Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Laser show

There are all kinds of theories and opinions as to why the Red Sox (remember them?) have reversed their awful start and have -- in the last month and a half -- been the best team in baseball.

Here's mine: The day Dustin Pedroia stood up for David Ortiz, the Red Sox became a team again.

Depending on who you talk to, this whole idea of team chemistry is either vastly overrated or it isn't. That sounds funny, of course, but it's true. Earl Weaver, the who managed the Baltimore Orioles to four American League pennants and numerous other division championships during his tenure, always thought team chemistry could be summed up thusly: "Pitching and three-run homers."

Weaver also hated the sacrifice bunt. He thought giving up an out -- under any circumstances -- was totally defeatist. As he said, you only get three. Why waste any of them?

Weaver notwithstanding, I'm in the other camp. It's hard to do your best, especially in a competitive environment where winning and losing often comes down to self sacrifice and giving yourself up for the good of the team, if you're at odds with the people with whom you are playing. Ask any offensive lineman in football whether he finds it easier or harder to block for a quarterback he does not respect, and whose toughness he questions.

Ortiz got off to a horrible start this year ... and it looked, after the first month, as if this would be a repeat of last year, when he went well into May before he even hit is first home run. Fans, writers, broadcasters, guys in bars, were all clamoring for the Red Sox to make a move ... to release him. He was dead weight.

Pedroia is one of those types of players you could only love if he was on your team. If he's on the other team, you can't stand him. He's cocky, and he has an air about him on the diamond that reminds me very much of Pete Rose (another guy I despised, but would have probably loved had he played for the Red Sox).

Pedroia stood up amid a group of reporters and expressed his belief in Ortiz. Now, it's not necessary for people to think Pedroia meant every word he said, deep down inside. It's tough to believe a guy hitting below the Mendoza Line (which is to say under .200) inspires confidence when he comes up with the bases loaded. And it's tough to believe a guy for whom the manager actually put up a pinch hitter in precisely that situation would inspire much trust either.

The important thing is that Pedroia ver publicly defended his teammate.

"Two years ago," he said, "I was hitting under .200 and everybody wanted to lynch me, too. Then what happened? Laser show."

What he meant, of course, is that he turned it around and ended up being the American League's rookie of the year. A year later, he became the American League's most valuable player. And this year, after a tough stretch, Pedroia is, once more, in the middle of things.

I think Pedroia's words had multiple effects ... all of them good. For starters, they probably took a little of the heat off Ortiz himself, who had to be wondering just where he stood with the rest of his teammates. Ortiz went on a tear after that, and has been somewhat of a facsimile of his former self.

They probably had the hidden effect of settling down some of the newcomers who may have felt like outsiders. And third, it clearly united the team and helped point it in the right direction.

What Pedroia showed was true leadership ... and the Red Sox in the past couple of years really haven't had that -- at least that vocally -- from anyone. In 2004, when the overcame the Curse of the Bambino and won the whole thing, there were a number of players who stepped in and led. Last year's Sox were a quiet bunch who seemed to go about their business more with the seriousness of account executives than with the joi de vivre that players such as Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar showed in 2004.

So good for Pedoria. The Red Sox are heating up just at a time when people are starting to notice. The Celtics are done, and the spotlight is exclusively on them. And it had to help that they swept a team from Los Angeles this weekend ... only days after the Celtics lost to one in the NBA finals.

If the Red Sox continue to get that type of leadership, there's no telling what they can accomplish in 2010.

Friday, June 18, 2010

It's Too Late, Baby ...

No, no, no. Not talking about the Celtics today. As Dana Carvey -- channeling George H.W. Bush -- said, "not gunna do it."

So, the title of this screed has nothing whatever to do with the disappointing denouement to the 2010 post-season. Nothing at all.

That's because James Taylor and Carole King are coming to down tomorrow and Sunday. I don't have tickets. I don't intend to get tickets either. But it does occur to me that the mellow, laid back sounds of JT and Carole are probably just what I need to soothe my frayed nerves after two weeks of Kobe, Artest, Derek Fisher (damn him!), Shrek, Donkey, The Truth and The Big Ticket.

Except to say, of course, that the entire Celtics team might have been asking their fans, "but will you love me tomorrow?" after blowing a 13-point third-quarter lead and forgetting how to rebound.

Or, to put it another way, there were a couple of points last night when I heard Kevin Garnett cry out "I feel the earth move under my feet," but that really wasn't what was happening. It was Pau Gasol ripping down rebounds.

Did you know, by the way, that Carole King wrote one of the Monkees' greatest hits? I'll bet you didn't. But she and then-husband Gerry Goffin wrote "Pleasant Valley Sunday," which, as we all know, was a huge hit for the Pre-Fab Four in the summer of 1967 -- the only year the Celtics didn't win an NBA title during their run of 10 in 11 years (Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers won it) from 1959 through 1969.

Carole King's list of songwriting credits reads like a who's who (or maybe that should be what's what) of popular music. Aside from the already-mentioned songs, she wrote a song the Beatles recorded called "Chains," which -- contrary to popular belief -- was not about what it looked like the Celtics were bound in every time they tried to take a shot last night. She also wrote "One Fine Day," and it would have been, too, if we had a parade to go to tomorrow or Sunday.

In fact, if you google Carole King, or see the Wiki writeup on here, you'll wonder if anyone else but Carole King ever wrote a rock 'n' roll song. She was that prolific. She wrote -- or collaborated with Goffin -- songs that became hits for the Animals ("Don't Bring Me Down," which maybe someone could have played for the Celtics last night); the Drifters ("Up On The Roof," which -- I'm sure -- is where many Boston fans headed last night to contemplate a quick end to their misery); and Bobby Vee ("Take Good Care Of My Baby," which I'm going to personally re-record and call "Take Good Care Of Big Baby."

Oh, which reminds me, you know that Carole King song "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby," that Litte Eva recorded? Nope. Not directed toward anyone inclined to pick a fight with Big Baby so he can break his thumb again.

Little Eva did very well thanks to Goffin-King, by the way. They also wrote "Locomotion," which was -- I'm sure -- written in honor of Ron Artest after one of the many times he ran over, under, sideways and down Paul Pierce in the open court (no, she didn't write that song, The Yardbirds did).

"The Truth" was a hurtin' bird after this series. You could tell. Aches and pains everywhere, thanks to the mugging Artest put on him.

King kind of ducked underground for a few years, only to re-emerge in the 1970s, in the era of the singer-songwriter, with "Tapestry," and had a monster hit with "It's Too Late." And I'll say it is. The rapist has another ring. You don't suppose he'll try to buy his wife off with it, do you?

She even wrote one of JT's biggest hits, "You've Got A Friend," and any day now, the video is going to come out with that playing in the background as "Big Baby" (Shrek) and Nate Robinson (Donkey) yuck it up during the news conference after Game 4. Pssst. Fellas. It was Game 4. You hadn't won anything yet and you were acting as if you'd invented the damn game. Maybe next time, a little humility? Yeah, it was cute. I'm sure the Lakers thought it was real cute.

Let's not leave JT out of this. He's had his hits too. Not as many as King, but he's up there as one of our latter-20th century cultural icons.

And as a Boston native, you can be sure that JT probably has a soft spot in his heart for the Celtics. He's sung the National Anthem a few times at Fenway Park (including Game 2 of the 2004 World Series and again on New Year's at the Winter Classic game between the Bruins and -- dare we even say it -- Philadelphia Flyers).

Once, at Fenway, I actually rode up to the press box in the elevator with James Taylor. Me, being me, I told him I enjoyed all the Taylors, even Livingston (I guess if you called him LT, he'd have to stand in line behind Lawrence Taylor and LeDanian Tomlinson).

JT was a bit bemused. He wanted to know how in hell I knew so much about Livingston, since LT's had about two hits in his life, compared to, I don't know, the hundred or so that James has had. Easy. For about four or five years running, I'd take the family down to Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts in Mansfield (It's the Comcast Center these days) for the free "Not the July 4th" concert ... which was always on (let's see if you can deduce this ...) July 5.

It was always a fun night. The local symphony orchestra (not the BSO or the Pops, in keeping with the not theme) would play, and LT would always open the show. LT was more jazz and blues oriented that James, and his stuff, especially when combined with the symphonic music, was quite aesthetically pleasing.

Anyway, James has had his great songs. "Sweet Baby James" is one of his best, obviously, but, again, those of us with one-track minds should be aware that it was not about LeBron.

Nor was "Carolina in My Mind" about a Celtics road trip to Charlotte.

However, James, unlike Carole King, had his peaks and valleys, which is understandable in life. After all, how do you go from setting an NBA record for hitting three-pointers, the way Ray Allen did in Game 2, to being absolutely invisible, the way he was in Games 3 through 7. Talk about peaks and valleys! JT has nothing on Ray.

I mean, talk about "Fire and Rain!" Allen was en fuego in game two ... and a friggin monsoon put his fire out from then on.

You know, when I ran into JT in that elevator, I didn't have the guts to ask him the one question I've been pining to know the answer to: How to you manage to screw up a marriage to Carly Simon????

The easy answer: Booze. JT's had his addiction problems. He spent a considerable period of his life in and out of treatment centers because of depression and addiction (which provides one of the backdrops to "Fire and Rain"), and was still heavily into drinking while he was married to Ms. Simon. What a waste. Who doesn't love Carly Simon??? She's the Sandra Bullock of music, even if she did write the vicious, vicious "You're So Vain."

Then again, after watching the way that game ended last night, I could have used a pop or two myself. So who am I to judge?

Because of the many ups and downs (as opposed to "up and down," which is a form of traveling in the NBA), JT had to get back on his feet by recording cover versions of famous songs. They were usually slowed-down versions of early 60s hits, such as "Wonderful World," by Same Cooke (it wasn't last night) and, my favorite, Buddy Holly's "Every Day," which is just a nice song no matter who sings it.

