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Hobbs Column: Dark side of sports rears its ugly head

Last Modified: Monday, April 08, 2013 10:01 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

BATON ROUGE — Watching as the ball was tossed up magically for the opening tip of college basketball’s showcase, the Final Four, it was easy to let your mind wander, to forget your ills and troubles, to hearken back to the innocent peach-basket days of yore and, finally, to remind yourself that, no matter what other woes you may have, at least you weren’t in a high school PE class with Mike Rice on dodge ball day.

OK, let’s face it. It’s been a pretty rotten week in the sports world.

There was the gruesome sight of Louisville guard Kevin Ware snapping his leg on national television, an all-too-real-life version of a horror movie’s over-the-top special effects.

Ware’s reaction has been a courageous inspiration to one and all, particularly a rich sneaker company whose idea for a happy ending was to figure out an opportunistic way to make some good, old-fashioned money off his misfortune.

So adidas piggy-backed its own corporate marketing slogan with Ware’s No. 5 jersey, with the very catchy T-shirt “Ri5e to the Occasion.”

Of course, Ware, as an amateur, would be making none of the money personally, and the T-shirt was pulled off the market when it was explained to adidas (perhaps by Louisville) that marketing a specific college athlete broke most of the known NCAA rules still in existence.

Apparently no serious thought was given to the “It was just a typo” defense.

But back to Rice, the now former Rutgers basketball coach, whose defense might be that “Hey, nobody’s legs were broken (at least where any bones were showing)” in his attempts to break up the monotony of practice with spirited one-sided, full-contact dodge ball contests.

Not that we know of, anyway, although, according to the videos, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Rice’s homophobic slurs apparently did little to dull the sting of having a basketball thrown at you from point-blank range.

Maybe he was on the wrong side of some dodge ball bullying as a kid and was merely acting on those lingering frustrations.

But an athletic director, Tim Pernetti, went down with him in the ensuing scandal because he knew about it and had seen the video. Perhaps Pernetti subscribed to the old bromide that what happens in practice, stays in practice —apparently forgetting the YouTube effect in the new smartphone millennium.

Memo to coaches trying to liven up practice: It’s probably best to stop with the tried-and-true atomic wedgie.

But at least we were treated to that most entertaining of all off-field college spectacles — the school president, summoned from an ivy tower, peering down studiously at a news conference over the top of those horned-rimmed spectacles perched on the tip of his nose to declare in serious tones that he is on the case and nothing will compromise the academic integrity of his university.

When we all know that what he’d really rather say is that he’d like to lop off all their heads for embarrassing him like this.

It was almost as comical as watching the Astros try to swing a baseball bat. The Houstons announced their entrance into the American League with authority by striking out 43 times in the season’s first three games. This is being touted only as a modern era record for the first three games of a season. In baseball slang, modern is defined as since 1904.

Moving to Auburn now, where in a bad, bad week at least the impending removal of the terminally ill Toomer’s Oaks could be blamed on an Alabama fan.

The really worst news came from one of its own, with War Eagle alum Selena Roberts’ Internet report accusing the school of just about everything illegal — payoffs, grade-changing, the usual — based largely on quotes from four former players who are now facing armed-robbery charges.

ESPN chipped in with accusations of synthetic marijuana use running rampant on team.

Really, I mean, if you can’t trust former players on trial for armed robbery, who can you trust?

Much of it dates to Auburn’s 2010 national championship season, which was the school’s first since 1957.

The War Eagles were on probation for that long-ago trophy, and have seemingly been trying to get on probation for the latest one ever since Cam Newton arrived on campus.

Auburn’s strategy this time is to fire back aggressively with heated denials.

Might work.

But what the school ought to do is get the NCAA gumshoes on campus as soon as possible.

It’s the Miami Hurricane strategy, the eventual defense being that the NCAA investigation was far worse than the school’s crimes.

And, finally, on a lighter note, it also came to light last week that the Southeastern Conference, which has won seven consecutive football national championships, now sponsors equestrian as a (somewhat elitist) varsity sport with a sanctioned championship.

I’m not sure who won it.

Or who captured the bareback barrel racing or the goat-tying divisions.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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