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Conspiracy craze hurts athletes, us

Pro wrestling is completely real. Boxing is totally legit. And Michael Jordan is definitely going to make another comeback.

If you believe any of that garbage, you've probably been having a field day lately with all the conspiracy talk that's been going around. To listen to folks tell it, NASCAR races are fixed. And baseball's All-Star Game. And the NBA playoffs.

This conspiracy stuff is getting out of hand. I mean, a little skepticism is fine, but let's not overdo it.

Was Michael Jordan's career-ending and championship-winning shot against Utah in the NBA Finals fixed? Come on. Get a life.

NASCAR officials did not deliberately fix it so Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be assured of winning the Pepsi 400 last week. And NBA officials did not instruct the refs to call this year's Eastern Conference final in Philadelphia's favor simply because the league didn't want glamorless Milwaukee in the NBA Finals.

And Chan Ho Park did not deliberately serve up a home run pitch to Cal Ripken in last week's All-Star Game _ although I have to admit that one's more believable than the other two.

Conspiracy, schmiracy.

I'll admit Earnhardt's win seemed almost too good to be true. It's pretty sappy that Earnhardt wins the first race back at the track where his father was killed in a last-lap crash. The only thing missing was Earnhardt saying before the race that he was going to win it for his Pop.

And, yes, the ease with which Earnhardt was able to make that late-race dash from seventh to first justifiably raised some eyebrows.

But did anyone stop to think that Earnhardt's car had been exceptionally strong the entire race? The guy led 116 of 160 laps. Plus, if memory serves me correctly, Earnhardt ran pretty darn good at the Daytona in February, too.

And didn't Earnhardt take on four fresh tires on that final pit stop while most of the other leaders didn't? That alone would virtually account for his superiority at the end.

Yep, Earnhardt had an advantage all right. But it didn't come from NASCAR.

As for Milwaukee's ridiculous claims that the league had it in for the Bucks against the Sixers, I've got just one question. If the NBA is against having glamor-less, small-market teams like Milwaukee in the NBA Finals, how do you explain Utah's presence in back-to-back Finals in the late 1990s?

And, finally, we come to Park. Yes, the game meant nothing in terms of the season, but pro athletes by nature have a lot of pride, so I just can't buy it that Park tossed Ripken a gift.

But I must admit I was initially skeptical and joked about it at the time. But the danger in carrying these conspiracy theories too far is that it diminishes the achievement and everything that went into producing it. The hard work. The long hours. The many sacrifices.

Earnhardt doesn't deserve that. Neither do Ripken or the Sixers.

"A guy asked me earlier about that and I wanted to knock the hell out of him," Earnhardt told reporters in Seattle while attending the All-Star Game. "I don't know what to say to people like that. Apparently, they don't know what they're talking about because I raced my a-- off and I'm proud of the victory.

"Given all the circumstances, I can kind of understand some people, but it does upset you because we put a lot into that, and it's a good moment and we want to enjoy it and we want to embrace it. And people step all over it when they do that."

This is what I don't get. Some people will believe a pro wrestler can really incapacitate another guy with something called a "sleeper hold," but others can't believe a guy named Earnhardt won at Daytona? Geez, the elder Dale was only the winningest driver in the history of Daytona.

Or you want me to believe, as some Devil Rays have said, that Major League Baseball umpires favor good teams over bad, but you can't believe a guy who's a lock for the Hall of Fame could legitimately jack one out of SAFECO?