June 17, 2003

Next stop, avoiding reality

POST #    480

Next stop, avoiding reality
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

Hockey and basketball are done; the Triple Crown, Indy 500 and the Open are past. Now comes the deadest, dullest six weeks in the annual sports calendar -- nothing but baseball until August, when the NFL resumes. The next six weeks are sufficiently barren for sports fans that many will actually be excited when NFL preseason games start -- even knowing that NFL preseason games are awful -- because the onset of these games means that the real thing is around the corner.

With hardly anything now going on in sports, one could use the added time in constructive ways. Read the classics -- everyone talks about Plato's "Republic" and his "Timaeus," but how many people have actually read them? ("Timaeus," Plato's most popular work during his lifetime, asserts that the average person will never be capable of understanding God; this view was popular among the ancient Greeks.) Improve your diet; how about a nice lunch of steamed vegetables and decaf herbal tea? Do volunteer work for a faith-based organization. Engage in long, sensitive conversations with members of the opposite sex. Ask yourself the meaning of life. Seek spiritual advancement. Try to become a better person. In the next six weeks, there are no sports distractions.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback is moved to haikuize:

Comes now the dullest
weeks in sports. Please, don't make us
use this time wisely.

This gets to the nut of why the National Football League is America's most popular sport. Partly it's the high caliber of play, but mainly the NFL is an artificial universe that diverts us from having to think about the real world, or ourselves.

We'd like to thank the Chargers and Angie for reminding us about, um, football 12 months a year.

The mega-hype of the games, the obsessive following of every detail of the draft and the waiver wires, the advertising hoopla, the ratings, the cheer-babes with their swimsuit calendars ... not only is this all fun, it's fantastic distraction from the real world. In the NFL artificial universe, the life-and-death struggle for an extra yard diverts fans from the real life-and-death struggles going on around us; the artificially important standings move our gaze from real figures that matter, like poverty statistics (one in eight to one in six Americans still impoverished, depending on which definition is used); the huge emotional build-up to each game, and the huge emotional let-down that hits exactly half the fan base after each game, diverts men and, increasingly, women from emotional topics that ought really to matter, whether friends, family or injustice.

The NFL artificial universe, in short, gives us an excuse not to think about the real universe for a while. That's why it is so popular!

Note that in "Timaeus," Plato posits that the universe had no beginning, rather has simply always existed and will always exist. (You knew that about the book, right?) Inexplicably, Plato does not say whether he believes the sports artificial universe has always existed and will always exist. Let's hope so.

In other NFL news, there is some actual NFL news buried somewhere in this column. Fear not. Just six more weeks, and we can all return safely to the National Football League artificial universe.

Pentagon to Supply NBA With Surplus GPS Guidance Kits to Attach to Balls: Last week's TMQ bemoaned the decline in shooting proficiency and shot selection in the NBA. The following night, in the fourth Spurs-Nets collision, San Antonio shot 29 percent from the field -- worst such team figure in the NBA finals since 1955 -- while New Jersey fairly sizzled at 36 percent. In that game Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson, Tony Parker, Kerry Kittles and Malik Rose combined to go 6-for-43, that is, to miss six shots for every one that fell. Ay caramba.

Bad NBA offense became the sports-world theme of the week -- you read it here first! It all culminated in Sunday's night deciding game, when Bruce Bowen, Emanuel Ginobili, Lucious Harris, Richard Jefferson, Anthony Johnson, Kenyon Martin and Steve Smith combined to go 0-12 from the three arc. Uuuff dah.

Miss France, coming soon to a paragraph near you!
Kenyon "Cover-Your-Eyes" Martin: TMQ's column last week further complained about the tendency of Kenyon Martin of the Nets, when the pressure is on, to grab the ball, go one-on-one as if in a Nike commercial rather than a game, then heave up a low-percentage prayer that clangs. As the column pointed out, anybody can go one-on-one and then launch a bad shot; it's working for the good shot that distinguishes the mature basketball player. Sunday night, Martin was a cover-your-eyes 3-for-23 from the field and continued to grab it, go one-on-one and heave-ho during the Spurs' 19-0 late run that sealed the championship.