But these slow-paced versions of tried and true rockers did remind me of last night's game, where both teams seemed as if they were stuck in cement, and the game seemed like it was being played in slow-motion mode for 48 minutes.

JT even wound up on Sesame Street. Yup. When my son was a a child, I -- perhaps like all parents -- had to watch Bert and Ernie about 20 times a day. One day, there's JT singing about "Jellyman Kelly." It was just a nice little ditty about a guy who likes jelly on his toast, and about a woman (Jenny Mehenney) who liked to boil water so that Jellyman can have tea with his toast and jelly. Silly song.

I am going into the studio and record my version: "Jelly-Legged Kevin," in honor of the way Pau Gasol made Garnett look old and tired.

Gee. All these memories. I never realized, until now, how much I liked both Carole King and James Taylor. And after writing this, I'll have to see if I can score a ticket Sunday night (tomorrow's show is sold out). Then, I can sit and watch two genuine American legends weave their tapestry of warm, engaging, mellow and thoroughly enjoyable music.

And forget all about the disappointing ending to the Celtics post-season.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Small Time in a Big Time World -- Tournament Time

It's the apex of every season ... the culmination of an entire year's worth of hard work, effort, bumps, bruises, highs and lows.

We're talking tournament time. And it doesn't matter what level you're talking about. Sports tournaments are the ultimate in excitement and drama, whether we're talking about tonight's Celtics-Lakers NBA Game 7 final, the Big Dance or last night's state high school lacrosse final between St. John's Prep of Danvers and Duxbury.

People who know me will wonder ... Lacrosse? When did Krause become a lacrosse fan.

You can relax. Krause is not a lacrosse fan. Well, I should say that with the caveat that any sport that puts on a good show is fine with me. One of the only reasons I don't really care for soccer (well besides the incessant drone of the vuvuzelas) is that there seems to be no point to it. Nobody scores.

I understand that the rules make scoring difficult -- especially when we're talking about elite levels. But the lack of scoring -- at least to action-oriented Americans like me, who only understand immediate gratification and have no patience for the sublime (insert sarcasm emoticon here) -- translates into lack of drama.

To me, sports appeal first to our sense of drama and second to our sense of provincialism. When the Red Sox face the Yankees 19 times a year, it's not simply two baseball teams going at it. It's Boston against New York ... and the different clashes of their cultures and personality.

When the Celtics take the court tonight against the Lakers, it'll be Boston vs. L.A. -- substance (us) versus style (them). East Coast reality vs. West Coast dilettantes.

That's what sells these games. Not just that they're two teams.

When two high school teams play on Thanksgiving, especially in public schools, they're not just playing for themselves. They're playing for the honor of their communities. That's what makes it special.

You put that together with a good game, with enough scoring, and enough momentum shifts that result from scoring, and you have yourself an event. Absent one of those two ingredients, as the police would say, nothing to see here.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, nobody played lacrosse. I don't think I even saw a lacrosse stick, up close and personal, until I got into college because that's what lacrosse was to me: one of those preppy college sports where everyone wore striped polo shirts and shorts.

But when a school in your coverage area makes a state final, you have go. So I went. To Harvard Stadium. Now, I know Harvard's had endowment issues ... but even with a historic decline last year, it's still over $25 billion. The athletic department has enough money to put artificial turf on the ground of Harvard Stadium (this, I think, would be like re-sodding centre court at Wimbledon with fake turf, but, hey, that's just me), and to expand its facilities farther into Allston (at least judging from all the earth moving equipment I saw there). But it can't afford an elevator to the press box at Harvard Stadium?

Holy moly! Now, I had gastric bypass surgery last year and have lost 120 pounds. I can do a solid hour on the elliptical cross trainer. If I don't do that, I walk at least three miles a day. I'm all of a sudden a physical fitness fiend.

I'm happy to say I made the stairs ... without much of a problem, really (actually, with cranky knees, going down the stairs was a lot worse). But come on, Harvard. Those stairs are a heart attack waiting to happen. I'm surprised, really, that this hasn't already happened. It's been a while since I covered football the Hallowed Grounds. I think the last time I had to climb those stairs was in 1984, during a U.S. Olympic soccer preliminary, when Canada beat Cameroon.

Funny, the things you remember. I remember it not because it was a great game (it was 3-2, Canada, which, in terms of soccer, was a slugfest) but because of the reporter from Cameroon who sat next to me ... who was livid at what he considered an outrage on behalf of the officials. I don't know what he was complaining about, but whatever it was, he was adamant ... and loud.

"There is shame," he said, screaming into the phone (apparently dictating a story to his paper). "There is shame. Shame at Harvard Stadium."

I guess, to him, the idea of a North American team ... and from Canada, no less ... beating an African team in the "Beautiful Game," was just too much to bear. I so wanted to tell him, "buck up, pal, at least it wasn't the Americans."

(Though something tells me that, to him, Canadian ... American ... what's the difference?).

Anyway, back to lacrosse. I've seen probably a handful of lacrosse games in my life ... most of them local. Only once -- back in the 70s, when there was something in Boston called "box lacrosse," did I see anything beyond the local level. Box lacrosse was like arena football ... played in a venue for which it clearly wasn't suited. Box lacrosse would be like playing soccer in a gym (which they actually do in youth soccer leagues). You need a big field in both, as running around and spacing is one of the key ingredients to both. It's a bit tougher to do in a crowded environment.

So I clearly didn't get a terrific idea of what lacrosse was all about watching the Boston Bolts play in the Boston Garden.

(And by the way, who in hell came up with that name?)

So for me, this was a treat. And, as friends and colleagues who have heard talk about my ambivalence toward lacrosse kept telling me, it was a chance to see the game as it was meant to be played.

I will say that the two teams did not disappoint. Duxbury had won the state championship in its division for the past six years. St. John's lost to the Dragons last year on a last-second goal. So in many respects, this was turning into quite the rivalry.

Again, this is only my perception, but to me, high school lacrosse (or lax as is the headling abbeviation) has always been a way for football and hockey players to stay in shape during the off-season. It's rarely -- even now -- a high school kid's No. 1 sport. That's because it's still growing in popularity. But I've noticed, as an editor, that lacrosse makes for great pictures. I'm never hesitant to send a photographer out to cover a lacrosse match because there is a lot of action and movement ... which is a wonderful formula for good graphics.

I should say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I went to St. John's Prep, though there was a while I was up there that a velociraptor attacked a bunch of us at football practice. No. Seriously, I graduated in 1971, long ago, perhaps ... but not that long ago.

I've attended a few Prep state title games, but haven't seen them win one since 2000, when the baseball team won its second straight championship. I'm beginning to think that I am not only an alumni of this school, but a jinx extraordinaire.

It didn't look promising in the first half, as The Prep went into halftime trailing, 7-3, and looking pretty much outclassed the whole day. Once again, I was left muttering that just once I'd like to see my school win one of these things. There was the 2002 Super Bowl in which The Prep went onto the field as the clearly superior team ... and came off the field losers to Everett High. There was the 2004 Division 1A hockey semifinal that we lost, in overtime, to Arlington Catholic. And there was the 2005 state Division 1 hockey final ... lost to Marshfield ... when we let a kid skate all the way down, untouched, for the winning goal.

Just this past winter, The Prep had one of the state's best basketball players (Pat Connaughton), but came up short in the sectional final at the Boston Garden. My kingdom, then, to see them win a state title at least once.

So, a 7-3 halftime deficit was not making my mood any better.

The Prep spent much of the second half climbing back into the game, which -- of course -- made me snap to attention. Twice, they got within a goal ... and twice the gave it right back, which, if you know anything about sports, is somewhat like being handed the keys to the kingdom and dropping them down the sewer.

After getting it to 8-7, Duxbury scored two quick ones (the 10th one a horrible goal that had the Prep goalie slamming his stick against the side of the net in frustration).

But The Prep kept going forward, tying it again at 10-10 with less than a minute to go (55.7 seconds to be precise). But Duxbury, with about 20 seconds to go, went ahead 11-10, and the Dragons were already celebrating on the sideline. After all, who scores in a lacrosse game with 20 seconds left?

As it turns out, The Prep. One of their best players, Colin Blackwell (there's a real lacrosse name) hit the post on a shot, and teammate Garrett Campbell picked up the loose ball and scored with 7.6 seconds left.

Duxbury couldn't match that, so we went into overtime.

I was kind of torn here. It was a great game. And yes, it gave me a better appreciation for lacrosse. Now, at least, I don't have to view lacrosse merely as the one sport where hosting team parties with strippers is a sanctioned event (that line sank like a stone in front of the lacrosse-crazed writers in the press box last night).

But overtimes and The Prep? Not promising. It just never seems to work out.

In overtime, the match clearly channeled a good basketball or hockey game: The defense came up with a play and led to a quick transition. Chris Coady (who is also the quarterback of the football team) blocked a shot, and got the ball out to teammate James Fahey on the wing. Fahey ran all the way downfield with not a soul near him (helped by teammate Campbell who set the equivalent of a monster pick in the middle of the field to keep him clear). Fahey bore in, shot, and scored. And I finally got to see my old school win one (take that, Steely Dan).

I'm telling you. The Celtics may win tonight ... they may lose. The Red Sox can win another World Series ... the Patriots another Super Bowl and the Bruins -- someday -- may win a Stanley Cup.

But there is nothing ... nothing ... more fun than watching kids celebrate. You see these moments of spontaneity ... of unbridled glee ... and it makes you remember why you went into this business, and what makes it so much fun.

