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Big Ben, Michael Wilbon & Why I Have To…

It is has been an up and down month in sports for me.  First there was my NCAA bracket and having to root for Duke.  Well, Duke made the Finals and all I need was for them to lose for me to win $1400 and 1st place in my pool or, if they won, they could still help me by scoring a lot of points which would have earned me over $100 and 3rd place in my pool.  Instead Duke, in classic Another-Reason-For-Me-To-Hate-Duke-Basketball form managed to win AND score just enough points to win a WNBA playoff game, causing me to lose the 3rd place tiebreaker and walk away with no money and the pain of a Duke Championship.

Baseball season has also started, with my usual apathy for Goldman Sachs, a/k/a The Wall Street Bombers, a/k/a The New York Yankees.  I’m sure by August I will care again, but right now I just get annoyed at all the people waxing nostalgic about the opening of baseball season like it’s still a team of neighborhood boys made good. 

Then the Utah Jazz caused me great joy and frustration.  My favorite team since the age of 7 provided me with the greatest live sporting event I’ve ever attended with a thrilling 140-139 OT victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Kevin Durant of the Thunder had 45 points, but the Jazz won with  just over one second left.  Then, in classic fashion, the Jazz proceeded to lose their season finale (thanks in part to the sensitive, free agent contract-conscious, former Duke Blue Devil Carlos Boozer’s abdominal strain – never trust a Duke Blue Devil) going from a cozy 3 seed at home against the maligned Trailblazers and a second round match-up with the paper tigers known as the Dallas Mavericks, to a 5 seed on the road with match-ups against their two toughest opponents (if they win in the 1st round) Denver Nuggets and then the Los Angeles Lakers).  The Lakers’ Lamar Odom might as well call the Jazz Khloe he fu-ks them so shamelessly.

But all these highs and lows have taken a backseat to the biggest story affecting a team that I am a fan of – The Pittsburgh Steelers.  Their star quarterback, two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger, and soon-to-be-played-by Peter Stormare in a Lifetime movie has turned out to be at best, a man with a rich frat boy’s sense of entitlement or at worse, a serial rapist.  It of course brings to mind Kobe Bryant, who I think was the last comparable athlete, to be charged with a sex cime of this magnitude.

At best - a rich frat boy sense of entitlement. At worst - a rapist. Either way - not a fan.

Now the Kobe Bryant case seemed to go much farther through the legal system than the Roethlisberger case has.  The rumors around the Kobe case were that he attempted to and may have successfully forced a back door slam dunk on the woman in Denver.  Now I have only met one woman who reacted with good humor (disturbing on many levels when pondered) at unexpected anal penetration, but this is not the time to re-hash my routine, so even considering that the woman went to Kobe’s room of her own free will, her back door is her back door and no is still supposed to mean no.

But Ben Roethlisberger does not even have that benefit (which of course raises the possibility that this is an incident representative of that time honored tradition in America which is the only crime worse than raping a white woman is being black and raping a white woman – not looking to address that here).  He seems to have, in the very least, acted aggressively and inappropriately towards this young woman and with the assistance of security guards.  I am not as troubled by the allegation that his security guards prevented her friends from getting to the alleged victim, because let’s face it – rock stars and athletes have had sex in all sorts of places and she could have been consenting to sex in a VIP lounge with a famous athlete.  Of course, she could have also been raped, which would make the bodyguards unknowing (or knowing) accomplices.

If this were a one time incident, the benefit of the doubt would be with Roethlisberger, but he has been accused of sexual assaults before.  Normally I don’t condone prostitution, but in Ben’s case it is better than the alternative.  Roethlisberger, in the very least, is placing himself in unsavory and compromising positions and deserves to be suspended by the league.  The Steelers have already said they will be suspending him because the organization, maybe worth a billion, still operates with a family business mentality and that is commendable.  It is even more troubling when you consider some of the “offended” fan base of the Steelers (after all, at Heinz Field last year was where I heard Joshua Cribbs of the Cleveland Brown get called a “Nigger” by a white Steeler fan and no one seemed to bat an eye). (Click below link for that Heinz Field tale)

https://jlcauvin.com/?p=1212

So if that fan base is troubled, you know Big Ben is in big trouble.

But as I was saying before, Roethlisberger has a few options to sex crimes – he could have girlfriends in every city, so that he has variety, but with women he can trust a little better than strangers at a bar.  He could hire prostitutes.  Let’s face facts – these high end services cater to men like him and convicted of using a prostitute is a preferred alternative to even the social stigma of being acquitted of serial rape.  Or he could have a meeting with Derek Jeter and forge a discreet vaginal domination mentorship where he learns how to have successful sexual relations without crimes by him or extortion by her being committed.

But with these options available to a man of Roethlisberger’s stature, as well as previous incidents that should have been warnings, one must wonder, perhaps this is what Roethlisberger wants.  Rape after all is a crime of power, not sex.  So if Ben, given his competitive success, is into power and domination, then sexual gratification would not satisfy this lust.  Michael Jordan exhibited his OCD level competitiveness through excessive gambling, Tiger Woods through excessive relations with menstruating waitresses and perhaps Ben really is a man whose drive for success has a criminal and vile manifestation away from the playing field.  I am not a psychologist, but it makes sense to me. 

