see golfers and tennis players shaking hands with each other after the matches and the tennis players even shake the umpire’s hand. I can give these sports a pass since there the golfers are both competing against the course and the tennis players don’t come in physical contact with each other, but I have to admit I enjoy watching the veneer occasionally peel off, like when Serena Williams got so upset at the umpire at the US Open over a call she disagreed with she wouldn’t shake the umpire’s hand. Race car drivers not only don’t shake each other’s hands after the races, sometimes they try to crash into each other before the race is over or have a fist fight after the race.

  When I play chess, I almost always shake my opponents hand before and after the game and I think that’s OK. Unlike professional sports, we are paying for the opportunity to play chess and the handshake is not only a sign of respect, it is a way to thank the opponent for giving me someone to play. And unlike politics, we aren’t calling each other unpatriotic or bowls of Jello (most of the time). That’s not to say that players always shake hands. When the Russian defector Victor Kortchnoi challenged Russian hero Anatoly Karpov for the world chess championship in 1978 and 1981, there were no handshakes. In a 2006 championship match, Vladimir Kramnik was accused by Veselin Topalov’s team of sneaking into the bathroom for computer assistance and found himself locked out of his bathroom before a crucial game. Topalov even threatened to not shake Kramnik’s hand the rest of the match. Kramnik forfeited the game but won the match and there are a number of examples of the two not shaking hands in subsequent matches. I haven’t had to play anyone I disliked in a long time. If I did, I’d probably be like Dino Cicarelli and shake the other players ‘friggin hand’ and be mad at myself about it later.

  25 years ago in the golden age of professional wrestling one of the most popular fueds featured the so-called Iron Sheik (from Iran), who would disparage the USA at every opportunity and ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan would wave the American flag around the ring, get the crowd cheering USA-USA-USA, and then knock the Iron Sheik upside the head with his handy 2x4 at some point during the match to the delight of the sold-out crowds. We all knew wrestling was fake but when Duggan was arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike for drunk driving and the Iron Sheik was in the car with him, professional wrestling lost a lot of fans who weren’t willing to put up with the two actors being traveling companions even though no one ever questioned how the Iron Sheik could be whacked on the head with a 2x4 repeatedly night after night.

  Sportsmanship is all well and good, but when I see politicians insult each other repeatedly or sports figures trying to physically conquer each other, it makes me suspicious when they buddy up right afterwards. I hope Obama and Boehner are careful if they decide to take a drive on the New Jersey Turnpike, but if they were discussing how to amend the health care plan to help this guy (Warning - not for the squeamish) during their golf outing, then there are at least 2 Hanks that owe them an apology.