TMQ does not offer many immutable laws of basketball, but one is: Defense Starts Comebacks, Offense Stops Them. If the Nets, leading by nine in the fourth quarter when the run started, had hit even a couple buckets during the Spurs comeback, the teams might now be preparing for a seventh game. But rather than play a little fundamentals and try for a good shot, during the Spurs' run New Jersey repeatedly had one guy going one-on-one while four guys stood watching. Ye gods.

As for Martin, he spent as much energy in the finals complaining about the refs as working for good shots. He did get the short end of several calls, but Martin is only reaping what he hath sown. He cultivates the thug look -- excessive tattoos, cloaking his head on the bench -- so the refs treat him as a thug and presume guilt. Tim Duncan, by contrast, cultivates the look of a guy you'd want your daughter to marry. So the refs give Duncan the benefit of the doubt on fouls.

TMQ has no idea whether Martin is a bad character or the salt of the Earth; all I know about him is the impression he gives. The point is, that's all the refs know, too. In the real world, people are judged partly by appearances, and those NBA players who go out of their way to cultivate a negative appearance get treated negatively by the officials. Since the thug look came in a decade or so ago, who's been winning NBA titles? Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwan, David Robinson, Michael Jordan ... all clean-cut, normal-armed, winning-smile guys you'd want your daughter to marry. Who's been frustrated in the finals? Kenyon Martin, Allen Iverson and the rest of the scowling, Illustrated-Man me-bad crew.

You don't need to consult Plato to be able to figure out the relationship between making a good impression and career success. It's no different in the NBA than in the business world, except that in the NBA, you report for work in your underwear. If what Kenyon Martin or Allen Iverson want is to be picked for shoe commercials or to make a splash on the club scene, they are following the right course. If what they want is an NBA championship ring, they should begin by looking in the mirror.

The WNBA could use a few more Miss Brazils. Heck, we all could.
Miss Universe Swimsuit Update Last week's column asked readers to peruse the swimsuit and national-costume photos at the Miss Universe website. (Go here, then select a "delegate," then click swimsuit or, for fun, national costume.) The plan was to create a cheap, flimsy excuse to append cheesecake photos to the column -- international, multilateral cheesecake.

To TMQ's surprise, relatively few readers took up this challenge. Isn't Page 2 doing enough to keep your minds in the gutter?

Sean Kennings of Sausalito, California, tastefully preferred the evening gown photo of Miss France, Emmanuelle Chossatt, to her swimsuit view. TMQ immediately locked on to the erotic-literature significance of a French mega-babe named Emmanuelle, until finding this bio description of Chossatt, which is hard to top: She is "currently studying to become a helicopter pilot and has vocational qualifications in financial management and cosmetic aesthetics."

Sports-linked possibilities include Gislaine Ferreira, Miss Brazil, who has played professional women's basketball and also worked as a color commentator for television soccer matches. Rarely will the ESPN.com art department encounter a more legitimate-sounding excuse to append a cheesecake photo than Ferreira's swimsuit shot!

Faye Alibocus, Miss Trinidad and Tobago, received several reader mentions. She has training in ballet, tap, Latin, jazz and native dancing, these being similar to athletics.

Another possibility is Julie Taton, Miss Belgium, a PR specialist who represents that tennis-dominating nation. Belgium's motto: We May Be Small, But We're Annoying.

Polona Bas of Slovenia is a gymnast who has performed in international competition. Gymnastics is a sport, and there is the swimsuit photo justification. Marietta Chrousala, Miss Greece, will be working at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The Olympics is a sporting event, and there is the swimsuit photo justification.

Imagine the Gambians, As They Carry the Giant Pouched Rats Down to the Dock, Thinking to Themselves, "America Is the Greatest Country in the World, and Yet They Pay Us to Ship Them Rats": Researchers think the monkeypox outbreak was triggered by prairie dogs that came into contact with an infected Gambian giant pouched rat. Forget how this chain of events could be figured out in such a short time, while science is still unable to determine why women are wide awake after sex, and men want to sleep. The real question is: What caused innocent, trusting little prairie dogs to come into contact with Gambian giant pouched rats?

There's tennis, waffles and Miss Belgium. After that, they've got nothing.
According to this story in the New York Times ("All the News That Might Be True"), the rats "are imported as pets." People are importing rats? Don't they realize that a large supply of locally produced rats is already available free of charge? But these days no one wants a domestic rat. Oh no. It's got to be an imported rat!

