Stressful times for Philadelphia’s sports fans

Opinion December 7, 2012 0 Comments

by Clark Groome

Perhaps to understate the obvious, the last couple of weeks have not been happy times for Philadelphia sports fans.

The Eagles have lost eight in a row. To put that into perspective, the Phillies have won more recently (an Oct. 1 2-0 victory over Washington) than the Eagles (a Sept. 30 19-17 win against the New York Giants).

In addition to the continuing collapse on the field, the Eagles made news off when they put DeSean Jackson on the injured list and released defensive end Jason Babin. Apparently he was let go because of some high school-like mistakes that led to a critical offsides penalty. The sense in many quarters is that he was also not the most congenial teammate and that his presence, as good as his numbers were last season, was a net minus.

Across 11th St. in the Wells Fargo Center, the 76ers highly touted off-season addition, Andrew Bynum, continues to suffer from knee problems that seem to be getting worse rather than better. No one seems to know, or is even willing to guess, just when he might make his debut with the team that, despite his absence, is off to, as of last Sat., very respectable 10-7 start.

While we’re at the Wells Fargo Center, the Philadelphia Flyers continue not to be. They, like the other 29 NHL teams, continue to be locked out. All games through Dec. 14, the Jan. 1 Winter Classic in Detroit and the Jan. 27 All Star Game in Columbus, Ohio have been canceled. More cancellations are likely this week. The entire season could be lost.

While there were periods of optimism over the past couple of weeks, the parties are so far apart that federal mediators, called in to see if they could help get things going, left feeling the two sides were nowhere close to serious lockout-ending negotiations.

The mediators, whose ideas are non-binding, said they’d come back when the players and the owners wanted to get on with serious negotiations. The feeling is that we shouldn’t hold our breath.

And then there’s Chooch.

Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz flunked a drug test and will miss the first 25 games of the 2013 season. Apparently he had the banned substance Adderall, a stimulant, in his system. The baseball drug policy gives stimulant users a second chance, unlike those who are caught with steroids. That means that Ruiz tested positive, was warned, and then tested positive again.

Adderall is widely prescribed for and exemptions given to Major Leaguers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What Ruiz did was ignore the rules. He is – maybe now “was” – one of the most respected and beloved players on the team. His reputation took a major hit and added to a two-week period that was just brutal for sports fans in the City of Brotherly Love.

For all that distressing news, the last two weeks reminded me what is, or should be, sport’s most important element: its ability to bring generations together and to forge bonds that are as hard as any to break.

I spent Thanksgiving week with son Rob and his family in California. His eight-year-old son, Tobey, has fallen in love with soccer. He’s a talented young player who loves to play the sport on the field or on his Xbox.

Rob and he spend hours together at Tobey’s practices and games, competing in the video game or watching the pros play in televised games from Europe.

Rob says that what he enjoys most about soccer is the opportunity it gives him to share time with his son. I know what he means.

Rob was four when the Flyers beat the Bruins to win their first Stanley Cup in 1974. Ever since then watching hockey, talking about it and sharing a love for the sport has been a real bond for us.

Each of the years we’ve been together for Thanksgiving – except this one – we’ve gone to an Anaheim Ducks matinée on Black Friday. Like most people who love the sport, we’re both angry that the owners and the players can’t work out a solution and get back on the ice.

What I miss the most is those four hours I spent each year with Rob.

My guess is that most sports fans have similar stories. Anytime you hear people talk about going to a game you almost always hear personal memories.

“I loved it when my Dad and I would go to a baseball game and keep score.” “I’ve had Eagles tickets since I was a kid and now my kids go with me.” “My Mom and I always went to the Athletics’ Ladies Days games back when that was not politically incorrect.” “We always get the family together to watch the Flyers when they’re in the playoffs.” How many times have you heard comments like those?

My proposition – and again I may be understating the obvious – is that sports is fun to watch, it’s great when the team you’re rooting for does well, it’s maddening when your favorites screw up, but most of all, like most good things in life, it’s at its best when it is a shared experience. Ask Rob. Ask Tobey. Ask almost anyone.

Which raises the question: Why don’t the people who run our teams and play on them know that and make it their top priority?

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