Of course, there's a flip side to that. There's nothing sadder, I think, than watching kids as the realization that they've lost has sunk in. But it's so, so dramatic at the same time. Some of the best pictures I've ever seen come from the losing side. A few years ago, the Saugus High hockey team was going for its third straight state title. But it lose, in overtime to Boston Latin. The best picture of the day was of a Saugus kid, sitting on the ice, with his back up against the boards, stunned and dazed, and probably exhausted too, at the sudden outcome. That is a picture that didn't need a single word.

I have another one of these to go to Saturday, when the St. Mary's softball team plays for a state championship. The Spartans and Murdock High will be doing a lot to match the excitement from last night.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can we please put Ted to Bed?

Reading all the hoopla about the latest Ted Kennedy revelations remind me of a drinking game ... you know, you're watching a football game on TV, and the next time John Madden says "Boom" everybody has to knock down a shot.

Well, every time Teddy's name gets in the paper -- and we're going on a year since he died -- we all have to down a shot. And if we were playing that game yesterday, they would be a lot of drunken people walking around today in a total stupor.

The Kennedy name still sells ... long after there are any Kennedys worth buying.

The FBI has released secret files concerning Ted Kennedy, and let's just say that to anyone who followed his career (which is to say most anyone with a pulse) what's in them isn't exactly startling news.

Let's see. He faced death threats. Well, duh! Of course he did. Both his brothers were killed. Why would it be such a shock for people to hear that there were plenty of nuts out there -- including, apparently, Sirhan Sirhan himself -- who wanted to complete the troika?

Then, apparently, Teddy and Bobby were involved in some wild sex parties in New York, and that Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Marilyn Monroe were also involved.

It's no big secret that Teddy got around. It's no big secret that all the Kennedy men -- and maybe even a few of the women, too (my conjecture only) -- got around. Look at the wonderful example they had. Old Joe got around too.

Infidelity was a Kennedy family trait. If I wanted to get all psychological about it, I'd even go as far as to say it's least surprising to hear Bobby did. After all, he pined for his father's acceptance probably more than anyone else in the family, spending as much time as he did lost in the shuffle of being smack dab in the middle of a nine-children litter. How better to do that than to have a zillion kids (OK, 11) and still have time for extracurricular activity? The old man must have been so proud?

The FBI also knew, right away, that Teddy was involved in the Chappaquiddick incident ... but downplayed his involvement. That may be the most salacious bit of information about any of this, and that's only because J. Edgar Hoover -- who was still the director of the FBI in 1969 -- didn't hate Teddy as much as he hated the rest of the Kennedys. He had a special antipathy for Bobby, but he pretty much broke out in a rash at the thought of any of them.

One can only guess that Hoover -- who was a pack rat when it came to hoarding incriminating information about people he detested -- planned at some point to hold all this over Teddy's head if the time was ever right.

I think I've made it pretty clear that I have decidedly mixed feelings about Teddy. I could, again, get into all the psychology of what made Teddy Teddy. I believe he was about as neglected growing up as a rich kid could possibly be ... raised by au pairs and nannies, with an emotionally distant mother who, by child No. 9, was wealthy beyond her comprehension and had her sights set on bigger things.

It's interesting that Rose Kennedy comes across as this saint, and that the mere mention of her name commands genuflection (and a greenway). From some of the things I've read, Rose was every bit as tough to please, and tough to accept, as Old Joe was. In fact, again, from things I've read, it was Old Joe who had the soft spot for his children. There was nothing soft about Rose.

I would have never wished to trade places with Edward Moore Kennedy ... not even for a day. I couldn't watch three brothers and a sister die the way his siblings did. I couldn't live knowing that there were nuts all over the world who wanted to make me another trophy.

I'd have probably found solace in a bottle or two myself with all that pressure on me. But I like to think I'd have stopped short not so much of manslaughter, but of ducking the responsibility and the repercussions of having committed manslaughter.

Oh, I know ... he paid for it in the end. That's what his supporters say. He lived with the knowledge of what he did, and it certainly cost him the presidency. To which I say big deal. It didn't cost him the Senate. It didn't cost him his position as the "liberal lion." He was able to wield a pretty powerful club, and for years too.

In fact, I submit that Teddy Kennedy probably ended up with more power, and more prestige, as a highly visible U.S. Senator who made presidents (even those from the other party) quake in fear of getting on his wrong side. He'd have have lost all that in the White House.

(Let that be a bit of advice for you, Sarah Palin. You're much more powerful ex-officio.)

Beyond anything I might think of him, though, there's got to come a time, both in Massachusetts and the country, where we have to pick up and move on (or, as Red Sox fans would say, pick up an Mo Vaughn). Ted is dead. Morte. I'm tired of hearing how much different health care would have gone had Teddy been alive (it's true; it would have been different, but the man is dead, and no amount of wistful wishing is going to change that).

The Democrats always talk about his legacy. I'm not sure what that legacy is, but I'm guessing it isn't driving cars off bridges. I'm guessing it's his record as an unabashed liberal who had both the cachet and a basic free pass to re-election every six years to stick his neck out on issues without too much fear of paying a steep price.

Ted Kennedy, even when he was alive, was a relic. There nobody out there anymore that beloved (justifiably or not). All 50 senators and 435 representatives are accountable. That's a good thing. And we're just going to have to accept that.

The reason why there isn't another Democrat who can step in and fill Teddy's shoes aren't that the shoes were that big (though they were big enough). It's because there's nobody in Congress anymore with the ability to swagger through life risk-free. Every representative and senator has so much riding on every vote these days that it's impossible to get any of them to act on their own gut beliefs. I'd say these days they're all pretty much up for sale to the highest bidder.

If Teddy had a positive legacy, it was that. He was politically immune to the repercussions from narrow interest groups who could coalesce to defeat him. His name, the sympathy he garnered from his public just because of his name, and his longevity, combined to guarantee that no matter what he did, he'd be sent back to Washington every six years. He probably could have run for the senate from a hospital bed and won ... oh, wait, he did that already? Figures.

That's why, now, it's disheartening to read another round of breathless reporting about Kennedy scandals. I heard every story yesterday and it was like, "gee, could you tell me something I don't know?" Hey, I know the news industry is in peril, but I guarantee this: It's not going to get out of trouble rehashing decades-old Kennedy scandals. In Massachusetts, we've heard them about a zillion times. Elsewhere, I'm not sure there's a soul out there who gives a damn.

If someone wants to, someday, initiate an objective debate about Ted Kennedy's public career, I'm there. I think there's still an awful lot to discuss, because he was, first, last, and always, a paradox. I still wonder how anyone could be so bold, and so fearless politically, yet so reckless personally. Then again, recklessness was a family trait too.

But spare me anymore titillating revelations that aren't really revelations. If you want a good idea of what I'm talking about, here's the Boston Herald story.

The Globe story was more restrained, but even the Boring Broadsheet (as the Herald calls it) couldn't let the sexcapades go.

Someday, maybe, we can stop wishing he was still here, and others can stop piling on long enough to let the man rest in peace. Someday, there will be another Democrat who emerges from the bowels of their rudderless ship and grab the helm and take it ... somewhere.

And that's not going to happen until everyone gets it into their heads that Teddy's gone ... and that reliving his legacy ... and his misdeed as well ... no longer serves any useful purpose.

Monday, June 14, 2010

All Right, That's Enough Out Of You!

Today, we discuss people who have simply worn out their welcome. You know the type. They start out as good guys, or humble people, or whatever else good you can say about them.

Then, as time goes by, they become impressed with the reputation they've forged, the start playing off it, and before you know it, they've become tired old drones who are so numbingly predicable you want to scream every time you see them.

I'm talking about Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson at the moment, but it could really be any one of a number of people. These are people who do an awful lot of talking, come to think of it, and run around as if they're the first, and final, word on all things pertaining to their realm ... an often that which falls outside their purview of expertise.

You find these people no matter where you go ... but most of the time, they've confined to three fields of endeavor: politics (and by politics, I mean all matters of government, including economics and foreign policy), sports, and religion.

Of the three, sports are least harmful. Who cares if Phil Jackson makes an idiot of himself (which he did Sunday night when he told his team how adept the Celtics are at losing games in the fourth quarter ... as the Celtics were in the process of beating the Lakers). That may go down as the moment Phil jumped the shark from being a refreshingly candid coach in a sea of slime ... to one of the ultimate slimeballs himself.

It's been coming. Slowly but surely, Jackson has gone from American's pro basketball beatnick and countercultural guru -- the guy who used to buy his players their own special books on motivation -- to an incessant whiner and game-player (off the court) who, now, weighs in on every damn issue. This is what Pat Riley used to do too, and it's why, even today, I consider Mr. Riley one of the most (if not the most) repugnant coaches sports have known.

But since we blew a whole column yesterday on sports, I'm just giving an example here. There are other dragons to slay .... and they don't involve sports figures (well, they do, but we'll refrain from mentioning them).

But we're going to start with a sports figure, even though, these days, he weighs in on topics that go far beyond his purview of expertise. His name is Curt Schilling, and when he chose to simply pitch for the Boston Red Sox, he was one of the most clutch pitchers they ever had.

However, Schilling pitched other ideas too ... mostly Republican politics. In fact, the day after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, he was out in Ohio campaigning for George W. Bush. It must have done some good, too, because Ohio is what put Bush over the edge in the 2004 election just a week later.

These days, Schilling will talk to anyone who will listen to him.

Personally, I get a little tired of celebrities who lecture me about politics. You know what, Bruce Springsteen? Just sing. I don't want to know your politics. At least if you're not singing about them. That goes for you, too, Barbra Streisand, and Alec Baldwin, and Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, and even Bono (like him though I do). You're lucky you have a natural forum, but please do not abuse it. It's not necessary to weigh in on every issue like it won't get resolved without your input.