Perhaps NBA Players Get Frequent Flyer Miles for Traveling: Last week, TMQ noted that not only are "the customary four or five steps" now seemingly legal in the NBA -- uncalled walking violations occur on every other possession -- but up-and-down has become legal too. Announcers rarely even bother to comment on the no-call of these violations.

At one point in the deciding sixth NBA championship game, Tony Parker of the Spurs spun into the lane, took the customary four or five steps, jumped with both feet, came down on both feet, looked around, took a step and then passed the ball. "He almost walked with it," announcer Brad Nessler mused. Presumably, if Parker had taken another four or five steps, then jumped again, then traveled a third time, then sat down to file his nails, something might have been called.

What would you have to do to get a traveling call in today's NBA? If you took the customary four or five steps, jumped, came down on both feet, took another five steps, stopped to call your agent on the cell phone, went into the locker room and changed to street clothes, took the ball with you to the airport and flew to a different city, when you landed and deplaned the officials would give in and whistle "Traveling!" At which point your coach would make a wildly exaggerated grimace and scream, "WHAT!!!!!"

Will There Be a Scene Where the Angels Fight Over Miller Lite?: Posters and billboards for the upcoming "Charlie's Angels Full Throttle" feature the stars' shapely rears in sprayed-on black spandex -- surely what actual detectives wear! The advertising pitch seems to be, "We give you the A for free, now come to the theater and see the T." Still trying to make heads or tails of the random-events plot of the first "Angels" flick, TMQ does not relish having to watch those many scenes of the sequel that will not be rear-end close-ups.

Cameron doesn't look too miserable to be trapped in that body.
The latest from Cameron Diaz reminds TMQ of her voice work in a movie whose plot viewers could follow -- "Shrek." That film ends with the Diaz character facing a magical choice between being ugly and happy, or beautiful and miserable -- her decision for the former is surely good psychological advice. But does even one single person in Hollywood believe it's better to be ugly and content than beautiful and miserable? The extremely gorgeous Diaz probably spends hours each week talking to friends and therapists about how unhappy she is. Given a magical opportunity to become ugly but completely content, TMQ suspects there is no chance she'd say yes.

All These Fictional NFL Contracts? Jayson Blair Is the Agent: A running obsession of TMQ (see, for instance, this September 2002 column) is the fictional NFL contract that, for reasons of cap-evasion and players' ego, appears to call for far more than the Party of the First Part will ever see.

This offseason, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown of the Raiders each signed widely hyped "six-year, $30 million" contracts that are actually two-year, $4 million contracts. In Rice's case, $24 million of the promised "$30 million" comes after the 2005 season, when number 80 will be 43 years old. On paper, the contract will pay this greatest-ever receiver much of its value in 2008, when Rice will be 46 years old and sitting in a broadcast booth somewhere, wearing a garish color-coordinated jacket.

Like all modern fictional NFL contracts, Rice's is really a short-term agreement with foam insulation at the end -- after a year or two, Rice will either retire or, if his knees still work without 3-in-1 Oil, sign an amended deal. Bear in mind that in June 2000, Rice autographed a "five-year, $31 million" contract with San Francisco. That five-year deal lasted one year. After the Niners cut him, Rice signed a "four-year, $5.4 million" contract with Oakland. That four-year deal lasted two years. On paper, Rice has over the last three seasons signed for 15 years and $67 million! He will to fortunate to pocket 20 percent of that total.

The first two years are the only portion of a modern NFL contract that can be taken seriously, because in the first two years a bonus is conferred and the signing team would absorb a stiff cap penalty by trading or cutting the player. After two years, cap penalties become manageable, allowing the player to be unloaded; or, equally important, creating the leverage that allows the club to demand concessions. Once in a while, the cap ramifications are such that long-term contracts are actually three-year agreements. Beyond that, everything in the out years is always foam insulation.

This offseason, Roosevelt Colvin signed a "seven-year, $30 million" contract with New England that actually pays $8.6 million in first two years, which is pretty good; then the contract will be renegotiated or Colvin will be released. David Boston signed a "seven-year, $47 million" deal with San Diego that actually pays $12 million over two years, also good, then Boston will renegotiate or be cut. Jake Plummer signed a "seven-year, $40 million" deal with Denver that actually pays $8.2 million in the first two years, then it's a pay reduction or the waiver wire. Brian Dawkins signed a "seven-year, $43 million" agreement with Philadelphia that actually pays about $11 million in its two-year consequential period. Brian Urlacher signed a "nine-year, $57 million" contract with Chicago that is actually a three-year, $23 million agreement.