I think the Steelers’ reaction has been appropriate, especially if they decide to trade Big Ben.  Even if Roethlisberger is innocent of all charges, he is obviously conducting himself in an embarrassing fashion and that alone gives the Steelers and the NFL a right to punish him to protect their corporate image.  But rape is in my opinion the worst crime there is, but perhaps that is why condemnation is coming more cautiously.  I am still surprised that allegations (and subsequent criminal conviction) of abuse of dogs by Michael Vick seemed to generate more outrage than Ben Roethlisberger’s alleged sexual assaults on women. 

And on a side note, as a fan of Pardon The Interruption on ESPN, I have also found Michael Wilbon’s defense of Ben Roethlisberger reprehensible.  I am a big fan of PTI and a big fan of Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser.  But it seems Wilbon, unlike the curmudgeon Kornheiser, has spent too much time cultivating a hybrid existence of serious journalist and Ahmad Rashad-buddy relationships with superstar athletes that he now sees fit to defend, or at least omit criticism, of athletes he favors.  Tiger Woods is a glaring example.  Gilbert Arenas was another to a much lesser extent, but Wilbon’s Roethlisberger commentary has been awful.  He said flat out that he does not think Roethlisberger should be suspended.   He is clearly a Big Ben fan and that is fine, but the lack of a criminal conviction cannot be the only acceptable standard for allowing a player to continue business as usual.  And Wilbon scoffing at Roethlisberger’s loss of a beef jerky endorsement at the end of a show this week was equally insensitive.

Michael Wilbon's commentary has been a huge disappointment during the Roethlisberger coverage.

All in all, it seems like it will be impossible for me to don a Roethlisberger jersey again.  To be fair I do have a Karl Malone jersey and he has not always been a model citizen, but he is a far cry from serial rapist (not to mention my inspiration for pursuing basketball).  And even if Ben is innocent of all criminal liability I’d still rather be associated with a black, redneck power forward than a jerk with a rich frat boy sense of entitlement.

I think I've retired this jersey. And not in a good way.
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Jordan is still better than Kobe, but what is…

Before I start what I wanted to be the subject of this post I have received some e-mails of a most disturbing nature.  Some fringe element out there (I group this element just below radical islamists, white supremacist militia groups) is claiming that Kobe Bryant is the better player than Michael Jordan.  Here very quickly (or not so quickly) is why he is not:

Kobe Bryant

2009 Finals MVP – 30 pts per game, 43% shooting, 7.4 assists, 5 rebounds per game, great numbers, slightly less impressive than Dwayne Wade’s stats in 2006 when he played with Shaq at his low point in his career

3 Titles early in his career when he was playing with Shaq at his peak.  Kobe was Scottie Pippen-esque at this point in his career – already a great player, but not capable of winning any of those titles if not paired with the game’s most dominant big man at his peak.  Shaq on the other hand could have one those 3 titles with any of the top 30 players in the league as the Robin to his Batman.

My parents conversation about Kobe:

My Dad: That Kobe is amazing

My Mom: I don’t like him.

Michael Jordan

1991 Finals – 55% from the field, 31.2 pts per game, 11.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds per game

1992 Finals – 52.8% from the field, 35.8 pts per game, 6.5 assists per game

1993 Finals – 50.8% from the field, 41.0 pts per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, 6.3 assists per game

And then we won 3 more titles after retiring for two and a half years in his prime. 

If he had played with a Shaq caliber player during his most explosive time (mid 1980s) and had not retired he would have 8-12 titles. 

He scored 50 pts at the age of 39 and is the only 40 year old to ever score 40+ points in an NBA game (after his second retirement).

My parents conversation about MJ:

My Dad: Wow Michael Shordan (that is how pops pronounces it) is amazing!

My Mom: Shut the fu-k up!

Frustrating Hall of Famers and The Cauvin Family from 1984-1998
Frustrating Hall of Famers and The Cauvin Family from 1984-1998

I think the evidence is clear that based on stats, facts, our collective gut instinct and my Mom’s visceral reaction to the Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone killer that he is the superior player and actually appears likable compared to Kobe.  There is only one player on the horizon who may supplant MJ and that is LeBron James, simply because LeBron’s physicality is the the first to transcend NBA generational evolution since… Michael Jordan.

But I will give Kobe and the Lakers credit – they gave me something to watch.  Like Armand Assante said in the terrible HBO film Gotti, “They’ll miss John Gotti when I’m gone.”  That is how I feel about Kobe right now – I watched him hoping he’d lose, sort of like my own reality show, that was actual real, instead of manufactured for the consumption of dumb people.  I even caught some of the Stanley Cup Finals Game 7, which is right up there with Big Foot with regard to the frequency with which I have seen it. 

Was he known as the Kobe Bryant of The Underworld? ("Sure he's ruthless, but he's no Michael Corleone!")
Was he known as the Kobe Bryant of The Underworld? ("Sure he's ruthless, but he's no Michael Corleone!")

 But now we are in the Summer of 2009 – no Olympics, no World Cup, no more basketball, a month until Wimbledon, no more hockey.  So what are we left with – America’s corporate pastime, baseball, Major League Soccer and the WNBA.  I am even afraid to watch one of my favorite shows, Pardon The Interruption, because I feel like sports have nothing right now.   So if you have any sports ideas for the Summer let me know.  Although my entire Summer of road gigs will probably revolve around doing comedy in minor league baseball team towns so maybe I can learn to appreciate the feature acts of sports as I feature at clubs.