These days, Sarah Palin is the person who most annoys me. She is the one, out of all of them, who can't let anything go without commenting on it as she's E.F. Hutton and we're all the people who stop everything and listen.

Look. Palin's a public figure, and she's obviously positioning herself for 2012 ... as much as she protests she's not. And in one sense, she has way more latitude to shoot her mouth off as private citizen than she would as an elected official. And right now, her words, and opinions, are taken as gospel.

But that's because a) she's hot (interpret that any way you want); and b) she's relevant. There are enough people who think that she's a viable candidate in 2012 that they pay attention.

But if she choose not to run, she'll just be the GOP version of Al Gore. Sure, she'll have a following, and sure, she'll be almost a cult leader among that following. But nobody else is going to give two hoots about what she says.

I excuse professional journalists/commentators from this screed, because they get paid to do this. Guys like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher ... they can often be Johnny One-Notes ... and sickeningly so. But this is what they do. They put it out there, and it's up to us to take it all with a grain of salt, especially in the case of Maher (and Jon Stewart), who do this half for commentary and the other half for laughs (though I have to admit that, at least in Stewart's case, he's on the mark way more than some of the others are, even if he's his shtick).

I'm talking about what I call professional dillitantes (which is kind of an oxymoron). They're these self-appointed experts on everything ... people who can't let an occasion pass without some kind of a comment for public consumption. They're the people we all call for comments ("the usual suspects," as Claude Rains said in Casablanca), and then ask ourselves afterward why in hell we do that!

When he was alive, Jerry Falwell was always consulted for his opinions on all matters of public morality (and sometimes more than that). Why? What did Jerry Falwell know about anything other than religious intolerance? But there he was, always, commenting about this and that ... like anybody cared.

On almost every issues, there is a cadre of celebrities/dillitantes/religious leaders who feel compelled to comment. And most of the time, they're "outraged," whether it's because of something Obama's done or something Bush did.

Cindy Sheehan. Perfect example. Now, God knows I have all the sympathy in the world for a mother who lost her son in a war. There can be no worse experience in this world than burying a child.

But it doesn't make you a foreign policy expert, and it shouldn't automatically allow you to lob broadsides from a distance. This isn't to say she didn't have the right to do this. She did indeed. But I think it's awfully cynical for people to use that kind of public sympathy on one hand, and expect to exempt from harsh reactions on the other.

Even though I may have agreed with Cindy Sheehan's views on the war, I didn't always like the way she, or her followers, reacted to criticism. It was "how dare you criticize me ... I lost my son to this war."

So did a lot of other mothers. And I'm sure they were upset too. And I'm sure a lot of them felt exactly the same as she did, too. But Cindy, sometimes, went a little too far ... and then chafed self-righteously when she got some of it back.

Politicians aren't immune from this syndrome. There are plenty of them who start off sounding really refreshing, who then turn into the same drones they defeated. What makes it worse, at least with regards to politicians, is that their reactions are so Pavlovian. This is what bothers me, at the moment, about Palin. If Obama says high, she says low. If Obama says in, she says out. If Obama says Tomatyto, she says Tomathto.

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say, "let's call the whole thing off." These people ... they don't comment as much as they trot out buzzwords and comments that sound as if they came from a manifesto somewhere. Every time a Democrat like Barney Frank trying to paint the Republicans as the "party of the rich" or the "party of big oil" I want to scream ... and I kind of like Barney. He's entertaining. But the Democrats are just as bad. Most of them are rich, too. And many of them accept money from oil companies as well.

Similarly, whenever I hear Palin, or some other Republican, pin the "tax and spend" label on Democrats I want to scream at them, too. Republicans spend money too, you know. Their spending priorities differ from those of the Democrats. So it doesn't always come down to who's spending the money, but who's benefiting from the spending. Some folks in this country who have had it all their way for centuries get their noses mighty far out of joint when governmental largesse is directed toward someone other than them.

These days, I don't listen as intently as I used to. I used to hang on every word when these self-appointed experts crawled out of the woodwork to express their "outrage" over something. That's because we'd hear it maybe once -- on the 11 o'clock news -- and it would then be relegated to audio/visual birdcage liner.

Now, there's a 24/7 news cycle. So when Alec Baldwin, or Natalie Maines, gets up and slams someone as if the whole world was just waiting to hear what they had to say, we have to listen to it for two days (sometimes longer) because, after all, you have to fill that airtime with something.

I've come out of this experience with an appreciation for Stephen Colbert, by the way, because he, like Stewart, pokes wicked fun at pomposity, and he doesn't really care which pompous ass he's lampooning. It's pretty much all the same to him.

I tell you, the world would be a much better place if some people weren't so impressed with themselves and their alleged expertise on everything. A colleague of mine once sarcastically described Shilling as "the world's foremost authority on everything." I'm down with that.

This all started -- I think -- with Howard Cosell, a man of enormous ego, who acted as if he was the official conscience/historian/final word/moral compass/expert on every issue he ever dealt with. A critic once said he made the world of fun and games sound like the Nuremberg trials. I always got a kick out of the fact that bars all over America used to hold contests every Monday night to see who got to throw a brick through the TV during the football telecasts.

That was how strongly people reacted to Howard.

There's nobody like Howard anymore. That's both good and bad. Good, because he'd just be one more in a growing number of irritating people who seem to feel the day's not complete without some comment by them on an issue ... bad because, at least in his case, his ego was so outrageous it was often funny to listen to him be pompous.

These days, I'm all for a moratorium on pompous people. And we can start with Phil Jackson.

Would you please just shut up and coach?

Kobe, Schmobe

There's no rhyme or reason why as to why some sports teams seem to, historically, have the upper hand over others.

Perhaps some of it is history. When the Red Sox play the Yankees, they're not just playing the 25 guys on the field. They're playing ghosts. They're playing all those Yankee teams that were just a bit better, and just a bit luckier, than their teams were in the years when they were both competitive with each other.

Sooner or later, that history takes on a life of its own. And that's why the Red Sox victory in 2004 meant so much. They stuck a knife into the belly of the beast.

But if there's a team out there that has more of a reason to fear the ghosts of past futility, it's the Los Angeles Lakers when they play the Boston Celtics.

Yes, the Lakers successful slayed that dragon back in 1985 when they beat the Celtics -- at the Boston Garden, no less -- to win the NBA championship. By then the Lakers were certainly players. They'd won several championships. They had a team for the ages.

But even with that team for the ages, they'd choked away the championship a year earlier ... to the Celtics.

But, you know, history repeats itself. The old tapes don't stop playing, even if, once in a while, the victims take a big bite out of the tormentors' asses. The Yankees will always be the Red Sox Grapes of Tantalus. And even though L.A. has defeated the Celtics, twice, now, in the NBA finals, Boston still manages to get inside the heads of the Lakers.

And the Celtics are doing it again. No way should the Celtics be up, 3-2, in games to this team. Yet here we are. The Celtics can win their 18th NBA title -- and certainly their second-most unlikely one (1969 will always be No. 1 in that regard) ever -- with a win Tuesday at the Staples Center.

They'd better. A loss would force a seventh game, and I don't think they'd have much of a chance if that happens. But you know what? I didn't think they'd get out of the first round either. So what do I know?

At the beginning of the series, someone asked the Lakers' Kobe Bryant about the Celtics' legacy and he dismissed it with haughty scorn. As someone who has seen the other side of this phenomenon with the Red Sox, I could have told Kobe that was the wrong approach. You don't pretend the dragon is a figment of everyone's imagination. You go up there and spit in his eye.

That's what the Red Sox did in 2004. They embraced it. They wanted it. I swear, they'd have somehow felt it wasn't a legitimate title if they'd gone through anyone else but the Yankees. I understand what Pedro Martinez said a few years earlier about the "Curse of the Bambino." He didn't believe in them.

"Wake up the Bambino and I'll drill him in the ass," he said.

Kobe put up 38 Sunday night and the Lakers still lost. Why? Because Kobe's teammates got too wrapped up in watching Kobe play while four Celtics were scoring in double figures (Paul Pierce leading the way with 27).

The Celtics generally win games when the superstar goes off on a tear and everyone else stands around and watches. I say "generally" because, once in a while, the superstar is so good it doesn't matter what the rest of the team does. Dwayne Wade scored over 40 in the one game the Miami Heat won in their five-game first-round series. And LeBron James went absolutely nuts in Game 3 of the Cleveland Cavaliers series -- and that was too much for the Celtics to overcome and they got blown out.

Most of the time, though, the Celtics take a pragmatic view of superstars being super. They do their best with them, but make double-damn sure that no one else heats up. In fact, I'm going to say the Celtics wanted Kobe to go off on a tear. They'll take him scoring 38 points while pests like Derek Fisher stand around and watch.

The only reason the Celtics haven't won this series already is Fisher, who scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3, ruining a tingling Celtics comeback in the process. A line score last night -- where Kobe puts up 38 and only one other Laker (Pau Gasol) hits double figures ... that would have been Red Auerbach's wildest dream. That was basically his blueprint for success every time the Celtics played (and beat) the Lakers in his long and distinguished tenure with the team. Let Wilt Chamberlain score his 60 points. As long as nobody else did anything comparable, it takes more than 60 points to win a basketball game.

Only once, in my memory, did that not quite work out. That was in 1974. The Celtics were playing the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA title, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was absolutely tearing it up.

The Celtics caught a break in that series because Lucius Allen, Milwaukee's all-star guard, was injured and Oscar Robertson (who is one of the greatest players ever), who was definitely on the downside of his career, had to bring the ball up.

The Celtics pressed Robertson, who, by then, just wasn't up to it. And that's how they figured they'd win the series. Press The Big O, let Kareem have his points, and shut down the other no-names that comprised the rest of the Bucks roster.