NFL GMs dance around the cap better than Miss Trinidad & Tobago. C'mon, it was a nice try.
The goofiest fictional contract of 2002 was inked by Blake Brockermeyer, an "eight-year, $34 million" deal with the Broncos that was only guaranteed to pay about $1.3 million, some four percent of its ostensible value. TMQ's favorite part: On paper, the deal pays him $6 million in 2009, when Brockermeyer will be shilling for some car dealership.

The goofiest fictional contract of the current offseason was the "10-year, $102 million" agreement signed by Duante Culpepper. As ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli has pointed out, this deal is really three years for $10 million, making the true value about a 10th of the ostensible number; the rest of the "money" is unlikely ever to enter Culpepper's checking account. One of the many fictions in Culpepper's deal is a $1 million bonus for being in on 75 percent of special teams plays. Culpepper is bigger than a lot of guys the Vikings have in their wedge, but the odds of a quarterback going in to cover punts don't seem high. And of course, there is no chance whatsoever the contract actually will run 10 years.

Large fictional contracts enable NFL teams to extend cap charges into the future, while allowing agents to call press conferences announcing incredible, astonishing deals for their clients. In TMQ's experience, few agents call press conferences again two years later, when the player is waived or agrees to a substantial pay reduction.

In 2001, Brian Griese signed a "six-year, $39 million" contract with Denver; the deal lasted two years before he was waived this month, with $25 million unpaid. Griese's agent did not call a press conference to boast that his client would never see most of the money. Two years ago, Browns linebacker Jamir Miller signed what was on paper a monster contract, but its fictional value came from a totally unrealistic $14 million roster bonus due this winter. Miller was injured and decided to retire, but even had he been fine, he would have been waived or had to renegotiate -- how could anyone have believed for one instant that this fictional sum would ever be paid? Robert Porcher signed what looked like a monster contract that said he was due $7 million this season; he renegotiated down to half that. When Sam Cowart of Jersey/B signed a "six-year, $30 million" contract in 2002, the deal was unveiled at a press conference. On paper, Cowart was due a $3.5 million roster bonus around this Valentine's Day; he quietly renegotiated to zero bonus, and made other concessions. Amazingly, his agent did not call a press conference to announce that he had cannily negotiated a $3.5 million bonus down to zero.

"It was my understanding before I started the column that there would be no math."
Then there is Stephen Davis, atop the leader board for fictional contracts. To press-conference fanfare, Davis in 1999 signed a "nine-year, $91 million" contract. Sportswriters wrote in awe of this deal, pretending Davis would actually get the money. Last summer, that agreement was tossed into the recycle bin as Davis signed a renegotiated deal with the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons. Out years of the "nine-year, $91 million" agreement, where the big money resided, mysteriously vanished, replaced by a new "five-year, $31 million" contract "whose paper value Davis will never see either," TMQ wrote at the time.

In fact, TMQ wrote at the time, "The new 'five-year' deal might not even last Davis until Valentine's Day 2003, since it calls for a $7.5 million salary in 2003, a figure the Persons cannot possibly afford under their salary cap. Davis will either be cut next winter or his contract rewritten yet again, for the second time pressing the delete key on the imaginary mega-money." Davis was cut just after Valentine's Day 2003.

Now Davis has autographed a "five-year, $35 million" agreement with the Panthers, but most of the paper value is out-years mega-money that, once again, the tailback will never see. Over the last four seasons, on paper Davis has signed contracts for 19 years and $157 million!

Which fish are already on the hook for losing fictional money next winter? One aspiring candidate is Simeon Rice of the defending champion City of Tampa Bucs. Rice got a "$20 million" bonus to resign this March, but $8 million of the amount is conveniently "deferred" till next winter. TMQ remembers going on more than one date where the woman hinted of sex on some deferred evening if dinner was paid for now. How often did the deferred whoopee actually happen? That is precisely Simeon Rice's odds of getting an additional $8 million by Valentine's Day 2004.

Random House, Which is Owned by Bertelsmann, Will Publish TMQ's Next Book and the Excerpts Will Run in Time Magazine, Which Is Owned by AOL Time Warner. Watch for Details on ABC Primetime, Which Is Owned by Disney: Last week NBC* television hired Kevin Reilly, a programming executive from FX,** as its top official for new primetime shows.

