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The Best of Frank Deford
I'm Just Getting Started
By Frank Deford
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2000 Frank Deford
All rights reserved.
I am informed by The American Journalism Review that a survey of almost three hundred broadcast students at three major journalism schools reveals that better than half the males want to go into sports. In particular, among the young American men who aspire to actually be on the air, more than twice as many would rather cover games instead of news.
I suppose I should be delighted at this revelation. After all, as someone who's been a sports journalist for most of my working life, these figures would seem to be affirming of my vocation. But still, proud though I may be of my profession, it never occurred to me that it was meant to be a working majority. That more than half of young men in TV would want to cover sports has the same ring to it as if we learned that more than half the males in medical school wanted to concentrate on cosmetic surgery.
The contrary news, by the way, is that only eight percent of the aspiring female broadcasters want to go into sports — which also means, by process of elimination, that soon most all the anchors and reporters on television will be women.
More important, this is just another example of the sportification of our society. It indicates how so many more young people — young males — are determined to go into sports, even if they can't play sports. For instance, one of the most popular new majors on campus is sports management, wherein you study to be a general manager. Oh my, the nerds are invading sports, too.
But then, it's difficult not to also conclude that as women infiltrate into positions of authority in almost all professions, at least a certain number of frightened and insecure men will turn to sports business as the last mostly-male power refuge.
Another evidence of sportification is that more and more old, terribly rich men seek to cap off their careers by buying sports teams. It's the best way to let people know you're really rich, to buy a team. And for the merely very rich, luxury boxes have become the yachts of the fin de siècle.
Yet still, it never fails to amaze moral custodians that most taxpayers are delighted to pay for stadiums or arenas and donate all sorts of additional financial goodies to the fabulously wealthy men who own the teams. Rationally, of course, it makes no sense that the poorer people in our society will pay for stadiums that benefit the richest people, and newspaper editorialists are always running to professors to absolutely prove how foolish the people are.
But, of course, the voters know very well that they are giving foolishly unto the wealthy owners. They continue to vote that way, though, because that's how the system works — if you want sports in your city. It's very much a medieval arrangement. Back then the serfs contributed crops to the lord of the castle, because he provided protection. Today, the taxpayers contribute to the sports owner, because he provides amusement. It's only a question of what's important in life.
Likewise, why would any American boy want to grow up, to stand in some dangerous war zone, uncomfortable and at risk, shouting news into a microphone over gunfire, when he could be seated comfortably behind home plate at Yankee Stadium or above the 18th green at the U.S. Open, safe and peaceful, telling the guys all about what really concerns them — the fun and games.CHAPTER 2
What Is a City Worth?
The question that is sooner or later asked in every city in the republic is: What does a new stadium cost?
That, of course, is easy to answer. Everybody will give you a construction estimate. Unfortunately, the question nobody does know the answer to is: What is a new stadium worth?
Like dueling psychologists at a murder trial, you can find totally opposite responses. For example, in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago, voters passed a sales-tax resolution to pay for new twin baseball and football stadiums, after they were assured that keeping the Reds and Bengals would bring in a quarter of a billion dollars more to the metropolitan economy every year.
But, just as quickly, you can come up with experts who maintain that this is total hogwash, that stadiums and the teams in them supply only a few jobs to a handful of millionaire ballplayers, and that what money is spent at the game is simply being diverted from the mall or the movie theater. By this judgment, new stadiums are indefensible Taj Mahals, their justification all the more suspect since they are more luxurious all the time, with emphasis placed on paying for ornate, cloistered boxes for the wealthy.
Moreover, multipurpose stadiums are now considered déclassé. Like the Romans, with the Coliseum for the lions and the Christians and the Circus Maximus for chariot races, baseball and football both now demand their own custom amphitheaters. Cities without these gorgeous edifices can no longer compete — either to attract new teams or merely to hold onto their old ones. Arenas for basketball and hockey grow larger by the year, accommodating twenty thousand or more now. Otherwise, franchises depart for larger pastures.
And then, alas, you are no longer a Big. League. City. Oh, the shame of it.
So, it is easy to reject designer stadiums and gargantuan arenas as voluptuous choices that take away from the real urban needs of the poor and the sick and the uneducated.
But what do cities have anymore? What can they offer? How can they entice a retreating suburban mass back to visit? Among the other attractions, the theatre has been reduced to a predictable rota of musical comedies, and the age of classical music fans appears to correlate to the AARP mailing list.
However extravagant stadiums and arenas may be to construct, they do bring anew young life to the cities. And they bring different people together, to congregate — to commune — in a public place ... no less than what cathedrals used to do in another time.
