The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

KG is really, really sorry edition

The Minnesota Timberwolves' mild-mannered power forward/franchise (and college graduate, I might add) Kevin Garnett said some things he regrets:
Kevin Garnett apologized Tuesday for making references to guns and saying he was "ready for war" in Game 7 between Minnesota and Sacramento.

"Sincerely, I apologize for my comments earlier," the Timberwolves forward told reporters after practice. "I didn't mean to offend anybody."

The Wolves and Kings play Wednesday night in Minneapolis for the right to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. On Monday, the league's Most Valuable Player was asked about the magnitude of a game that will decide a series marked by trash talking and hard fouls.

"This is it," he responded. "It's for all the marbles. I'm sitting in the house loading up the pump, I'm loading up the Uzis, I've got a couple of M-16s, couple of nines, couple of joints with some silencers on them, couple of grenades, got a missile launcher. I'm ready for war."

Afterward, Garnett said he met with the team's public relations staff and discussed his remarks.

"It was one-sided thinking on my part, but I'm man enough to admit it," he said. Garnett specifically mentioned veterans and families with loved ones serving in Iraq in his apology.

"I'm a young man and I understand when I'm appropriate, and this is totally inappropriate. I was totally thinking about basketball, not reality."

League spokesman Tim Frank said the NBA wouldn't discipline Garnett.

"Kevin understood he shouldn't have said some of things he said," Frank said. "We're just glad he set the record straight today."
First of all, Garnett's comment was pretty detailed -- a lot of specific weapons and accessories to remember -- so one can't imagine that his comment was wholly spontaneous and uncalculated.

That aside, this raises a larger issue regarding the intersection of sports and the real world. The issue in question is the use of war/heroism rhetoric in sports, and its appropriateness.

Behind the issue, of course, is a checkered history of such intersections of war and sports. Munich comes to mind, as does Ali's relinquishing of his heavyweight title, the brief 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador that was partially ignited by football riots, and most recently the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11th, sports in America went through a period of soul-searching. Sportswriters of all shapes and sizes wrote unusually sincere, irony-free columns on how meaningless, insensitive and, well, "september 10th" the idea of referring to athletes as warriors and heroes had become. Sure, Kurt Warner worked his way up from bagging groceries to winning a Super Bowl, but he was no Todd Beamer or regular Joe from Ladder 10. And sure, Ray Lewis and Tie Domi are headhunters in their respective sports, but neither has acted heroically in live fire. (well, maybe Ray, if you count speeding away in a limo) Such observations were completely understandable and defensible.

But KG has now thrown a wrench (with a silencer) into that whole scheme. What are we to do?

I'll tell ya: We should celebrate KG's quote, even though he apologized for it.

Why? Because sports is combat, and it is war. What were the athletic spectacles in the Roman Empire? Gladiators! They fight and kill eachother! They fight and kill lions and tigers! They come from Australia to play Spaniard Romans who speak with British accents!

Since that time, sports have become more humane by leaps and bounds. Deaths in sports are exceedingly rare. Never have professional athletes worn more safety gear. Sure, there's an occasional rodeo animal, Spanish bull or Afghan goat's head. And horses being "destroyed" for having a bum leg. Shit. Wait, don't let this cloud my point! Forget everything about this paragraph and just read the first couple sentences, which for the most part hold true.

Combine the above with a second idea: Sports are, in general, a redirection of the competitive energy that would have been oriented towards armed, deadly combat in other circumstances. The more prolific rivalries in sports have within them some of the same aggressive, bellicose emotions that are found in war. But those feelings, which could have otherwise been manipulated in a 2 Minutes Hate in another place and time, are redirected, quite nicely, into a controlled, humane arena. And that arena, in KG's case, is Arco Arena.

Now, the flipside of this issue, the one about which liberals and other upstanding Americans should be concerned, is that while sports are a good testosterone redirection mechanism, they can also distract large populations of otherwise-conscientious Americans from some of the real issues that affect both them and the world. That is a legitimate concern, but one that can wait for another post. This is my war-rhetoric post, thank you very much.

So, sports (particularly team sports) are basically war through other humane means. With that in mind, bring on the war rhetoric! If we tell athletes to compete all out, but then frown on bellicose rhetoric, that's a strange mixed message on our part. Hell, Lisa Beamer gets it: she praised Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden for using her late husband's semi-trademarked "Let's Roll" as his team's motto for the 2002 season.

Of course, if Garnett had said "It's for all the marbles. I'm sitting in the house loading up the camera, I've got a couple of head-sized bags, couple of broomsticks, couple of wires with some electrodes on them, couple of pairs of women's underwear, got attack dogs and a tampon. I'm ready for interrogation, or, er, war!" . . . then he'd have a problem with some other people.


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