Kevin Reilly's claim to fame is that he supervised development of the FX series "The Shield." This show airs on an enterprise owned by the supposedly flag-waving conservative Rupert Murdoch, despite the fact that "The Shield" depicts American policemen as soulless murderers who laugh at the law and kill whom they please without concern for guilt or innocence. Thanks for that vote of confidence in your adopted nation, Rupert!

There goes Michael Chiklis, presumably coming from a homicide he just committed.
TMQ finds critical praise for "The Shield" quite puzzling, since the show strikes me as a tired mélange of cop-drama clichés dressed up with "realistic" violence that is totally artificial. In "The Shield," just like in other totally artificial Hollywood cop fantasies such as the "Lethal Weapon" franchise,*** police officers are constantly blasting away with their sidearms, to say nothing of gunning people down on a regular basis. Actually, law enforcement officers rarely draw firearms and almost never pull the trigger. Statistics show, for example, that 95 percent of New York City police officers retire without ever discharging a weapon, except on the practice range. Nationally, studies show, one officer in 4,000 kills someone at any point during his or her career.

Nevertheless, the New York Times ("All the News That Might Be True") has praised "The Shield" as "realistic." Of course to the Times, the fact that "The Shield" is fabricated may constitute realism, but that's another issue. The Times has also declared of Shawn Ryan, "The Shield's" chief writer, "Mr. Ryan had won a series of playwriting awards while at Middlebury college in Vermont, and later moved to Los Angeles to pursue a successful television career working on shows like 'Angel' and 'Nash Bridges.'" Someone goes from playwriting awards at Middlebury, to churning out drek for "Nash Bridges" and "The Shield," and is praised for this by the New York Times. Verily, another sign of the decline of Western civilization.

* NOTE 1: NBC, which is owned by General Electric, is a competitor of ABC, which is owned by Disney, which owns ESPN; NBC is a partner with Microsoft in MSNBC, which has a sports news division, and Microsoft is a partner with ESPN.com; Microsoft recently signed an agreement to cooperate with AOL, which is owned by AOL Time Warner, which owns cable companies that show NBC, ABC and ESPN, and owns Sports Illustrated, which competes with ESPN The Magazine, which is published on Earth The Planet; AOL Time Warner cable channels carry CBS, MTV and Nickelodeon, all of which are owned by Viacom, which also owns Paramount Pictures, which competes with Disney's Miramax and Touchstone movie studios, and also owns Simon & Schuster, which published the Hillary Clinton book that was excerpted in AOL Time Warner's Time magazine and featured in a Barbara Walters special on Disney-owned ABC. So don't worry about media consolidation, and please support Michael Powell!

** NOTE 2: FX, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, also owns Fox, which competes with Disney's ABC, General Electric's NBC and Viacom's CBS, and owns Fox News, which competes with CNN, which is owned by AOL Time Warner, and owns Fox Sports Net, which competes with ESPN, and owns HarperCollins books, which competes with Simon & Schuster and with Random House, which is owned by Bertelsmann, which owns BMG Music, which is negotiating to combine operations with the Warner music label owned by AOL Time Warner. Really, don't worry about media consolidation!

*** NOTE 3. "Lethal Weapon" movies are produced by Warner Brothers, which is owned by AOL Time Warner, which competes with the 20th Century Fox studio owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation,**** which competes with Paramount Pictures, which is owned by ... oh, forget it.

**** NOTE 4. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation just bought DirecTV, whose monopoly over NFL Sunday Ticket prevents Sunday Ticket from being offered on cable in the United States. This means that the 90 percent of American homes that do not or cannot get the DirecTV satellite signal must watch whatever bad Sunday afternoon game Viacom's CBS division or Murdoch's Fox division wants to force them to see -- while NFL Sunday Ticket, and thus total viewing freedom, is easily available to any home in Canada or Mexico via cable.

But, perhaps best not to get me started on the DirecTV monopoly.

