Every now and then, we will attempt to write the worst sports column on earth. Today: Let's talk about the real winners out there.
INDIANAPOLIS — Everything's negative these days, isn't it? Everyone wants to complain about what's not working, who's a fraud, who's to blame. A culture of accountability has been replaced by a culture where it's always someone else's fault. It starts right at the top, too. (It always does.)
Complaints equal clicks in today's media. Everybody's a critic. In 2013, the media's engine runs on cynicism and skepticism 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I'm not here to be another talking head complaining about the system. Let's cast a stone back at the critics and see how their glass houses hold up. Enough problems.
Let's celebrate the problem solvers.
Bud Selig is the man who's not willing to let his sport slide off a cliff and turn into American Gladiators. He oversaw the sport during the steroids crisis in the '90s, and then he decided that he wasn't going to stand for it anymore. With a culture of cheats, Bud realizes that nobody will ever buy what baseball's selling. This is why he went above and beyond to make sure Alex Rodriguez paid for his sins, to prosecute Ryan Braun. He's protecting the game's legacy one suspension at a time, sending a message loud and clear that the 21st century will be different.
What Bud did wasn't easy.
It was necessary.
And what's Bud's reward?
Some loudmouth like Mark Cuban goes on late-night television to tell him how to run his sport. "I've got to tell you," Cuban told Jay Leno last week, "with my experiences with Major League Baseball — and after all of this, there's no chance I'm getting to buy a team — it's basically become Bud Selig's mafia. He runs it the way he wants to run it."
Pardon the interruption: I enjoy Leno most nights, but when I tune in for a few laughs and instead get this two-bit hustler selling nonsense to a national audience, I consider boycotting for a few weeks. Know your audience, Jay.
And of course Cuban had an opinion on Rodriguez.
"I think it's disgraceful what Major League Baseball is trying to do to him. Look, it's not that he doesn't deserve to be suspended. He does. They have policies in place: A first-time offender is 50 games, and a second time is 100. [Two hundred and eleven games], that's personal."
Everybody has an opinion, sure. Well, here's a curveball for you.
My opinion: Thank you, Bud.
With amateurism under attack, Mark Emmert's not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If critics want to sink us all, he's going down with the ship.
The NCAA's "broken" system is doing better than ever, by the way: record TV revenues, merchandise sales that topped out at $4.6 billion this year, and traditions that are woven into the fabric of American sports fans from coast to coast. None of this matters to critics like Jay Bilas, because it's all about players getting paid. Of course. When I think of guys like Bilas, I go back to the old saying: "It's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt."
Instead, there's Bilas tweeting up a storm, quoting rappers, and trying to start a revolution. So much for doubt. Here's a question for Jay: What's YOUR solution?
If you're so smart, Jay … how do you pay thousands of college athletes, most of whom wouldn't be worth a dime on the open market? Riddle me that, Shakespeare. How many non-revenue sports get tossed on the trash heap so that Texas A&M can pay Johnny Manziel a million dollars? "Fair and square" isn't so cut-and-dried, is it?
There are a lot of talking heads out there, and not a lot of feet pounding the pavement. It's a lot easier to complain about the problems than live the solution every day, but Emmert just keeps putting one foot in front of the other. The waves are crashing and they won't stop anytime soon, but Captain Emmert has battened the hatches. While the critics grasp at straws, the ship is in good hands.
Thank you, Mark.
And Roger Goodell, the original integrity warrior. If he's not cracking down on rogue operations like the Saints, he's keeping his players in line off the field and ensuring that the game is more dignified between the hashmarks. The latest news is his plan to penalize celebrations — showboating, really — to help promote winning with class.
Every year it's something new. Goodell never stops trying to make everyone better.
Just when you think the league's headed to hell in a handbasket, there's Goodell, horse-collaring his players back onto the right track. Thank you, Roger.
All these men have something in common: Being vigilant has somehow made them a villain with today's media. Turns out, this culture of entitlement isn't a big fan of enforcement. What's right isn't what's popular anymore.
A Few Good Men was on TV this week, and as I sat through to the end, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between Colonel Nathan Jessup and these few good men, forced to listen to know-it-alls like Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee and Jay Bilas screeching about fairness. The best part of the movie is when Jessup finally breaks down and gives ’em nothing but the truth.
"Son, we live in a world that has walls," Jessup explains. "And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg?"
It's a speech that any of today's commissioners could give.
"I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom," Selig might say. "You weep for Alex Rodriguez, and you curse Major League Baseball. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Alex Rodriguez's suspension, while tragic, probably saved baseball."
"And my existence," Emmert sneers to Bilas, "while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves college sports. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall saving college sports. You need me on that wall saving college sports. We use words like honor, amateurism, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line."
And then Goodell, addressing the latest schmuck who wants to ban football: "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank-you and went on your way."
Tell ’em, Roger.
And thanks for trying to fix baseball, Mr. Cuban, but save it for Shark Tank.
I don't give a damn what you think athletes are entitled to, Jay Bilas.
Today we're celebrating the guys who make all these other petty arguments possible. The guys who protect the game, take the criticism, and continue to champion integrity anyway. Nobody watches sports anymore if it all becomes chaos. Without guys like Bud, Mark, and Roger, none of this matters.
At the end of the day, all of these guys are cut from the same cloth. And they're not afraid to shove that cloth in the critics' mouth when it's time to do what's right.
Will they order the Code Red?
You're damn right they will.
You're damn lucky, too.