Where is a sports fan to turn these days?
As an Indiana resident and lifelong Pacers fan who thought this year could be the year, my hopes came crashing down on a sad, sad night in Auburn Hills during the fracas that ended any real, potential hopes that the Pacers had for a title. Not only do the fans suffer, but even more sadly, one of the game's great ambassadors and truly good guys, Reggie Miller, will head to retirement, cheated out of a chance at a championship ring.
So I turn my thoughts towards the National Hockey League.
I admit that, after spending my high school and college years in Pennsylvania, the sport grew on me as I became a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers. While the sport has marginal interest at best amongst sports fans in the United States, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players' association exec Bob Goodenow effectively killed that thread of interest by shutting down the season on Wednesday.
While I have little concern about the majority of the players' lost millions because most can afford it, Bettman's and Goodenow's ridiculous attempts at a power play have put the fans and your average workers in the penalty box.
Thousands of people who worked for the 30 NHL teams are locked out of paychecks because two Ivy League lawyers couldn't swallow their pride and come to a compromise over who might get a few more million in their piggy bank. Fans are more than ever jaded to the concerns about players wanting another million to play a game that most of us would give our right arms to play for a fraction of the money. So when Goodenow and Bettman decided to close the doors on the 2004-05 NHL season, they quite possibly cost the league more than money.
The real question now is, whenever games actually do resume, possibly next season, because rumors are rampant that this corporate stranglehold could last into next year as well, will anyone show up to see them?
Many seem to agree that the league is going to take a huge hit in revenue due to decreased attendance from fans angry about another lockout caused by greedy players and owners who want more regardless of the fans who really pay their salaries. Bettman has privately prepared for as much as a 50 percent drop in attendance. You have to look no further than baseball which suffered a 20 percent drop following the strike in 1993.
"The game's just suffered an absolute blow it'll never recover from," Rod Brind'Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes said. "They're totally underestimating the damage that's being done."
Speaking of baseball -- this is perhaps even more painful for myself and many fans.
Just when you thought that the sport was back to normal, the entire nation of baseball fans still riding a bit of a high following the feel-good home run battle of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire several years ago, we're still awash in the historic World Series title of the Red Sox and anxiously awaiting the Barry Bonds' blast that breaks Hank Aaron's home run record.
Then we find out it's all a bad joke on us. It's all a cheat.
Jose Canseco's allegations that he helped half the world inject steroids, whether true or not, will forever cast a pall over what should be one of the heydays of the sport.
His appearance on various news shows, including Wednesday's SportsCenter could be construed as just grandstanding for his new book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big. But the sad thing is that you can't ignore some of the images he conjures up when talking about some of the game's great home run hitters.
Anyone who remembers what Mark McGwire looked like when he was smacking home runs with the A's, lithe and powerful, but a twig compared to the monster that Cardinals' fans saw hit 70 home runs, has to consider the possibility that McGwire was perhaps into something more than just weightlifting. And remember the Bonds that played for the Pittsburgh Pirates who was built not much differently than Darryl Strawberry? While his body obviously matured as he got older, how do you ignore the fact that the San Francisco Giants clubhouse manager happened to mention that Bonds' hat size increased nearly two sizes from the end of the 2000 season to the beginning of the 2001 season? Perhaps not so ironically, Bonds broke McGwire's single season homerun record with 73 that season.
In a week that should be about pitchers and catchers reporting to camp and fans getting excited about the new year, instead the attention is on steroids and who might be "juicing."
As a sports fan, there rapidly seems to be fewer professional sports worth caring about. So I feel lucky to be able to watch high school athletes who play the game for themselves, their families and towns every week. It's refreshing to see athletes who still care about the game and I urge those fans who are weary of the greed and corruption of the pros, come back to the high school ranks and rejoice in the players' true love of the game.