The Catfight: Definitely a first-ballot inductee into the commercial hall of fame.
TMQ Felt the Problem All Along Has Been That the Ads Feature Only Two Wet Near-Naked Mega-Babes: Sports fans everywhere -- at least, traditional male and nontraditional female sport fans -- are lamenting Miller Lite's decision to end its "catfight" ads, which use flimsy pretexts to show mega-babes fighting in various states of wet undress. According to press accounts, the series is ending not owing to tedious hand-wringing about propriety, but because Miller Lite sales have not increased since the two stars began ripping their dresses off on national television. Beer drinkers, you have only yourselves to blame!

TMQ hopes everyone caught the late-night (and cable) version of the original ad, which ends when one of the mega-babes stops the wet-lingerie fight in the fountain to say to the other, "Wow, this turns me on. Want to make out?"

Do not despair, however, as the "catfight" series will depart in style with a "pillowfight" ad in which the two familiar babes are joined by Pamela Anderson, and the three women end up near-naked and wet in a hotel room. Possibly Miller Lite is pretty much giving up on the female beer-buyer market at this point.

TMQ NBA Player of the Year: Last season it was Donny Marshall of Nets. This who-dat gentleman played one minute in Game 2 of the 2002 finals, touched the ball once and immediately hurled up a ridiculous 3-pointer that clanged. Why not imitate the stars? Marshall was instantly yanked. He ended the series with two total minutes, and in that short span he shot three times, clanging all three.

This season the Tuesday Morning Quarterback NBA Player of the Year is veteran Steve Smith of San Antonio. He entered the final game of the championships for one minute, touched the ball and immediately hurled up a 3-pointer that clanged. For the 2003 playoffs, Smith was 2-for-12 from the 3-point line and a cover-your-eyes 5-for-24 (.208) shooting overall. He complained to sportswriters about not playing enough.

Through His Agent, the Orangutan Demanded a Five-Year Deal Plus Local TV Show and Golf Tournament Income: One of the reasons many coaches prefer college to the pros is that, at the big-time schools at least, it's hard to fail. The built-in recruiting advantage at the big-time schools all but assures a winning season for most major football or men's basketball programs, while the East Carolinas sprinkled into the schedule assure every season will contain at least a few huge-margin victories. Basically, an orangutan could coach a football-factory or basketball-factory university to a .500 season, explaining why so many big-school collegiate coaches are entrenched for long periods. You've got to be a special kind of screw-up to lose a big-school coaching job.

Hello Larry Eustachy, Jim Harrick, Mike Price and Rick Neuheisel. Enron and WorldCom are hiring, fellas.

Of these fiascos, the predictable one was that of Price, dismissed by Alabama before he had strutted the sidelines in even one game. Last December, when Alabama hired Price, TMQ foresaw that the Tide would come to woe. That column pointed out that the kind of man who would walk out on his team a few nights before its appearance in the Rose Bowl -- which is what Price did to Washington State, in order to take the 'Bama job -- is not the kind of man you want around. TMQ noted, "Price lied to his (Washington State) players by saying he was staying, then bolted the instant the money was right. What 'Bama is getting is the kind of coach who cares exclusively about himself."

This is the woman Price decided was worth throwing away his career for.
Proximate cause of Price's dismissal was his being seen in a Pensacola, Fla., strip club. This was not the first strike. According to the university's president, Price had already been formally "warned about his public behavior," despite his very short tenure at the school. Now, watching naked dancers is a legal activity and, in the right circumstances, a form of good, clean fun. Having just started a high-profile leadership position at a university with troubled athletic programs is not the right circumstances. But why was Alabama surprised that Mike Price would betray the school? After all, he had just betrayed his previous employer. The football gods chortled.

Amazingly, Jayson Blair Never Quoted Greg Packer: Don't miss this hysterical Wall Street Journal article about Greg Packer, a 39-year-old Long Island highway maintenance worker who constantly gets himself quoted as a "man in the street" by rushing to the scene of media events and then pretending he happened to be passing by. According to this article in the New York Journal News, Packer has been quoted at least 177 times in various media reports in recent years, always as an average-Joe bystander. Packer has standards, though. He told the Wall Street Journal, "I'm not going to talk about the Mets in Yankee Stadium. That would be total disrespect."

Reader Animadversion
Jim Goloby of Champaign, Ill., defended the honor of the champion Spurs against TMQ's statement that they "aren't exactly the 1966 Celtics on offense." Goloby notes that San Antonio shot .462 this year during the regular season, while the 1965-66 Celtics shot .417. Clang, apparently, is not a new phenomenon.

