Thursday, January 10, 2002
SULLIVAN: Sack record?
Favre's dive taints achievement
By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Records are made to be broken, but they are not meant to be manipulated. They should be achieved through exertion and excellence, not friendly fraud. They derive their significance through their difficulty, and they are demeaned by conspiratorial dives.
Michael Strahan of the New York Giants set an NFL record for sacks in a season Sunday, but the deed was diminished by the apparent complicity of the quarterback. Green Bay's Brett Favre denies he deliberately served himself up as a sacrifice to Strahan, but his claims are wholly unconvincing, and a more vigilant commissioner would be investigating.
However innocent the intent, however deserving the beneficiary, staged plays belong in the theater. They have no place in legitimate sport.
Facilitating a record is a far cry from fixing a game, but the same principle is at stake. Professional sports are predicated on professionalism, the idea players are bound to make their best effort to protect the integrity of the game and/or the point spread.
NFL should investigate
Any incident that trifles with the public's trust imperils the whole enterprise. Any quarterback who changes a play without informing his teammates, then flops in front of a defensive player with whom he is friendly, makes Joe Fan wonder if the games are entirely on the level.
New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan (92) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
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This is why Paul Tagliabue needs to get involved to show his public the NFL is as concerned about the legitimacy of play as it is about the length of players' socks.
Favre may have been trying to do Strahan a favor. What he did, instead, was to taint a remarkable achievement. When athletes and coaches try to take history into their own hands, the backlash is rarely worth the bother.
Remember Nykesha Sales? If you do, it's probably because of the University of Connecticut's unseemly efforts to get her the school's scoring record in 1998. When Sales tore an achilles tendon two points short of the mark, UConn coach Geno Auriemma arranged for her to make an uncontested layup against Villanova. The firestorm that followed was a setback to those who had struggled to have the women's game taken seriously.
Take baseball, for example
Baseball's great crisis of credibility was the 1919 World Series, but the game has experienced several instances of lesser subterfuge. In 1968, Denny McLain grooved a pitch to Mickey Mantle when The Mick was tied with Jimmie Foxx for third place on the career home run list.
Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park was suspected of granting Cal Ripken Jr. a similar gift in last year's All-Star Game.
When the athlete who benefits is popular, few challenge the corruption of competition. Yet to achieve a level playing field, the same conditions must apply for the loved and the loathed.
Imagine the fallout if Strahan were Ray Lewis.
In 1910, Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie were battling for the American League batting title. Cobb being Cobb, most of the league was pulling for Lajoie.
During a last-day doubleheader, St.Louis Browns manager Jack O'Connor positioned his third baseman on the fringe of the outfield grass for Lajoie's plate appearances. This led to six bunt singles and a considerable controversy. O'Connor never managed again.
The moral of our story is simple: In sports, happy endings should be earned.
Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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