My Happy Adieu to Professional Sports; after Years of Covering Million-Dollar Players, I Longed for Athletes with More Heart, Less Attitude
Millea, John, Newsweek
Byline: John Millea (Millea lives in Rosemount, Minn.)
I have never been attacked by a professional athlete, unless you consider talcum powder a weapon. I also don't spend much time in professional-sports arenas anymore, and I don't miss it. The brawl involving NBA players and fans at Detroit's Palace of Auburn Hills last November was brutal. The news a few weeks later that baseball players Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds admitted to a grand jury that they had used steroids (Bonds said he did it unknowingly) was less of a surprise than the basketball slugfest, but no less troubling. Steroids and manic aggression--a combination that says it all about professional sports in America.
Those episodes made me even happier that, in my job as a newspaper sportswriter, I no longer cover professional sports. I have sat courtside in Detroit, as well as in most other cities, and it was always a safe place to work, except for the occasional drips of beer that would hit the back of my head when an inattentive fan walked by.
The only real danger of covering my hometown Minnesota Timberwolves was the talcum powder. Kevin Garnett, the NBA's reigning most valuable player, was always the last player introduced. Before taking the court, he'd pour talcum into one palm, lean over the media table and smack his hands together. The result was a cloud that covered keyboards, coffee cups, hair and clothing. It was sort of a standing joke between Garnett and the hometown reporters. The fans enjoyed this pregame ritual, certainly more than the dust-covered scribes did.
But the ugly side of professional sports is growing, to no one's surprise. Several years ago an NBA player who was not overly popular with teammates, the public or the media told a reporter who had been critical of him: "I know people who can take you out." These days, those "people" might be the athletes themselves.
I now write about high-school sports, and it's the best job in the business. Many of the athletes and coaches I deal with say something that would shock my colleagues on the pro beats: "Thank you."
On rare occasions when high-school sports makes the national news, it's usually because a parent has attacked another parent or a teenager has collapsed and died on the field of play. But there are so many wonderful stories we never hear about.
When I asked a high-school football coach whose team had lost the state-championship game a few hours before if I could follow up with him the next day, he told me he'd be on a plane from Minneapolis to Atlanta. …