Amanda Hayden of Greenland, N.H., wrote of the mega-babe pictures that mysteriously find their way into TMQ, "As a female sports fan, I am not delivered photos of hot male sports personalities in their most flattering swimwear. Why does this phenomenon only work in one direction?" Amanda, TMQ has published beefcake intended for female readers: Check this column from last season, with a shirtless pic of Jason Taylor. And check this item from last season, "The Revenge of the Chicks," in which half a dozen female readers deliver themselves of haiku on this very topic.

Fine, here's Jason Taylor. Hope that tides you over.
Doug Brosz of Laguna Niguel, Calif., protested TMQ's contention that NBA teams that launch a 3-point attempt, when trailing by two with seconds left, should instead have tried for a two-point basket and overtime. Since the best shooters are about .500 on two-point attempts, Brosz contended, and a team has about a 50 percent chance of prevailing in overtime, a one-in-two chance times a one-in-two chance yields a one-in-four chance that a regular shot in trailing-by-two buzzer situations will yield a victory. The typical 3-pointer, Brosz goes on, has about a one-in-three chance of falling. One-in-three is better than one-in-four, making treys smart in this situation, he concludes.

TMQ's item asserting that Hillary Clinton could not possibly have written "Living History" was quoted in the Washington Post. Soon all America will be reading ESPN.com for its political news!

Many readers, including Brian Levinson of Queens, N.Y., wrote in defending Hillary's honor. Levinson noted that the Sid Blumenthal book "The Clinton Wars" asserts that the First Lady did, in fact, write at least parts of "It Takes a Village." Levinson further protests that nobody makes a fuss over the fact that George W. Bush could not possibly have written his campaign book, "A Charge to Keep."

Well, maybe Hillary actually wrote some of "It Takes a Village," but Blumenthal can no more stand as a source-authority for a pro-Clinton contention than Karl Rove can be the judge of whether W. was a good governor of Texas. And pundits don't complain that Bush didn't really write "A Charge to Keep," because he never pretended he wrote it! The book was marketed as "by George W. Bush with Karen Hughes". Because Bush freely admitted that Karen Hughes wrote his book, all is well. It's suspicious that Hillary Clinton doggedly, determinedly claims authorship of books she could not possibly have had the time to produce herself, setting aside the issue of writing ability.

Other Hillary defenders wrote in to note that the cover of the work in question does not in fact say "by Hillary Clinton." What it says is:

Living History
Hillary Rodham Clinton

Thus, this defense goes, Hillary never actually claimed authorship. That's just an inference people are drawing -- Hillary has no control over other people's assumptions! Much depends, it seems, on what the definition of "by" is.

"Hey, is that J.K. Rowling? I think I'll get her to write my next book."
Clinton might be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, and it will be a great day in American history when the first woman is elected to the White House. But Hillary's lying -- about authorship, about law-firm records that mysteriously appear on tables -- is disturbing. Bill Clinton was mainly a good president; his downside was habitual lying. Bill almost seemed to like to lie, to show what he could get away with. Lying brought Bill Clinton low, deeply damaged the Democratic Party, and will be the main fault held against the 42nd president by historians. Now, looking ahead to a Hillary candidacy, we see the same danger signs of habitual lying and the same "how dare anyone question me!" response when the lying is called out. It's disturbing.

Last week's column cited the John McCain book "Faith of Our Fathers" as representing the honesty the current Clinton volume lacks, and said that book was marketed as "by Mark Salter with John McCain." Salter called TMQ to note the cover actually said "by John McCain with Mark Salter." Anyway, the point is, it was truthful. McCain's new book, "Worth Fighting For," is sold as "by John McCain and Mark Salter;" the dedication is jointly to McCain's wife and to Salter's wife. If Hillary had only been honest about her ghostwriters in this way, people would admire her for truthfulness rather than being suspicious of her for deviousness and ego. That she cannot grasp this -- or that she thinks, "how dare anyone question me!" -- is disturbing.

TMQ hopes that if Hillary is the Democratic candidate in 2008, the Republican contender will be Condoleezza Rice. That way the first female president will be assured, and gender can be dismissed as an issue in the campaign.

Hang On Till August: Tuesday Morning Quarterback will return in six weeks when the offseason marathon finally ends and large, ill-tempered gentlemen prepare to collide as the NFL alternate universe resumes.

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