Bob Smizik: Olympics, boorish fans, gays in NFL

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With apologies to Gelett Burgess:

I never saw a Purple Cow,

I never hope to see one;

But I can tell you, anyhow,

I’d rather see one then be forced to view yet another luge run.

The American fascination with the Winter Olympics is befuddling.

People who wouldn’t consider watching figure skating for the previous 47 months are mesmerized by the Salchow and Axel as being performed by people they’ve never heard of. Viewers who don’t know a snowboard from a washboard can’t get enough of McTwists and stalefish.

Yeah, I know, it’s about nationalism, although many viewers would never admit that.

One of the reasons hockey is easily the best viewing of the Winter Games is that it’s actually human beings competing face-to-face against human beings instead of against stopwatches and tape measures and for the favor of sometimes crooked judges.

This is not to suggest what these athletes are doing is commonplace or anything but extremely difficult. But if the men who run the Olympic Games -- the ones who shamefully threw out wrestling -- thought juggling chainsaws could pull in an audience, it would be on the agenda.

And let’s not confuse most competing in the Winter Olympics as elite athletes. They may be the best at what they do, but their sports are so obscure they don’t come close to attracting the best athletes.

How many Americans are exposed to the opportunity to run in a foot race or play basketball or soccer?

Now compare that to how many are exposed to bobsledding, luge and ski jumping?

The show, I know, will go on. Just wake me up when it’s over.

■ ■ ■

The Big 12 Conference suspended Marcus Smart, the best player on the Oklahoma State basketball team, three games for pushing a fan near the conclusion of a game at Texas Tech on Saturday. Someone should suspend the bozo he pushed from the human race.

The incident occurred in the final seconds as Smart’s momentum took him beyond the court and into range of the fans sitting in the end zone. Video of the incident shows Smart clearly reacting to something that was said. He then turned and pushed the fan with two hands.

Smart said the fan, Jeff Orr, directed a racial slur toward him. Orr said that was not true but admits calling Smart ''a piece of crap.’’ Classy.

I won’t condone what Smart did, but I’d still like to shake his hand. Orr got a small physical dose of what he’s been verbally dishing out for years and feeling like a big man for doing it.

Most fans are great. There are a few world-class jerks -- often praised, as Orr was, for their loyalty and devotion to the team -- who think the price of a ticket gives them permission to do what they want and behave like a jackass. It doesn’t.

The larger problem here is not the isolated instance of a player losing his cool when verbally abused, but the ongoing epidemic of fan abuse directed at opposing teams. Saturday night, for example, Oregon basketball coaches said they and their players were spat upon by Arizona State students as they left the court.

Home teams in all sports encourage fan participation. Nothing wrong with that. But when it goes too far -- and it did here -- teams need to take a look at how overzealous fans conduct themselves and take corrective steps.

■ ■ ■

Not that it needed any more hype, but the NFL draft got a lot bigger yesterday with the public pronouncement by Missouri defensive end Michael Sam that he is gay. The furor that will surround Sam should provide the second or third day of draft coverage the kind of news jolt that would challenge the first-round picks.

Sam was the defensive Player of the Year in the SEC and ranked by CBSSports.com as the ninth best at his position. He could have gone as high as the third or fourth round. That all could change.

Pete Thamel of SI.com interviewed NFL personnel people who almost unanimously acknowledged the news would cause Sam to fall in the draft. "I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down," said a veteran NFL scout. "There's no question about it. It's human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote 'break that barrier?'"

Whatever happens, Sam will in almost all certainty be in some NFL camp next summer and the circus will continue. If he’s not, that will only make the story grow larger.

Sam came out to his teammates before last season and Missouri went on to be a surprising winner in the SEC East. If the men of Missouri are big enough to judge Sam by his play on the field, there’s no reason why NFL players won’t do the same.


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