Shooting from the lip
A look back at the weekend in televised sports ...
Two weeks after NBC glossed over the death of Eight Belles at the Kentucky Derby, the network recovered with an outstanding examination of horse safety during Saturday's Preakness preview. Bob Costas, at his absolute best in such moments, led a thought-provoking roundtable with veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage, former jockey Gary Stevens, Eight Belles owner Larry Jones and New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden, a critic of horse racing.
The part that remains troubling is Bramlage said that he found nothing in the post-mortem examination of Eight Belles that suggested she was predisposed to the injuries and that there is no proof anything is wrong with racing 2- and 3-year-olds. Stevens said jockey Gabriel Saez did nothing wrong. Jones said Eight Belles was never given steroids or painkillers in his care. The bottom line is, once again, nothing could have been done to prevent her death, and it's all chalked up to, "Well, that's just what happens sometimes.'' And that's not good enough. It's not good enough for opponents of horse racing and, most of all, it shouldn't be good enough for those who love horse racing.
After the Kentuck Derby and after Barbaro's death, I called for horse racing to be abolished. We all know that is never going to happen. There's too much money in it. But perhaps Eight Belles' death will lead the sport to re-examine itself. It has started and needs to continue studying breeding, racetrack surfaces, the use of painkillers and steroids. Most of all, it has become clear that the sport needs a national governing body. And don't just talk about changes. Don't say you're "looking at it.'' Do something.
The outrage for those of us bothered that horses are dying for the sake of money and sport is that it appears we are the ones leading the charge. Shouldn't it be the lovers of horse racing carrying the torch? Instead of shrugging shoulders, lashing out at those who want something done and saying, "Hey, stuff happens,'' those in the industry must step up to improve conditions for the horses they love. A national governing body would be a good start.
While NBC should be praised for dedicating a good chunk of its Preakness preview show to Eight Belles and horse safety, the show was too long. Two hours of preview. That's approximately one minute of preview for every second of the race. That's a little much. The show was so long that it had not one, but two features on Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow.
Just a few years ago, Dutrow was a lost soul, mixed up in drugs, homeless and responsible for a daughter whose mother was murdered over drugs. "When I was at the stables, it's where I belonged,'' Dutrow said in the piece. "Whenever I'm (away from there), it's when I get myself in trouble.''
But instead of digging into the depths of Dutrow's problems, many questions were left unanswered. What kind of drugs are we talking about? How did he get the money to pay for them? Whom did he turn to for help? How did he go exactly from a homeless drug addict to trainer of the best horse many of us have seen in years? It would've been a fascinating story if NBC had bothered to tell it.
Number of the weekend
30. Times the Baseball Tonight crew said the name "DEVIL Rays'' during highlights of Saturday's Rays-Cardinals game. The crew members did it to poke fun at getting an equally fun letter from Rays president Matt Silverman telling them they were fined a $1 for every time they said "Devil.'' The crew promised to donate $30 to the Rays fund.
Did ESPN really do a long feature on women’s roller derby? Shown on Sunday morning's SportsCenter and then again Sunday night, the Outside the Lines-produced segment featured new roller derby stars such as Misfit Maiden, Savage Animal, Miss Print and Honey Homicide. Hey, I'm all for fun and games. I even admit that I used to watch and like studio wrestling as a kid. But here's my beef: the network barely covers the NHL and pretty much ignores mixed-martial arts, and yet it has time to feature a sport that isn't even a sport? What made the story off-kilter is it took roller derby a little too seriously — the tongue wasn't planted firmly enough in the cheek.
When the Outside the Lines crew wasn't wasting our time with a silly roller derby piece, they were working on an interesting story about possible political ramifications at the Beijing Olympics. On Sunday's show, NBA star LeBron James made it known that he plans to speak out about China's abysmal human rights record during the Olympics, and that he hoped the American basketball team had a "gameplan on how to attack the situation.''
Some would say politics and sports do not mix, although I'm sure Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and the late Jackie Robinson might disagree with that. Michael Jordan and Tigers Woods have been criticized for not taking a more active role in political and social causes. However, part of what makes this country great is not only the right to speak out, but the right to not speak out.
But those who wish to speak their minds, particularly at the Olympics, should not be discouraged. The most valid point to come out of the discussion on OTL came from Lake Forest College anthropology of sports professor Holly Swyers, who said: "Sports is where we teach values. It makes a potent field for making a political statement. We teach kids from a very young age the idea of a level playing field and playing fair in sports.''
Best use of Congress
Ever since Congress started digging into baseball's steroid mess and Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter began looking into the Patriots and Spygate, you hear a lot of comments like this: "Doesn't Congress have enough to worry about without getting involved in sports? How about lowering gas prices? How about figuring out how to get us out of Iraq?''
But New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica made a valid point on ESPN's Sports Reporters by pointing out that Congress' involvement in sports has been worthwhile.
Lupica: "I always love it when (people say) 'Congress has more important things to worry about than sports.' Now this usually comes from people who have no idea what kinds of hearings Congress is holding when it isn't holding hearings about professional sports. ... For all the times the hearings cross the clown line, the fact is they serve a tremendous purpose, especially in the area of testing.''
Best event coverage
The production crew of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball turned in an A-plus performance during the Yankees-Mets game, showing several replays of a Carlos Delgado shot that hit the foul pole, but was ruled a foul ball. The video and aftermath even uncovered two other controversies: that the entire foul pole is not painted yellow and that the foul pole at Yankee Stadium might not even be in the right location.
One nit: cameras showed reporters -- I assume they were from the New York papers -- talking to a fan next to the foul pole. ESPN send a camera out to show where the ball hit the foul pole, but why didn't ESPN send out sideline reporter Peter Gammons to talk to the fan as well? Might have made for a fun few moments.
The production also was razor-sharp in other moments: showing how the Yankees executed a rundown and how the third base umpire lined himself up to make sure a runner on third tagged up at the right time on a fly ball. Good stuff.