The only problem? Abdul-Jabbar won three games all by himself. Literally. One of those wins game in overtime of Game 6, when he hit one of those sky-hooks with three seconds left, and Milwaukee pulled even and brought the series back to its court for Game 7.

This defined conventional Celtic wisdom, which stated that you force the superstar to achieve greatness on a nightly basis. It doesn't happen all the time. Even Larry Bird wasn't great every night.

But for three games, Abdul-Jabbar was great and then some. Between that Friday and the following Sunday, coach Tom Heinsohn changed things up. He had Dave Cowensn and Paul Silas double down on Kareem, with Silas fronting him (and mugging him worse than some back alley hood). The risk was leaving one of the other Bucks open for jumpers all game long. In this case, it was Cornell Warner.

It worked out well. The Celtics won Game 7 going away, and came back to Boston with title No. 12.

The series proved two things. First, sometimes it's just as good to be lucky as it is to be, well good. If Lucius Allen isn't hurt, the Celtics probably don't win that series.

Similarly, the Celtics seem to catch a break every time they play the Lakers in the finals these days. Two years ago, when they -- once again -- danced all over the Lakers (including a comeback from a 24-point third-quarter deficit in Game 4), center Andrew Bynum missed the series with a knee injury. This year, Bynum, once again, is hors de combat for large stretches of time with another balky knee.

Without Bynum in the paint keeping everyone honest, Glenn "Big Baby" Davis could do what he did in Game 4 ... and thus, Shrek and Donkey, basketball style, were born.

The second thing it proved is that conventional wisdom may win out in most cases, when when it's defied, someone has to be there to see it ... and adjust to it.

The Celtics can afford to use their conventional template for success as long as Kobe's putting up 38 and nobody else on the Lakers can match it. But if Kobe puts up another 38 in Game 6 Tuesday, and Gasol follows it up with 21, and Fisher chips in with, say, 13, the Celtics have a real problem. They've been fortunate these last two games because Bynum hasn't been himself, Lamar Odom is has disappeared, and Ron Artest can't put the ball in the ocean. If any of that changes, it'll be time for Plan B.

And I'd love to know what Plan B is. Because right now, the Celtics may be playing well, but their lead in this series has more to do with what L.A. is not doing.

Which brings us full circle. The ghosts are winning ... again. Old habits die hard. The Lakers are hard-wired to shrink in horror whenever they see Celtic green the same way the Red Sox break out in a rash when they see Yankee pinstripes and the Bruins still get sweaty palms when they see the Rouge, blanc et bleu of the Montreal Canadiens.

We just have to hope that between now and Tuesday, Kobe and the rest of the crew doesn't change their views that history is irrelevant. Of course it's relevant. The Celtics and the Lakers are proving that once again.

Friday, June 11, 2010

All right ... random rantings ...

Since life is often a series of disconnected thoughts and random rantings, here are a few things on my mind today ...

Everyone has his own theory as to what's wrong with public schools in America. Here's mine: The adults who make the rules have completely forgotten for whom they're making them. They've also forgotten that it's not their school system. They are stewards -- either elected, or appointed, to continue what's been in place before ... and to possibly make it better.

Those who become too proprietary, to the point of making everything all about them (and by doing so, leaving kids consistently in the lurch) should be replaced.

I'm tired of seeing kids made victims of adult intransigence.


In my city, Lynn, MA, we have what could only be called "pit bull" problem. Hah! Some communities have drug problems ... we have dog problems.

Since I'm an inveterate dog lover, I can't see the wisdom of unilaterally banning breeds of dogs. But what I can see is seriously fining owners if their dogs maul, bite, or even menace anyone, and confiscating the offending canine. And I can see jailing owners if they train their dogs to be that vicious.

We have to remember that even though dogs are classified as "man's best friend," they're also animals whose instincts do not vary very much from their lupine ancestry. If provoked, they will attack. And if they're not handled properly, they will revert to their basest instincts.


After watching Glen Davis last night, I think we have to add an adjective to his nickname. Now, have to call him "Big-Ass Baby."

Poor Baby. He gets so much shit. He's a man-child in the grand tradition of Darryl Dawkins (remember him?). Half the time you want to shoot him; the other half you want to hoist him up in celebration.

He's had a pretty eventful year. In the beginning he broke his thumb taking a swing at a friend who was, supposedly, talking trash about his wife. Last night, he scored 18 points in 22 minutes and, thanks to him, the Celtics are back even with the Lakers in the NBA finals.

I love guys like Big Baby. Sure, they're flawed. Sure, they're exasperating. But they are so much fun to watch. You never get the feeling Big Baby's mailing it in. He cares. Maybe too much sometimes, but that's OK. He cares.

And you wonder whether enough pro athletes these days do that.


Why does it not surprise me that the government is revising -- upward -- the estimates of how much oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico?


Haven't had much to say about the disintegration of Al and Tipper Gore's marriage, except to say it proves my theory that those who lip lock in public in such a showy manner generally do so to convince themselves, and perhaps others, that all is well when it really is not.

Give me Ralph and Alice Kramden ... Al and Peg Bundy. Those are marriages.

In fact, the Kramdens may be my favorite married couple of all time. They fought. They bickered. They got on each other's nerve. Alice could give Ralph a look, or say a few choice words, and all of Ralph's grandiose bravado would be put right in its place.

Ralph could harass her, threaten her (which he did often), and act like the total wounded warrior when she'd do that, but at the end of every episode, he'd grudgingly admit that he was the fool, and not Alice.

And, he'd give her one of those, "awwwww, shucks" looks and say, "baby, you're the greatest."

If the Kramdens were real, and not just a sitcom, they'd still be married. And if one of them was dead, and the other alive, the survivor would be at that cemetery every day.

Remember that the next time you see a couple that tries to give off the appearance that they're perfect in every way. I mean, come on! Back in the 1990s, whose marriage would you have thought in more jeopardy, Bill and Hillary's? Or Al and Tipper's?

I know where my money was.

And now, all I can say to Willie and Hillie is this: don't go getting a divorce, now, and proving my theory all wet.


The World Cup soccer tournament begins today in South Africa. Thank God it's there. I think it's sufficiently far enough away so that I don't have to care about it unless someone opens up my mouth and force-feeds it to me.

Look, I'm sure soccer -- or futbol as it is called everywhere else -- is a wonderful game. It promotes physical fitness, you get to run around (aimlessly as far as I can see) and blow off steam, and -- in all seriousness -- it is a form of global communication.

I mean that only in the best of ways. Whatever else is going on politically, economically and diplomatically, in the world, you can't help by appreciate anything that puts it all on hold ... even if it's for a few hours a day.

But soccer isn't the bees knees in this country, and I doubt it'll ever change in my lifetime. We have enough games that matter to people, and I'm not sure there's room for any more unbridled passion for a sport.

Besides, if you ask me, basketball is close to, or has already, overtaken "the beautiful game" as a world-wide phenomenon.

I just can't develop any enthusiasm at all for "footie." Sorry. I know that's bound to piss some people off, but that's just how I feel.


I caught this obituary in the paper today: Jack Harrison, one of the survivors of "The Great Escape."

Remember that movie? Steve McQueen? James Garner? Richard Attenborough?

David McCallum, who later became a teen hearthrob in "Man from UNCLE" (and then a senior lab rat in NCIS), was one of the escapees, and he got shot to death at a train station trying to flee the Nazis. Do you remember who was the only survivor? It was James Coburn, who was escorted out of France and into Spain.

Best scene? It was easily when Coburn was in a French sidewalk cafe that fronted for the Resistance, and the waiter summoned him to the bar and handed a telephone to him and made him duck under the bar. At that very moment, a car from of assassins drove up and gunned down a table full of Nazis.

Harrison never actually escaped. He was No. 98 on a queue of 200 designated to escape that night, but only 76 made it out before the Nazis got wise and smoked out the plot. Most of those captured were shot to death.

Harrison said they plotted not so much so that they'd be free, but to throw a monkey wrench into the Nazis, and to humiliate them.

I wonder how he felt back in the 60s watching "Hogan's Heroes" mock the Nazis as vain and idiotic fools. I thought it was great, but then again, I was 12. My father didn't think it was so great. And I get the feeling that a lot of other WWII vets, especially the ones who witnessed Nazi atrocities up close and personal, had mixed feelings about that too.


BREAKING NEWS: Poll finds Connecticut split between Red Sox and Yankees.

Apparently the folks at Quinnipiac University have nothing better to do that conduct pointless polls. Who cares?

Look, it's pretty obvious to me. The entire western part of Connecticut is one giant New York City suburb anyway, so why would it be such a shock that a lot of them would be Yankee fans? We need a poll to find this out?

By the way, Connecticut is one of the most boring states through which to drive. The scenery was probably designed by Yankee fans too.

Ever notice, by the way, that just the sound of the word "Yankee," especially when someone with an obvious New York accent pronounces it, sounds distinctively evil and obnoxious?


Why do media folks celebrity gawk at sporting events? Is there anything less relevant to the overall picture? I'm tired of watching LA Lakers games in Los Angeles and seeing the beautiful people (and these days, calling Jack Nicholson a "beautiful person" is rather stretching it).

I'd have more respect for these jerks if they gave their tickets away once in a while to kid or families who couldn't afford their seats if they mortgaged the sum total of all their property. That's a story I'd like to read someday.


Finally: General Motors (or, to some, Government Motors) has decided to get picky about the use of the word "Chevrolet." Well, actually it's not Chevrolet they're on the warpath to change. It's Chevy.

They don't like it. They're prefer us to call it by its proper name. Chevrolet.

