Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bob Costas--That Little Weasel

First of all,  let me say how much I love the Olympics. Whenever possible, even in the middle of the night, I'm camped out in front of the TV, captivated by swimming or cycling or archery or volleyball or whatever. If it's an Olympic sport, I'm there.

But there's one drawback. As much as I love the Olympics, I actively and thoroughly loathe Bob Costas, who's the host of NBC's prime time Olympics' broadcasts. When he's on I mute the sound or change the channel. I don't look at him as a host. To me he's a pompous little weasel polluting my TV screen.

A host is supposed to be a warm, friendly presence, someone you're happy to spend time with. To me, that ain't Costas. He's totally condescending, making you feel you're lucky to be in his presence. From him you get the feeling there's a self-serving soundtrack running around in his head, featuring a line often blurted out by that braggart Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason on the 1950s' "Honeymooners" sitcom: "I'm the King and you're nothing!" Costas is one of the few guys who, when he's sitting down, you get the feeling he's strutting. He's smug, smirky and disgustingly self-satisfied.

Costas is the consummate know-it-all, the kind of guy you run from at parties, someone who knows something about everything and can't wait to let you know how much he knows. His mantra: I'm smart and you're not. He's constantly spewing facts, not to inform, but to impress.

When he does interviews you get the sense he's not trying to illuminate or get information out of his subject, but to call attention to himself. His questions are overly long, switching the spotlight to guess-who? So it's not about the interviewee, it's about Costas.

One of Costas' problems, clearly, is that he's short and hates being short. He's a walking Napoleon complex, elbowing his way through life, trying to prove he's as good as anybody, despite his lack of height. Randy's Newman's caustic classic, "Short People," was written about pompous little runts like him. There's nothing wrong with being short, unless it turns you into an insufferable blowhard.

Costas is Hollywood fake. He's a plastic-surgery nightmare, a poster boy for what you look like when your face has been under the knife too often--a male Joan Rivers. No blemishes or lines. But also no expression. He just turned 60 but from that all-dark, no-highlights hair, you'd never know it.

Sources I know at NBC say Costas is generally disliked. People don't like working with him because of his haughty attitude. Apparently Matt Lauer, the top "Today" host, isn't a Costas fan.

As I'm ending this, I'm humming the nasty "Short People" lyrics (it's one of the all time clever songs, by the way), with visions of The Weasel dancing in my head. Adding my own personal touch to the chorus: "Don't want no Costas 'round here."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Joe Paterno's Statue Speaks Out.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno isn't really dead.

Check out that statue of him outside of Beaver Stadium, the one many people want removed in the wake of the molestation scandal that put pedophile and former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky behind bars forever and soiled the image of Paterno and the great football program the late coach spent decades building. One of four administrators accused in the Freeh report of covering up Sandusky's crimes, Paterno, once a god, is now, to many, a villain, a criminal.

Listen carefully near the statue and you'll hear the coach chattering away....

"This isn't the way it was supposed to be. People who walk by looking at this statue were supposed to love me, respect me, to be sorry I'm dead, to wish I'd be around forever. All of them--everybody who walked by--used to think that. Now some of them think good thoughts about me but some of them hate me. They walk by and don't even look at me. They're disgusted with me. I hear what they're saying.

"They say I knew what Sandusky was doing to kids and I didn't do anything to stop it. They're saying I covered up what was happening, that I tried to bury it. They're saying I didn't care about those kids. But I did. I love kids. But I told people what Sandusky was doing.. I didn't condone it. He did a bad thing. He needed help. I thought he was getting it. What's important is that he stopped the bad things he was doing.  It's not my job to be a shrink or a policeman. My job was to be the football coach. My job was to protect the football program in any way I could and that's what I did.

"It used to be just a joy to watch people walk by. Now it's painful sometimes. It hurts so much sometimes. Look at the way that woman and those kids are looking at me. They're sneering at me. That kills me. They think I'm some kind of monster. Hey, you people. I'm not a bad guy.

"Remember what I did for this school. When people think of Penn State they think of football. I built that image. I brought in millions of dollars, helped so many people, helped so many kids grow into fine adults.
I did all that through football.

"My job was football. I did what I did to help the football program. A scandal would have hurt the program. I knew that. Look what's happened since everybody found out about Sandusky. It's killed Penn State. People look at the school differently. Nobody is proud to come from Penn State. Instead, they're embarrassed. I hear people talking..It breaks my heart. After all I did...

