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Come on, Forget About Politics In Sports, Just Play the Game

By Yong-yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

Several months ago, Frank Solich was fired from the job of the head coach for the Nebraska Cornhuskers football program. He had just recently coached the team to a national title game and had plenty of successes on his resume: 58-19 as a head coach, one Big 12 title, and two Big 12 coach of the year awards. However, Solich professed option football, and that just wasn’t going to be the future of the Cornhuskers.

Last week, Bill Callahan, the ex-Raider coach, succeeded Solich. (As an aside, I might add Callahan was also fired after leading his team to a title game.) The first few words out of Callahan’s mouth about Nebraska football are that he is going to “air it out” in the future. This is exactly what the school, the fans, and the rest of the public needed to hear from the new head coach. After all, saying anything less would never have gotten him hired for the job. Was Callahan the perfect fit, and the right solution to this troubled football program? Or were people involved just trying to be politically correct? This got me wondering: Can we have sports any more without politics? Surely, the political correctness of a situation helps to make everyone involved happy. But often times, we sacrifice purity for that happiness.

For example, if you turn on basketball in the states, you get a good selection of games between a bunch of competitive teams. On any given night, you could see Tim Duncan, Tracy MacGrady, or Allen Iverson. In China, on any given day (note time difference), you can see Yao Ming, Yao Ming, or Yao Ming. That’s right, the basketball entertainment of the entire country, the world’s most populated nation, rests on the shoulders of one dude. Since the country demands it, it’s politically correct for their TV stations to show exclusively Yao, but to me, this muddles the spirit of sport. I enjoy watching my team on TV, true. I also enjoy watching everything happening around the rest of the league; I like how ESPN lets me watch most teams. Forcing people to just watch Yao also forces a limited interest onto people: either they like Rocket basketball, or they don’t watch the NBA. I guess this is good for those Chinese supremely interested in how their guy is doing. But is this for better or for worse overall?

Then, there’s the example of Nick Saban. I was listening to the Dan Patrick radio show last week (in China, nonetheless), and he had an interview with the LSU Tigers’ football coach Nick Saban. Saban has been at the top of the list for many NFL coaching positions, with teams like the Bears needing a new coach right now. Patrick asked Saban what he thought about coaching for an NFL team. All you heard from Saban was how he loved it at LSU and how excited he was about the team’s performance this year. It was as if he didn’t hear Patrick’s questions at all. Talk about political correctness to the nth degree. Can we just get a straight answer about things already?

Finally, there is the example of the entire Alex Rodriguez fiasco. Boston hates Nomar and Manny. Boston loves Nomar and Manny. A-Rod hates the Rangers. A-Rod loves the Rangers. All right, between all the loving and hating, somebody must be lying and just trying to appease everyone else. Throw in Scott Boras, Tom Hicks, Larry Lucchino, and even Peter Gammons, and you have an all out party. (Political or not is another matter.)

Everyone’s trying to be politically correct at all times. All that lying loses the slightest appearance of being honest anymore. But I guess that’s what people want. With all these attempts at being nice to everyone at all times, are we trying to make the sports world a better place? Or are we simply supporting a faÇade of being nice? Sports are brutal. People want to beat each other. In the end, I think being pure to one’s sport is the best thing to do. Play to the best of your ability, and treat sports as what it really is: a battle of excellent talents. It’s like Nike says, “Just Do It.” Just go out and play for crying out loud. Leave the long, dull speeches to the real politicians.