Well, GM, how about this: Why don't you try selling a few more Chevrolets. Why don't you try making some Chevrolets that people want to buy, so they're not flocking to other (foreign) dealers whose cars look nicer, and last longer (well, maybe, except for Toyotas, which tend to drive off the road without any help from us).

I don't know. To me, this is a little like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Small Time in a Big Time World -- Being Tom Brady

At the end of the last century, there was a very quirky movie, filled with quirky characters, called "Being John Malkovich," in which a puppeteer discovered a portal that led into the mind of the famous "Dangerous Liaisons" actor.

He and a friend (who is also the object of his lust) try to channel this portal into a business. For 15 minutes, you can step into the mind of John Malkovich and experience all that he experiences.

I don't know enough about the movie to know why on earth the object of their fascination was John Malkovich. I mean, he's all right, I guess. But if I wanted to crawl inside someone's head and walk around for 15 minutes, I'd pick someone other than John Malkovich's. Anytime anyone asks me if I've ever wondered what it was like being someone else, I always say sure. I'd love to know what it's like to be Bono for a day.

I've always been fascinated by people who, by the nature of what they say or do, have enormous power over people. I once saw The Who back in The Day, and wondered, as I was watching them sing the finale to "Tommy," what it must be like being Roger Daltry ... up there singing a song that just drives people wild with frenzy. For all I (or anyone) knew at the time, Roger Daltry could have been the world's leading miscreant (he was not). But none of that mattered. He was belting out "listening to you, I get the music ..." and the audience was just going insane. He could have stopped and shrieked, "Heil, Hitler!" and the fans would have gone right on screaming and cheering.

Watching Bono at the 2002 Super Bowl, singing "It's A Beautiful Day," and "Where the Streets Have No Name" gave me the same feeling. What must it be like, I wondered, to have that power over people? And, of course, Bono has not been shy about using that power either. He's not shy about making grandiose, political statements. And unlike many others who have a similar pulpit, Bono has shown, over the years, some pretty good judgment when it comes to using his. He's also tasteful and poignant about it, too. When U2 did "Where the Streets Have No Name," the names of the 9/11 victims were scrolled on a large screen that hung above the stage.

I've also wondered, over the years, what it must be like being Tom Brady. What happens to you when you become everybody's Golden Boy? How do you go through life being the star of the TMZ show, the object of the paparazzi everywhere you go, the object of every woman's fantasies? How do you not end up with feelings of entitlement?

Ask Ben Roethlesberger about that. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback isn't quite in Brady's league when it comes to overall celebrity (though he's a pretty damn good quarterback), yet he obviously feels it's OK to herd women into rest rooms and have his way with them. Ask every pro athlete who walks around as if the world was created to cater every one of his whims and wishes. Ask Roger Clemens, who once complained about having to carry his luggage through airports (as if he were above that sort of thing).

One of the reasons I like doing what I do -- even though I'll never get rich going it -- is that I see this phenomenon from the ground floor on up. I see teenagers, some of whom are already developing this attitude, and there's still a chance, at this level, to save them (hopefully) from making the same mistakes as a guy like Big Ben.

Toward that end, when we find out about it, we don't sugarcoat so-called "typical teenage transgressions." In other words, if you're caught drinking, or you've flunked off the team (and I don't care what anyone says, to flunk two subjects within a quarter takes more effort, sometimes, than to pass them) we will note it somewhere in a story. Tastefully. And as unobtrusively as the situation allows. But we will note it.

How can you not? You're doing nobody any favors by consciously enabling kids and giving them the impression that their status -- even as amateur athletes in the high school fishbowl -- absolves them of full accountability if they knowingly violate rules that end up affecting their teams (not to mention them).

I bring up Brady because in today's Boston Herald, there is an item in the "Inside Track," which is the paper's gossip column, about the Patriots quarterback hob-nobbing with a couple of celebrity-wannabes at the Celtics game.

Brady, apparently, thinks he's the long-lost Beatle, judging from the haircut he's sporting these days. And, of course, Brady, being a celebrity, is made it his point to look like a celebrity. Leather jacket. Intricately styled hair ... the whole works.

The first time I saw the leather jacket was in the interview room after a Patriots game. Brady walked into the room wearing it, and I remember thinking to myself that the jacket probably cost more than my house. But otherwise, it didn't bother me much. He gets paid a ton of money for what he does, and while some people find that obscene, I do not.

Why? Because what he does, as insignificant as it may seem to some people, isn't that insignificant. For three hours a day, he unites some pretty diverse elements of his rooting region. You could take the most ardent Tea Party conservatives and sit them next to Rachel Maddow clones, in a bar, from 1 to 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, and the sharp elbows and knees to the groin (figuratively) that politics have become would take a back seat if they were all Patriots fans.

Sports unite us. And that's a very good thing. And if Tom Brady is willing to risk serious injury (and I'd say tearing up your knee is a serious injury) for the sake of the mental well-being of fans ... for the sake of giving us three hours of controlled passion, and even controlled fury, then what he does is very valuable.

You may question the mentality of fans who pour so much of themselves into these games. I question it all the time, and I'm one of them (don't ever watch a game around me.
You take your life in your hands. I can through things with the best of them.

When the Patriots won that 2002 Super Bowl, they had to do it after they'd blown a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. I was drinking cup of water at the time the St. Louis Rams scored the tying touchdown, and I slammed it down on my desk so hard the water came gushing out of the cup ... and onto the lap of co-worker Paul Lenzie.

I have been known to fuss and fume for an hour after a tough Red Sox loss, like the time Carl Everett of the Red Sox stupidly ran into the third out of game in the ninth inning ... before the tying run could score.

That was one of my better ones. I was still steaming an hour after the game, and every time I'd see a replay, or someone would bring it up, I'd be steamed all over again.

If sports can take people's minds off how much they hate each other, or are jealous of each other, or can't stand the fact that "they" get more than "us," and focus them on a common bond, then that can only be a good thing. My father and I went through the obligatory period when nothing he said or did made any sense to me at all. We'd clash when we got up in the morning, and we'd still clash when we went to bed at night. But we always set aside the battles when it came to the Red Sox. It was the one thing we had that we could share.

For that, and that alone, I think pro athletes deserve anything anyone's willing to give them. And when you consider the fact that they're raking enormous risks to do it, and that their career shelf lives are extremely limited, well, if Bob Kraft's willing to break the bank for Tom Brady, who's to argue?

Besides, there's a downside to all of this. And one of them is opening up the paper in the morning, or reading someone's blog on line, and finding yourself the topic of conversation for all the wrong reasons.

Brady is a terrific football player. One of the best who's ever played here, at least. But otherwise, he's a guy ... and, as such, he's done some things, and made some decisions, that haven't exactly put him in the best of lights.

He was in a relationship with Bridget Moynahan and, apparently, ended it when she became pregnant. Now, this has never happened before, right? Nobody ever walks away from a relationship because of an impending birth.

It isn't exactly noble. And in fact, if the circumstances are all wrong, people in this situation have been advised, time and again, not to go ahead and get married because of a pregnancy.

So there's conflict on this issue. Yet when it happened to Brady, these Track Girls treated him as if he'd axe murdered the woman's family. There's no indication, that I can see, that Brady has neglected this boy. I'm sure that the boy will be well provided for. Yet because he plays quarterback for the New England Patriots, and isn't in California at all times at this kid's side, he's treated, and written about, as if he's the world's worse absentee, deadbeat dad. It's irresponsible on the part of the Herald. But more than that, it's the drawback to celebrity.

Not everyone's cut out for that kind of celebrity, and I swear the ones who aren't eventually rebel and do some awfully strange things. Exhibit A: Brittney Spears. Exhibit B: Lindsay Lohan. Exhibit C: Michael Jackson. Exhibit B: Take your pick. The world's full of them.

Strangely, I think Brady's more equipped for this kind of life than many people. He seems to be able to stand up well under the microscope of fame, and still remain a fairly unflappable person. No doubt, he's got the drill down. He never says anything the least bit controversial. He's going through a contract negotiation now that's complicated by the byzantine NFL labor situation, yet you don't hear him mouthing off about it.

He's not one to point fingers. There's no Peyton Manning "if my linemen would only block for me" moments. If a receiver drops the the ball when it's right in his mitts (the way Reche Caldwell did in the 2007 AFC championship game), you don't hear Brady complaining about it to reporters afterward. When Randy Moss stunk out the joint so badly in a game last year that you'd have thought there was a sanitation workers strike in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Brady didn't get up there kick the hell out of him during the press conference afterward.

He plays the game hard. He's played it well. And for the most part, he's conducted himself well off the field. Yet every time he takes a breath, he's in the "Inside Track," and usually with some snide remark accompanying the pictures as if he's doing something wrong.

I just want to know: What's he doing wrong? He's a multi-millionaire in his early 30s, in a job that gives him plenty of time to enjoy the money and fame ... and he appears to be doing that in very healthy, mature ways. What is so terrible about showing up at a basketball game with a Hollywood haircut and a leather jacket that costs more than my house? Hell, if I had his money, his looks, his fame, and his time, I'd be there too.

I just don't see the problem.

Tell you what, Inside Track gals ... when Tom Brady is accused of rape and ends up having to confess that, yes, he had sex with the woman but it was consensual (like Kobe Bryant); and when he gets hit with the charge of herding a woman into a rest room, and getting rough with her to boot (like Roethlesberger); or when he gets implicated in a murder and somehow manages to walk way form it (like Ray Lewis), or when he injures of kills someone because he got behind the wheel while he was drunk (too many to name), then you can cluck your tongues all over the gossip pages of Boston Herald.

Otherwise, find something else to write about, because you look like damned idiots every time you write about Tom Brady in this manner.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I want to say just one word to you ... Plastics

Film aficionados know that quote well. It's one of the more bizarre lines from The Graduate -- a very bizarre movie about a disaffected college grad who returns home to discover that he's completely adrift in the world he'd left behind.

