by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Sometimes, this is the only thing more baffling than the people in sports: the people who try to get close to them.

Take the cases of Marge Schott and Michael Irvin.

Schott, 67, owns the Cincinnati Reds. She treats her dogs better than her players, and lets them run around the bases and leave their droppings wherever they feel like it — I’m talking about the dogs, not the players. She once forbade her team to wear earrings because, as she put it, “only fruits wear earrings.” She also once suggested that all the scouts be fired, “because all they do is sit around and watch baseball games.”

Schott, a rich woman, is so cheap she canceled out-of-town scores for Riverfront Stadium to save a few hundred bucks. She is so insensitive that this year, on Opening Day, when an umpire dropped dead in the first inning, she couldn’t understand why they canceled the game.

On the road of life, Marge Schott is a big muddy pothole, something that bumps your ride and makes you say, “Where the heck did that come from?” At times, she shows ignorance, and, at times, she shows terrible prejudice, sprinkling her vocabulary with such phrases as “dumb, lazy niggers” and
“Jewish bastards.”

Last week, Schott told an interviewer from ESPN that Adolph Hitler was
“good at the beginning, but he just went too far.”

You get the picture?

If not, let us not mince words, because Lord knows, Marge doesn’t: The lady is a cheap, racist kook. She’s gone. Out of it. The only difference between her and some babbling ninny on the street is the size of her bank account.

My question is this: Why is anyone interviewing her?

Ignore the owners

Why are ESPN reporters — or any reporters — seeking a sit- down, face-to-face with a dolt? Is it to probe the inner psyche of a raving madwoman? Or is it simply to get a controversial interview that might help ratings?

If it’s the latter, then such action, in a way, is even worse than Schott’s
— because we should know better. You ask a fool, you get foolish answers. It’s not as if Schott is begging to be interviewed. She generally avoids the press. But being as scatterbrained as she appears to be, now and then, reporters get inside her cage, they follow her around, they write things down, such as her comments on John McSherry’s death on Opening Day. Obviously, she shouldn’t have said those things. But she didn’t grab a reporter and say,
“Write this now!” Her comments were overheard by the reporter who happened to be alongside for a day-in-the-life story.

I imagine if we all had eavesdropping access to owners, we could report a dumb remark every couple of hours.

Here’s a better idea: Why not walk away?

Schott is a lost cause, not worth our time. She already has been sanctioned, has had control of her team temporarily taken away, was sent to sensitivity training — must be the same folks who trained Pat Buchanan — and this is the result. Adolph Hitler was good at the beginning.

Enough. Let baseball decide whether it wants to seize her team; meanwhile, let’s stop quoting her. It’s embarrassing to our profession.

Stupidity is an obvious animal. Milking it makes no sense.

Avoid the groupies

Ah, but reporters are only one type of creature that surrounds sports today — and, believe it or not, we may be the least harmful. Consider the case of Irvin, the Dallas Cowboys’ star receiver, now in the middle of a drug probe, after being busted in a motel room with two suspected prostitutes and a table full of cocaine.

Things already were looking pretty grim for Irvin — although you wouldn’t know it by his cocky demeanor — then along came a fellow named Dennis Pedini to make things worse.

Pedini is a former “confidant” of Irvin’s, what we in the business call a
“jock sniff,” a sycophant, a hanger-on. These are the people who swarm to athletes like bees to a flower, they laugh at everything the athlete says, they run errands, serve as gofers, hang around trying to bask in the glow of fame, then race home and tell their friends how tight they are with Mr. Big Shot. It is a pathetic kind of behavior, exhibited by people who generally have no identity of their own. Most athletes hate these folks, but instead of ignoring them, they often use them.

Irvin allegedly used Pedini enough to trust him with talk about drug deals. What he didn’t know was that Pedini — who says he felt burned by players who did not “appreciate” him — was taping these conversations. He now has sold those tapes to a TV station in Ft. Worth.

It’s ironic, in a way. Irvin, who thinks you can do anything if you’re famous, may now be done in by . . . a groupie.

Ah, well. The lesson of both Schott and Irvin is clear: We make too much of sports people. We revere them as if they really contributed something to society, and we hang on their often stupid words and equally stupid actions, as if Moses himself had come down from the mountain.

If people didn’t suck up to Irvin as if he were catnip, maybe he wouldn’t believe that female dancers and trays of cocaine don’t get you in trouble. And if reporters didn’t always feel that a quote from an idiot is better than no quote at all, perhaps we wouldn’t be polluted with Marge Schott.

What a wonderful world it would be.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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