"Here come some people who're on my side. I see them a lot. They're smiling at me. Nice to see you again. Come back soon. Here come some more of my friends. So nice to see you. Keep telling people about the good things I did.

"I hear people talking about getting rid of this statue. They can't. They just can't. It's like home. It's part of me, part of Penn State. They can't do that. My people will stop that, I know it. How can you think of Penn State football and not think of me? This stadium wouldn't mean what it means if it wasn't for me.  I want people to remember me, to remember the good things I did, to honor the old coach.. I helped build this school, you know. Penn State is Joe Paterno. Joe Paterno is Penn State. God,  I love this school.

"Oh, no. Here come those guys again. They're here a lot, standing here and talking to people walking by and telling them what a rotten person I am. They keep saying a lot of lives were ruined by Sandusky because I was thinking about football first. They won't let that go. They don't understand. Aww, here it comes. No, no,  don't spit on me, don't spit on me. I'm Joe Paterno. You idiots!

"Here come some of my people. That's right, you tell those idiots that Joe Paterno is a good man. Tell them this statue should stay right where it is. Tell them I built this stadium, Tell them I'm a good man,. Tell them, tell them, tell them....


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Jerry Sandusky--A Closeted Gay?

"It takes one to know one," said Larry R., referring to Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach who'll be spending the rest of his life in prison for years of sexually abusing young boys. "He was a hard-core closet case, one of those real tortured guys. I'm sure of it. I have a feel for that because that's what I was. I actually felt sorry for him at one time. That was before all the horror stories came out."

Now partially out of the closet, Larry, who's 36, lives not far from the Penn State campus and works in the university's administration department. In Los Angeles recently, where he's open about being gay, he was visiting friends. When you reveal you're from Penn State, the conversation invariably turns to  Sandusky. Larry, though, had an interesting perspective on him.
On being gay in the town of State College, Pa.:
"It's a small town with a Midwestern mentality. It's not the best place to be gay. Some people are open about being gay, but you're placed in this gay box. It's OK if you're gay but it's better if you're not. Some people treat you differently when they know you're gay. If you're looking to get ahead, it's easier if you're straight. My friends know I'm gay but the people at my office don't know it. I prefer it that way."

On Sandusky:
"A lot of my friends suspected he was in the closet. When you're gay you have a sense of who else is. There are a lot of people on the Penn State campus who are in the closet. Closet cases can spot each other. But it's your business if you want to be in the closet. You don't butt in other people's business. We knew he had a family. We were guessing his family didn't know. But, again, that's his business. I had many dealings with him over the years. He was always nice and friendly, a real likable guy. But he was also a tortured soul, aching inside. It's part of being in the closet."

On being a closeted gay and a pedophile:
"I know being a pedophile and liking young boys doesn't necessarily mean you're gay. You can be straight and prey on young boys. Since Sandusky is married with a family, he's probably bisexual. But he's also a closeted gay. With him, my gaydar was screaming.

On gays and the Penn State sports department:
"There are closet gays in the sports department. I know enough people in the gay community back there to know that's the truth. There's one I know for sure, a football player. I know his boyfriend. But he wants to keep it a secret. That's his business."
On the closeted gays' perspective:
"I know there's a notion that gays think everybody is in the closet, that everybody is secretly gay. Sometimes you're wrong about people you think are in the closet. Your gaydar could be off. But most of the time I'm right. Me and my friends weren't wrong about Sandusky."

On Sandusky's dark side:

"I remember having drinks with some guys a few years ago and we started talking about him. One of the guys has a gay father--a closeted gay--who died some years ago and never really came out. It was really sad. He said his father was a Scoutmaster, working with young boys. He said his father was never accused of anything but he always wondered if his father did anything bad and just was never caught.

"We started talking about Sandusky because we knew he had that foundation helping young boys. We were joking about him playing around with those kids like it was something that would never happen. Just because you're in the closet and you work with young boys you don't have to be a pedophile. We joked about Sandusky a few times. I know, really sick jokes. Who knew he was really a monster?"

Monday, July 2, 2012

What Legendary Black Athletes Do Wrong

There's nothing more pitiful than a legendary athlete lingering in a sport years too long, well after the remarkable skills, once second to none, have eroded. It's painful watching some former great, deep in decline, performing below average.

When the struggling, failing icon is black, it's particularly disturbing to the black community. Some of the good will created by the icon is invariably chipped away by this ugly final chapter.