It may be painful to accept that mere games can mean this much to us. It may be agonizing to understand that the greatest direct beneficiaries of these publicly-funded buildings are the modern robber barons — men named Irsay and Modell and Steinbrenner. But that is simply the price we must pay. How else do we celebrate the city in our society if we don't have cathedrals to share? Where else are we going to come together again?
Ultimately, we must remember not to just ask: What is a stadium worth? But: What is a city worth?CHAPTER 3
The Bard Goes to the Super Bowl
William Shakespeare is enjoying another major revival, and so I think it is time that The Bard go to the Super Bowl. Thus, the curtain opens on Shakespeare's Super Sabbath, part 31, with the two star quarterbacks, Bret Favre of the Packers and Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots, encountering each other in the New Orleans French Quarter shortly before the big game.
FAVRE: Hail, young Bledsoe. What serendipity joins us quarterbacks Here within the Quarter upon the quarter of the hour?
BLEDSOE: Beware, noble Favre, for soon enough, by Patriot authority, 'Twill be your Green Bay team that will be drawn and quarter-ed.
FAVRE: Forsooth, Bledsoe, for the quarterback you may be, You speak with but half a wit and full all of nothing.
BLEDSOE: Oh, mark me, good Favre, for though have they called you Most Valuable of Players for your autumn grandeur 'Tis winter now, and this January encounter, will send you Out upon your shield, and me aloft to Disneyworld.
EXEUNT the two quarterbacks.
act 2, scene 1
ENTER LORD RUPERT OF FOX, who delivers a woeful soliloquy:
LORD RUPERT: How dismal is this television world, That I should come from distant isle, To empty all my pretty purse for rights To this grossly spangled grid spectacular, Yet find upon my field of schemes no America's team To prance its star-blue rogues before a breathless fandom (Nor e'en San Fran's heroes, measuring up two score and nine) But, instead, a coupled unknown elevens: The underdog, hailing from the Athens of America, so call-ed, It's better rival from a frozen crossroads, where, perchance, More cheese resides than do viewers for Fox news. (Despairing:) Oh, what sparse ratings means this ghastly pairing? Cowboys, Cowboys! Wherefore art thou, Cowboys? But, soft ye now, here comes the rugged Parsells.
ENTER BILL PARSELLS, THE PATRIOTS COACH.
PARSELLS: Once I brought true Giants to this titled greensward, But now, all my pigskin genius must be applied Am I to obtain vict'ry for my current yeomen. Alas, these Patriots are known, e'en 'mongst friends As Patsies! Patsies!!
ENTER BLEDSOE AND MANY OTHER PATRIOTS, running cross the stage, exulting.
PARSELLS sees them and raises his arms in hope.
PARSELLS: But hear me from without the sideline stripe: With the royal arm of daring Bledsoe, I will make The Pack the patsies and my own Patriots super men!
BUT SUDDENLY, there is a forbidding voice, and then a ghost appears before PARSELLS.
GHOST: Beware, rank Parsells.
PARSELLS: Hark! What spectacled spectre appears before me? This glinting, gap-toothed apparition Who speaks my name with Jersey brogue?
GHOST: You sniveling weak sister, who are you But one more doleful denizen of the AFC Daring to proclaim an eminence above my Packers?
PARSELLS falls to his knees, crying out.
PARSELLS: Oh, I am lost, a trembling pigskin pretender For e'en should I presume to lead yon heroes 'Gainst the mortal foes who wear the gold and green, What chance have we when 'tis a spirit rises And that wraith reveal-ed is the sainted Lombardi?
GHOST: Do not mess with my Packers, Parsellllllls ...
ENTER, FROM ALL SIDES, ALL MANNER OF SUPER BOWL REGULARS — gamblers and corporate types, scribes (and Pharisees), and two announcers, the ebullient MADDEN and the pithy SUMMERALL.
MADDEN: Good Summerall, now winter's best day approaches, and Together we must take to our perch high within the dome To give there meaning to those who but Cast their mere eyes 'pon the scrimmage scene.
SUMMERALL: Aye, wise John.
MADDEN: So, only give me your accustomed silence, Though, betimes, your occasional sweet acclaim For my dear profundity — both for how I speaketh in color And how I draw the reveal-ed wisdom upon the replay.
SUMMERALL: Aye, sage of the booth.
MADDEN: Now, friend play-by-play, pray let us assume our vantage, There above the hash-ed marks, to tell to all, all we know.
SUMMERALL: Well said, cheerful voice.
