I know a great actor when I see one, and I know a great performance when I see one. As an avid supporter of film, few things in this world have the engaging power that a great portrayal of a complex character on screen. I still remember the first time I saw Training Day, starring Denzel Washington as Alonzo Harris — a dirty L.A.P.D. narcotics officer who spends a day training a new recruit to join his elite squad, while at the same time battling a race against the clock to pay off members of the Russian Mafia who’ve put a price on his head. When I heard Denzel as Alonzo Harris say, “You know I’m surgical with this bitch Jake,” while wielding a sawed-off shotgun, I believed that Denzel was this character and I got chills down my spine.
As much as I appreciate an Academy Award-winning performance on screen, I absolutely loathe seeing acting in sports. As far as I’m concerned, there is absolutely no place for it, and furthermore it compromises the integrity of not only the player but of the sport itself.
We’ve all seen it. Every time a basketball player flails his arms like a wacky-wavy-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube man; every time a baseball player is very nearly hit by a pitch and decides to wince and jerk in pain; every time a soccer player dives face first into the grass and grabs his shin in pain when really he only tripped on a blade of grass. Acting is seeping into the sports we love to play and watch.
Does anyone recall the Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer incident? No? Well then allow me to refresh your memory. Although Bosh’s performance in Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was one of the fiercest I’ve ever seen, his performance against the Bulls was pathetic. With the Bulls on offense, Boozer posted up against Bosh, received the pass and pivoted 180 degrees, swinging the ball around to be face-to-face with Bosh. In the process of pivoting around, Boozer’s elbow came within millimeters of Bosh’s nose. Although slow motion replay shows that it never actually made solid contact, Bosh proceeded to fall backwards, land on his back, clutch his face with both hands and grovel on the court for several seconds, which drew the offensive foul against Boozer.
In a shameful display of sportsmanship, Yankees captain Derek Jeter acted his way to first base. In the 7th inning of a 2010 game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Jeter faked that he was hit by pitcher Chad Qualls, and was subsequently awarded first base. Jeter then went on to admit after the game that the pitch actually hit his bat. Who the hell does Derek Jeter think he is, Daniel Day-Lewis?
What I want to know is: what happened to the good old days when players wouldn’t flop around and act like their careers depended on how well they could sell that they got fouled? Whatever happened to the expression, “rub some dirt on it?” Whatever happened to Pete Rose ending some random catcher’s career via a charge at home plate in a freakin’ All Star Game? Whatever happened to rough and rugged 1980s style basketball? Whatever happened to “no blood, no foul”?
I’m reminded of and point to Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals. This is one of those series that symbolizes all that is great about the NBA. Lakers vs. Celtics, Magic vs. Bird and the list of awesome match ups can go on. In the third quarter, while going up for a breakaway layup, Lakers forward Kurt Rambis was violently clothes-lined by Celtics center Kevin McHale by his throat. Instead of rolling and crying on the court to elicit a stronger reaction by the refs against McHale, Rambis popped straight up and went after him, ready to brawl. What ensued was a bench clearing scuffle that many people have uploaded to YouTube as an iconic NBA moment.
Chris Bosh fell to the floor and cried like a baby over no contact, while Derek Jeter squabbled around to sell that he had been hit by the pitch and later laughed about it in an interview, and these are the athletes that kids look up to? While I’m not advocating for violence in sports, I’m advocating for a certain sense of integrity and pride. I want these athletes to be honest and own up to what really happened. If they actually are hit, I want them to rub some dirt on it, grit their teeth and proceed to make their attacker look foolish in some other way.
When then Suns guard and All NBA defender Raja Bell clothes-lined Lakers guard Kobe Bryant in the 2006 playoff, Kobe didn’t flop around and cry. Kobe literally brushed it off his shoulders, then proceeded to make Bell look absolutely foolish by, as they say colloquially, “making it rain like Lil Wayne” on the court. Kobe drained shot after shot over Bell. Kobe has said that he loves playing against physical defenders who pull, push, grab, etc. because it makes the idea of sinking a fade away jump shot in their faces that much more enticing and rewarding.
With guys like Kobe in the latter stages of their careers, these athletes can, I suppose, be thought of as living relics of a different time. Call me a fool. Call me a patron of a different style of sportsmanship, but I will never let go of the ideals I have. Sports are an art, and should therefore be practiced with a certain sense of integrity and honesty towards the craft.
Then again, if these men can win a ring and an Oscar, more power to them. Right?