This athlete rose to become one of the all-time greats, garnering respect, paving the way for other people of color, making all blacks proud. Ideally, this icon should leave the sport with dignity, when the skills haven't gone too far south. But avoid that undignified exit.

This is an issue now because there's a black icon in trouble--tennis star Venus Williams. She and her sister Serena weren't the first big black tennis stars. That honor belongs to Althea Gibson, who won six Grand Slam singles titles in the second half of the 1950s, and Arthur Ashe, the lone black American male to win a Grand Slam singles title. One of the best female tennis players ever, Venus will be forever remembered as a key figure in bringing a black-American presence to a predominately white sport.

No question though, the 32-year-old, five-time Wimbledon champ, who's suffering from a rare, energy-sapping auto-immune disease, should retire. But she's still hanging on, a mere shell of the old Venus. Watching her performance last week at Wimbledon was distressing. She was knocked out by a nobody, 79th-ranked Elena Vesnina, in the first round. Williams couldn't move. She was late getting to balls and when she reached them her returns were underpowered, old-lady-like. Vesnina was consistently fooling Williams and on a few rallies was even cruelly toying with her. In the old days, Williams would have polished off this pesky wannabe in two sets, barely breaking a sweat.

She's following in the footsteps of some other blacks who waited way too long to retire. Center-fielder Willie Mays, one of the top 10 baseball players ever and one of the sport's first black superstars, should have quit when he was traded by the San Francisco Giants to the New York Mets in 1972. But, then in his early 40s, his speed and skills a fraction of what they used to be, he played a year and a half with the Mets. I recall seeing Mays, then in it for the money, play several times. In the outfield, the gazelle had turned into a lumbering moose. It was sad.

So were the final years of the great heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Though his prime years were in the 1930s through the mid-1940s, he was still boxing in the 1950s, hampered by slowed reflexes. To pay a huge IRS debt Louis, whose last serious fight was his loss to Rocky Marciano in 1951, kept fighting--and taking beatings. Even more humiliating, he resorted to wrestling matches from the 1950s through 1972. I actually saw one of those matches in the mid 1960s. It wasn't pretty. Talk about depressing.

So was seeing O.J. Simpson, a raging egomanaic who wouldn't admit he was finished, in his last year, 1979, when his speed was long gone. By then Simpson, whose best years were in Buffalo, was telegraphing his cuts and was too slow to turn corners. In his final game, as a San Francisco 49er (he started as a JC star in San Francisco), with Bill Walsh as coach, Simpson never even got to play. What a way for one the sport's all-time top five runners to conclude his career.

Arguably the best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan stayed one year too long, a year that was at times cringe-worthy. On the heels of all that Chicago Bulls glory, he played two years with the lame Washington Wizards. That final year tarnished his image somewhat. Driven by ego, not a need for money, Jordan, whose 40-year-old legs were largely dead, refused to believe he wasn't good enough to play any more. That year he was, at best, average and, more often, far less than that. He definitely wasn't close to the Jordan we'd come to admire.

I fear there's another casualty just around the bend--golf superstar Tiger Woods. Without Tiger, who's part black, golf would still be considered a white sport. Like Williams he's help bring an invaluable black presence to his sport. Though he's rallied somewhat this year--winning another tournament Sunday--aging Tiger's skills are slipping. In a few years, I can see Tiger, a tenacious competitor, his millions meaning nothing, drastically skidding down hill, struggling to make the cut in tournaments, embarrassing himself but refusing to retire. His identity is so glued to golf that, for him quitting, I predict, will be a messy trauma. Hope I'm wrong.

The problem with all these athletes is that their egos, critical in their drive to greatness, are still in overdrive when their careers are nearly over. Their bodies can't do it any more but their minds tune out this message. It's tough for them to accept performance declines, that the spotlight won't be on them any more, that it's time to retire and begin the next phase of their lives.

In these bleak moments, when common sense is often on hiatus, what's low on their prority list is being a symbol of black America. They're not thinking that a graceful final chapter would add gloss to their legacy and really make the black community proud. Do you think Mays had his status as a black symbol in mind when he was stumbling around the outfield as ancient member of the New York Mets?

Hopefully Venus Williams, who has plenty of money and doesn't need the bucks, comes to her senses soon--for her own good and the good of the black community. Venus, please retire before you become the tennis world's equavalent of Willie Mays.