MADDEN: Our only fear: the game, as usual, from bad to worse'll Leave Fox's audience caring but for more commercials.
EXUENT ALL.CHAPTER 4
Pas de Respect
People are always bitching about being stereotyped because of their heritage. But let me tell you: Just wait till you're not stereotyped. Then you'll be sorry. Then nobody grants you quaint genetic characteristics that allow you to get away with stuff. Nobody says "Well, no wonder he acts that way. Hey, it's O.K. because he's a _______." No. If you're not stereotyped, then you're just stupid all by yourself, laughed at strictly on your own hook.
How well I know this. Because, unlike most Americans, I've been deprived. Like Peter Pan without his shadow, I have no visible heritage, no direct connection to the land of my forefathers. Instead, I've had to slog through life simply as American. No hyphen before that. No qualifying I.D.
The World Cup made me think about this. You see, I am from a forgotten tribe. Not lost, you understand. That's romantic: lost. My tribe is simply forgotten. I am a Huguenot. A French Huguenot. Who remembers us? But hey, we remember the Incas, and who has even seen an Inca? As Tom Brokaw, a lapsed Huguenot, once declared when he attended another ethnic celebration, "There are very few songs that start, "When Huguenot eyes are smiling.' "
At one time we Huguenots were among the noblest of all immigrants, among the first to come to the colonies in search of religious freedom. Paul Revere was a Huguenot. But as time went on, we were assimilated. My original family name was Dufour, which is so lovely and ethnic, but some damn ancestor anglicized it to bland old Deford. And there's no Huguenot homeland to vacation in. No Huguenot newspapers, no Huguenot food, no Huguenot expressions. Not even any Huguenot jokes. No "There was this atheist, this Jew, and this Huguenot, and ..."
Hardly anybody can even spell Huguenot, and the British pronounce it HYU-ghe-no, as opposed to the way we say it (HYU-ghe-naht). How can you stereotype a people you can't even pronounce? Besides, what red-blooded American believes that Protestants could be discriminated against?
But, you see, we Huguenots were the minority in France, and it was the majority who gave us something of an option: Leave or get burned at the stake. But still: I am (was), French, and — Hallelujah! — here were my people (my bloods) in the World Cup final. At last I knew what it was to feel like an Irishman or an Italian or a Jew or a Puerto Rican! Ich bin ein minority!
Of course, there was a certain amount of angst, of conflict. After all, it was the forefathers of Les Bleus who wanted to burn my ancestors at the stake. Besides, nobody likes the French. All my life, because I cleverly, deceitfully pass as non-French, people have dissed the French right in front of me, unaware of my deep, wounded feelings. For everybody who's insecure, the French are fair game to kick around. And I have had to put up with this cruel slander. Of course, I don't much like the French either. But it's the principle of the thing. It's the only heritage I've got, even if they did want to burn me at the stake. Nobody's perfect.
Every now and then I have met another Huguenot — but it's not easy to tell. It doesn't say Huguenot on your driver's license. There are no Huguenot bars. But: Frank Perdue, the chicken man, revealed to me that he is a fellow Huguenot. So did Pete Rozelle, the late pro football commissioner. Then there's Brokaw — although he does not seem to have come out as a Huguenot.
Then ... last week: France trois, Brazil zéro. At last, my country of origin had won the World Cup. Everybody was trilling, "Vive La France!" The nouveau fans were climbing on the Gallic bandwagon. Now, for the first time in my life, I could be one with my glorious heritage. I could stand on the rooftops and belt out La Marseillaise. I could be Dufour again. "Bonjour, mes amis!" I cried down at the Sunoco station.
Moreover, much was made of the French being so heterogeneous, so tolerant. It was Frenchmen of Algerian descent, Frenchmen from Guadeloupe who had won the Cup. The tricolor was, suddenly, a veritable Jesse Jacksonian rainbow.
Of course, for all the patriotic speeches in Paris, all the self-congratulation — nowhere any apologies to the Huguenots. Nowhere even a mention of Huguenots. No room in the rainbow. All my hopes for financial reparations or for being allowed to build a casino on the French land that used to belong to my family — dashed. After a lifetime of waiting to be taken back into the embrace of the land of my fathers, the World Cup had shown me that, alas, Huguenot eyes can never smile. I'll never be stereotyped like all those Americans with another past, an alternative persona. I'll never be a Dufour. I'm stuck as old Deford. Anglicized name, Americanized body. Forever.
Excerpted from The Best of Frank Deford by Frank Deford. Copyright © 2000 Frank Deford. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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