The movie made Dustin Hoffman a star, and it also delved into the whole notion of a young man's ultimate fantasy ... being taken to school, as it were, by the older and wiser woman. It also -- in the interest of honesty -- explores how complicated and unsatisfying these "school sessions," as it were, can be.

More than any of that, however, The Graduate portrays very well the disconnect kids often feel between the structured intensity of what they've just endured and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. The perhaps feel that more making the transition from college to the "real world," but I'm sure there's just as much of it among high school graduates too.

I know I felt it, even though high school was a laborious, extremely stressful four years for me (for some reason, I got through college with far less stress), I knew the minute I left the campus for the last time that my life would change ... and change profoundly.

I remember seeing J. Shannon Broderick as I was walking to my car ... a guy I'd seen every day while school was in session for four years. He wasn't remarkable by any stretch ... just a good, friendly kid who -- at the time -- lived out of state (St. John's Prep was both a day school and boarding school in those days).

We shook hands, and I knew -- the minute we did that -- that I'd probably never see him again. It was an unsettling thought. Not so much because it was him, but because there were a ton of classmates that I knew I'd never see again. In some cases, that really didn't bother me. But in others, it did.

We were 17 and 18, and we were all guys. And one thing I can tell you: Guys that age don't go around autographing each other's yearbooks and collecting phone numbers. At least this guy didn't. I couldn't have cared less.

Yet when I said my goodbyes to Shannon Broderick, I almost wish I'd taken the time.

Anyway, as it turns out, I saw Shannon twice since. The first time was on the subway in Boston. It was late at night, I was returning home from some assignment, and saw this rumpled figure curled up in a ball, catching a nap. I looked again, and it was Shannon. He was always a bit of a night owl! Turns out Shannon was living in Boston.

The only other time I saw him was in 2006 -- at my 35th high school reunion.

I can't say I felt like Benjamin Braddock of The Graduate after high school, though I felt a little like him after college, when I had no idea what I was going to do about a job ... and no clue as to where I'd wind up living. It all worked out, of course, but that brief period of uncertainty was mighty stressful. I did the job interview circuit (I got up for the first one, had a nice breakfast ... and promptly threw it all up. That's how nervous I was), but ended up being offered a job with United Press International, in Boston, where I'd interned. To say I was grateful is an enormous understatement.

At least nobody told me that my future should be in plastics. Thank God.

I write this today, though, not to bore you about my own graduating experiences, because I have nothing, really, to tell. I was/am pretty ordinary. My experiences aren't that much different than anyone else's are.

I would, however, like to offer the following (unsolicted) advice to any graduates who may be looking for some ...

Your education has not ended. It has begun. School teaches you that intellectual curiosity is a lifelong process, and if you haven't learned this, then either you, or your teachers, have done a very poor job.

Stay current ... not just about your chosen field of endeavor (for college graduates) but about life itself. Embrace newness. Or, at least, try to experience it.

Stay on top of trends, whether they're technological or cultural. That doesn't mean you have to embrace every one of them with unbridled enthusiasm, but be familiar with what they are. Nothing annoys me more than people who haven't felt it necessary to do this. They don't know how to use a computer, eschew cell phones, and they're proud of it.

It's nothing to be proud of. Every technological advance has been met with tongue-clucking dismay from people who would rather plant their feet where they're most comfortable. But comfortable equals complacency, and complacency equals frustration.

Not only that, but technology generally wins this battle. Wait. Never mind the "generally." It always wins this battle. Newton Minnow (great name) called TV a vast wasteland. The internet (and Facebook) was a sure vehicle to break up marriages and waste time (loved Betty White's take on that last month on Saturday Night Live). Yet who, today, doesn't watch at least something on TV? And who, today, exists without the internet? For most people (and I daresay all connected people) the internet is an integral part of our days ... both professional and personal.

Here's some more advice. Resist the urge to give people the impression you're ignorant. For reasons I've never been able to fully comprehend, this seems to be a badge of honor among kids. As Henry Higgins said in "My Fair Lady," "use proper English, you're regarded as a freak."

God, how I hate reading newspaper blogs, with God-awful usage, bad grammar, atrocious spelling, and disjointed, and disconnected sentence structure. I don't mean to be a snob about this (well, OK, I do mean to be a snob about it) but I do not take people seriously if they can't do better than that. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

It may have been cool in high school to act like a dolt, but it's not cool when you're an adult and you're still playing "connect the dots" when you write a sentence.

If you've escaped high school without the slightest knowledge of how to construct a sentence, or compose a simple thought, shame on you, and shame on your school. Nobody's asking you to be Shakespeare. But, good God, you need to have the ability to write a simple declarative sentence. And it's amazing to me how many people just cannot do that.

Nothing will leave you standing alone and adrift in life more than ignorance. Avoid it at all costs.

Here's some more. Stay young. Now obviously we all age physically and chronologically. But that doesn't mean we have to age mentally and emotionally. Stay young. One very good way to do that, as I've already mentioned, is to stay current.

It also means keep an open mind. Cultural trends come and go in this world, and not all of them can stand the test of time, or the scrutiny of a critical society. But when you get to be about 50, let's say, your should not be shutting your mind off, totally, from the new. You'll think, and feel, much younger if you at least learn about these trends. Then, you can make your choices based on knowledge instead of merely because "it wasn't like that when I was young." Of course it wasn't. The only certainty in life, beyond death, is that nothing stays the same. We are constantly evolving.

I was never really wild about the movie "The Big Chill," but I always appreciated that Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek (the writers) explored the tug-of-war among the baby boom generation between living totally in the past and embracing the present. It manifested itself in two memorable scenes.

The first came when Michael (Jeff Goldblum) gently reminded Harold (Kevin Kline) that music existed beyond 1969 (this, after Harold told everybody that only music from the golden boomer era ever saw the light of day in his house).

The second occurred when Nick (William Hurt) got angry and told the group of friends gathered to mourn Alex's suicide that they needed to stop living in the past. He told them it was easy to understand how their friendship flourished during their cushy, insulated college years, but that now, 20 or so years removed, that friendship would not survive if none of them could break 100 percent free from the past. Well he said it in different words, but that's what he meant.

Being young also means to stay in shape! And if you're not in shape, then what's wrong with you? You don't have to be in shape for a marathon. But pay attention to your body.

Old bodies mean old minds. If your body is too sedentary, then your mind will be too. I don't have an explanation for this ... it just is. You don't have to go the gym every day and pump iron like Ahh-nuld. But set aside some time -- even if you have to get up early to do it -- to take a walk every day.

Pay attention to what you eat, too. As our bodies and our metabolisms change, so should our dietary habits. As someone who is just, now, experiencing the joys of healthy eating and living (even if I had to have surgery to do it!) I can say, with 100 percent certainty, that any sacrifices you have to make with regards to health, exercise and nutrition are worth it. The rewards are fantastic, and it's certainly better than sitting around all day because your body hurts too much to be active.

Do not let the great subway train of life leave you on the platform. There may be another one right behind, but it might not be your train. In other words, Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Identify your goals and, dammit all, go after them. There is no time like the present. If you keep putting off that master's degree for another day, there will be another one after that ... and another one ... and another one still. Next thing you know, you're 40, married, with children, and you won't have the time, or the money, to pursue that degree. You've run out of "another days."

If it's something you want to do, do it now. Get it done. Make the sacrifices, even if it means living with mom and dad for two more years. Some professions require advanced degrees, but even with the ones that do not, there's no such thing as too much education.

I know, because I was one of the ones who "put it off for a few years." Now, I'm 57 and never got to it.

Do not let yourself drift. Do not settle for less ... at least in the long run. Fight the attitude that the devil you know is better than the one you don't, especially if that devil is a job that frustrates you and keeps you up at night. I'd rather take my chances with the unknown than put up with that the rest of my life.

Yet at the same time, keep yourself moving forward. If you find yourself working in a situation that you don't like, try to learn from it anyway. Lots of times, especially in large corporations, you're put in unattractive positions so that the management can see how you react to them. Learn how to count to ten. Learn how to navigate the minefield of officious mid-level managers who are on the make, and who will throw you under the bus in a second if it pushes them forward.

Learn from them. But don't be like them. They're miserable people, and they end up lonely and bitter because they have all this power and nobody wants anything to do with them.

Learn from the experience, though. And don't throw it all away because you've encountered a boss who doesn't love everything you do. Lots of times, sadly, those are the bosses you end up remembering the most, because they've pushed you to be better. Be honest. Do you remember the teachers in school who allowed you to coast? Or do you remember the ones who actually gave a damn and demanded that you do better?

(This, by the way, is why I'm such a strong advocate of playing sports in high school. Most coaches, if they're any good at all, demand way more out of us than we think we're capable of giving.)

Finally, this (to bring this to full circle): Don't stop learning. Read. Listen. Keep yourself informed on current events, and don't rely solely on the source that suits your particular political slant either.

If you get your daily dose of Rush Limbaugh to tell you how to think, plow into the treacherous waters of Rachel Maddow once in a while ... just to round out your perspective.

If your idea of keeping current is to read the editorial pages of the Boston Globe, or New York Times, you're only halfway there. You might need to check out George F. Will once in a while, or even Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. You don't have to like them. But a balanced perspective will at least serve to either validate your views or, perish the thought, make you rethink them. Either way, it's all good.

Just avoid Glenn Beck at all costs. He's a sock puppet and he's a blithering idiot (if Blogspot has emoticons, I don't know where they are; there should be a winky-face next to this!).

I don't pretend to be an expert on these matters. But I've had the experience of falling into some of the traps I've described here ... and also had the experience of escaping some of them too.

There's no worse a feeling in life than being trapped, whether it's in ignorance, a bad marriage, a bad job, a bad relationship, an eternal emotional time warp that begins and ends when you were "young," or a body that has stopped working for you.

And there's no greater feeling of freedom and exhilaration than to escape those traps, even if getting out involves discomfort in the short term.

It is my hope that today's graduates avoid the pitfalls altogether. That way, you won't have to expend all your energy escaping them.

Congratulations to all this year's graduates.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helen Thomas

I never met Helen Thomas, but I always considered her a former colleague. That's because we both worked for United Press International.

She was the chief of UPI's White House bureau; I was a copy boy, and then a member of the Boston bureau. But it didn't matter. We worked for the same organization, and developed the same values when it came to the gathering and disseminating of news.

I still believe, today, that I learned every important lesson I've ever learned in this business by working at UPI. That's because in the end, there is no substitute for dispassionate, unbiased, thorough, concise reporting. You become a good reporter in this business by stepping back, trying to get as big a picture as you can, and by keeping yourself, and your opinions, out of your stories.

This isn't easy. They creep in even when you do everything in your power to keep them out. It may not be overt. It may come down to what you choose to highlight, or what you choose to omit. But it seeps in.

Still, the quest to remain as neutral as possible when reporting news -- while at the same time being as inquisitive as you possibly can get away with -- is the key to good journalism. I hear so often people complain about intrusive news personnel, but that's perfectly OK with me. You cannot ask enough questions in this business. It's just that when they're answered, good journalists present those answers to the public even if they do not jibe with what those good journalists really think.

Good journalists remember that the story is merely by them; not about them.

I always admired Helen Thomas. Beyond her legacy as a pioneer for women in the business, Thomas -- I always thought -- was tough, but fair. Back when she wrote for UPI, there wasn't too much room for wire service reporters to become the darlings of either side of the political spectrum. Yes, UPI and Associated Press reporters had their vehicles to write analysis and opinion pieces, but even within those parameters, the product was about as restrained as you could get.

It was only later, when Thomas left UPI and joined Hearst Newspapers as a columnist, that her liberal leanings began to emerge noticeably.

But again, the purpose of writing a column is different than writing a story. Good columnists provoke strong reactions. They (hopefully) make people think, even when the thinking runs counter to what they write. It's just as important, I think, to write a column with which people disagree vehemently as it is to write one where you connect philosophically with most of your readers.

Perhaps more than most, political and sports reporters (and I've done both in my career; they're very similar in how they're covered, actually) see their subjects, warts and all. They see the feet of clay. They observe their subjects with their masks off, and get an appreciation for the people behind the images.

Consequently, even the good ones develop a sort of irreverence about the whole process. And I think that's healthy. The last thing we need in this country is fawning reporters who treat politicians as if they're royalty or deity. My friends who consider me liberal always tell me, when I start talking like this, that I say this to justify the horrible treatment the press gave George W. Bush.

We did treat him horribly. But I'd have been more upset if we'd treated him with kid gloves. We weren't there to treat him with kid gloves. We're not there to treat Barack Obama with kid gloves either. He's no different. His feet are just as deserving to be held to the fire as anyone else.

It generally becomes a game. The media -- and this might be because of the pack mentality that governs it -- detect a flaw and swoop in on it like flies on you know what. Then, the subject of this latest pack attack complains bitterly. His/her supporters condemn the media while the opponents praise tough-minded and independent journalism.

I always tell new people in this business that if the same people are constantly upset with you, you should probably re-examine the way you do your job. Because generally, if you're good, and if you've been at it long enough, you'll piss off just about everyone sooner or later. Nobody's right all the time ... and nobody's wrong all the time either.

A couple of weeks ago, someone caught the now-89-year-old Helen Thomas in an unguarded moment (something that seems to be more and more frequent in the era of "gotcha" journalism). A rabbi at a Jewish heritage event asked Thomas what she thought about the state of Israel.

Thomas, if you didn't know, is Lebanese. Lebanon is a little finger of land that's nestled along the Mediterranean Sea, with Syria to its east and Israel to its south. Its recent history is turbulent, and its location in one of the world's most notorious tinderboxes has probably done little, over the years, to calm the fears of the Lebanese people.

I'm sure there are many Lebanese people, regardless of where they live now, who see the whole Israel situation much differently than we do in the United States. There was almost universal condemnation in the Arab world in 1947 when the United Nations proposed the partitioning of Palestine to include an Israeli state (indeed, there were even some Jews back then who weren't exactly on board with it). Obviously, that antipathy toward the existence of Israel has not waned in the ensuing 63 years.

Who knows. Obviously the rabbi caught Thomas in a vulnerable moment. Only a week after he questioned Thomas about Israel, the whole Gaza aid flotilla crisis blew up.

Whatever, she answered bluntly that Israel ought to get out of Palestine, that it wasn't their land, and that they ought to go back to Germany, Poland, the U.S., or wherever else they'd come from.

Pretty harsh words (though expressing dismay -- even after 63 years -- over the creation of an Israeli state against the will of just about everyone else who lived there isn't exactly a terrible thing to do). People have said, in defense of the reaction against Thomas, that there would have been twice the clamor had someone said that Blacks should go back to Africa.

Is what she said insensitive? It was. She probably would have weathered it had she stopped at "they should get out of Palestine." But somehow, wishing them back to Germany and Poland, with all that history, wasn't the wisest thing to say. It isn't as if the holocaust was any big secret. And besides, Auschwitz was actually in Poland -- set up there after Germany annexed it in 1939.

This follows another sad pattern of people speaking before thinking ... and paying steep consequences for it. How many times have we heard of public figures shooting off their mouths ... and losing their jobs because of it? Al Canpanis of the Los Angeles Dodgers talked about blacks not having the "necessities" to manage in the big leagues. Jimmy the Greek talked of how blacks were used for breeding purposes. Both ended up losing their jobs. When Rush Limbaugh said that people rooted for Donovan McNabb just a little harder, and maybe cut him some extra slack, it was because they badly wanted a black quarterback to succeed.

I don't like Rush, but I don't think he was wrong on this one. I also think wanting a black quarterback to succeed in the NFL was kind of a noble thing, just like hoping that an African American, or a woman, with the right qualifications could someday be president was also noble.

Whether he meant this as a slam or whether he meant it merely as an observation was never quite clear to me. One thing I will say is that when it comes to sports, conservatives and liberals often speak the same language. It's one of the great unifying factors in our society. So I'm guessing, just based on that, that Rush was merely offering an observation that, again, I didn't think was that horrible.

And even if it was a dig, I don't think it warranted him losing his job at ESPN because of it. He lost it probably because if his reputation as a lightning rod for ultra-conservatives. The reasoning, I guess, is that since Rush was a right-winger anyway, he couldn't possibly have been expressing a dispassionate observation on the media's fascination with, and coddling of, the underachieving McNabb.

Oddly enough from a New Englander's standpoint, he said this after the Patriots annihilated the Eagles in Week 2 of the 2003 NFL season, and after fellow ESPNer Tom Jackson kicked the crap out of Bill Belichick. Jackson's remarks about Belichick were 10 times worse than anything Limbaugh said about McNabb.

Here's my problem with the reaction, both to what Limbaugh said and what Thomas said: Commentators are supposed to be provocative. They're supposed to set the wheels of thought in motion, and you cannot do that by presenting yourself as vanilla all the time. Vanilla accomplishes nothing. Once in a while, you need a little Cherry Garcia and Rocky Road.

Limbaugh was merely articulating something that was -- at the time -- the two-ton rhino in the parlor. As was Thomas. Their words may have been a little rough around the edges (especially Thomas's), but if the country's leading opinionists have to worry about losing their jobs, or being forced into retirement, every time they rock the boat, I fear this country will eventually be led down some very rocky roads. These opinionists, however much we hate them, are often the only difference between something approaching good government and out-and-out thievery and fraud.

Barack Obama should be big enough to absorb all Rush Limbaugh's criticisms, and Donovan McNabb should have been too. George W. Bush and his men should have been big enough to deal with all the unfavorable coverage they received over the years (and to their credit, most of the time they were).

Helen Thomas's words, I'm sure, stung a lot of people with allegiances to the state of Israel. They certainly deserved a rebuke. And I don't think it was totally inappropriate, either, for the White House to join in the rebuke either.

But today, Thomas' long, illustrious career is over, thanks to a sentence she uttered in an unguarded, vulnerable moment. She joins a long line of people who have seen it all end, badly, because of ill-chosen words. This hardly seems fair. You go your whole life walking that line that separates public responsibility and saying what you really think; and then the one time you totally screw up and blurt something out, you pay for it with your career.

Whether it's Helen Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis or Don Imus and his intemperate remarks about "nappy headed hos," there needs to be room in this country for unpopular opinion, or unpopular satire or sarcasm, without fear of official reprisals. Unofficial reprisals will always be there and are, as they say, the price of doing business. But corporations need to do a better job standing up to people whose immediate response to thought-provoking opinion -- even if it's unnecessarily outrageous and sarcastic -- is to get offended and attempt to silence those at whom they are outraged.

After all, this country was borne of men who had the ability to embrace discussion on diverse and divisive topics and come to a consensus.

All I think of are the times I've been sitting at a ballpark, or in some football stadium, believing I was among friends, cracking wise, joking around, and saying things I'd never dream of saying if I had any idea at all they were for public consumption. It just makes me realize how quickly it can all end if someone hears even a snippet of a conversation and interprets it the wrong way.

I'm not 89. I'm 57. Hopefully, I have a few good years left in this business. This just makes me realize that those who are, in any manner, in the public eye have to be on their guard constantly.

It's a good lesson for people to learn.