Truly Can't Be Killed

I'm looking forward to all-star weekend for so many reasons, one of which is that it is the last time (hopefully) for a while, that we will be Barkley-less.

I felt like we lost a body part when Charles Barkley decided to take a leave of absence from TNT following his recent DUI and the embarrassing fallout that ensued. It's a strange situation given that prior to this incident, Barkley was essentially bulletproof. Bill Simmons has famously proclaimed him one of the few people who can say whatever he wants with absolutely no repercussions. Barkley's old disclaimer, "I am not a role model," also absolved him from a whole host of misdeeds during his playing career. Ironically, it only absolved him insofar that people recognized him as an unmodifiable jerk who wasn't going to change for anybody.

I thought it would be interesting to bring up Barkley in the context of the week we've had with Michael Phelps' marijuana incident and A-Rod's steroid admission, which have had the combined effect on America of finding out that Barack Obama has been having an affair with Sarah Palin. Phelps and A-Rod, even in their douchiness, have become larger than sport, and have come to represent a restoration of order in our flailing country, a reiteration of America's brawn and swiftness. Watching these figures tumble has invoked a significant degree of cognitive dissonance for everybody who believes in heroes. I don't imagine Barkley himself gets any personal joy from the tribulations of Phelps and A-Rod, but he must know that he always has that trump card: "I am not a role model."

Reinterpreting that statement years later--although I'm sure it was the genius product of someone at Wieden & Kennedy--it sounds more like an admission of disgust rather than a warning. Barkley is not and was not a role model because nobody placed him there. Just like nobody has place LeBron or Carmelo or Chris Paul there. At least not to the degree that both the public and sport itself has placed, say, Alex Rodriguez and Michael Phelps.

And that is the ironic beauty of the NBA's second-tier status. All the while that we've bitched about the NBA not getting the love that the NFL, MLB, or olympics receive, we have failed to recognize the hidden benefit. Because there isn't so much of a high climb for our hooping favorites, there isn't as much of a hard fall. One might say, well, basketball players have a surprisingly better track record than these other guys...but look at how easy Kobe Bryant bounced back. Remember how through the whole rape trial he was still getting praised for his Colorado-to-Staples performances. Look at how little anyone in the media ever brings up Ron Artest beating the shit out of some fans. Does anyone even remember Josh Howard admitting to smoking weed? Sure, I was outraged at all the attention it got at the time....but the beauty of these situations is--well, Josh Howard was never gonna be a role model anyway, so who cares if he tokes a little. Michael Phelps, on the other hand, he was supposed to teach my son algebra and reduce the federal deficit.

(sidenote about this whole 'the NBA is under the radar' point: how brilliant is it that nobody even talks about Tim Donaghy anymore? Bud Selig gets reamed every time some 22-year-old moron puts a needle in his body, and David Stern sits back and laughs).

I do wonder what would happen if one of these days an NBA player got busted for performance enhancing drugs. If it were LeBron, Shaq, Amare, Kobe, or even D-Wade, sure it would be front page news (as much for its significance as for its anomaly--doping in the NBA?!). But it wouldn't wreck the sport. It wouldn't taint permanently any records or championships. People would go on with their lives eventually. [I should note that it's also unclear that steroids would have much of an enhancing effect on basketball players. In most cases it seems like it would slow them down]. The NBA simply isn't idealized to the level of baseball or the olympics.

In the end I simply bask in the subjugation that the NBA has received over the years. The NBA has really gotten the good and the bad of the media's subtle racism and disrespect toward NBA players: React in faux-outrage when those savages when they do wrong, but never deem it meaningful enough to write one of these Buster Olney "America is over" pieces. I can enjoy this paradox for now, but in the future I would like to see a standardized treatment of all athletes for their personal offenses. The strange and varied reactions to the Barkley situation, and the diversity of opinion surrounding Plaxico Burress, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Pac-Man Jones, and Chris Andersen has inspired me to ask for help a group project. I want to construct a personal offense scale that ranks athlete offenses from worst to least bad, and then we can decide on the appropriate punishment/media treatment for each. My personal list (from worst to least bad) is below:

Child abuse/Domestic abuse
Shooting another person
Performance Enhancing Drug use
Drug abuse (not steroids)
Shooting oneself accidentally/Gun charges
Sexual infidelity toward spouse
Being a bad teammate
Complaining about one’s contract
Unsportsmanlike conduct
Cheating on taxes
Making it rain (with adverse consequences)

Also, just for the hell of it--thanks BWE--Kevin James riding a segway wearing a Troy Hudson jersey:

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At 2/12/2009 11:07 AM, Blogger John said...

So you think Barkley was more in the wrong than Michael Vick? You think that a DUI is more reprehensible than dog fighting/animal cruelty/torture/killing dogs? Inconcievable!

At 2/12/2009 11:20 AM, Blogger Jon L said...

Also, a lot of baseball players are known to beat their wives/girlfriends with next to no repercussions. Brett Myers and Julio Lugo are the two that come to mind now, and while the public at large doesn't really know who they are, the same could be said about half the guys in the All Star Game.

Football has the whole Ray Lewis thing, which is incredibly complicated.

At 2/12/2009 12:13 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

I'm not sure Phelps and A-Rod were as revered as you make them out to be. A-Rod has been known as a douche in NYC for a while, and Phelps is kind of funny-looking (which occurred before he started playing in poker tournaments and being publically drunk often).

I certainly didn't lose any heroes and don't think anyone actually believed that these two were heroes. A-Rod only further cemented his suckiness, and (assuming that I did care about smoking pot) Phelps had already made enough poor marketing decisions that he was already far too dweeby to be a hero.

At 2/12/2009 12:29 PM, Blogger goathair said...

a) All of this, of course, stems back to Jordan who has felt no repercussions for his gambling or divorce or infidelity.

Child abuse/Domestic abuse
Shooting another person
Drug abuse (not steroids)
Shooting oneself accidentally/Gun charges
Sexual infidelity toward spouse
Performance Enhancing Drug use
Complaining about one’s contract
Being a bad teammate
Unsportsmanlike conduct
Cheating on taxes
Making it rain (with adverse consequences)

c) If ping-pong players and sprinters get caught with steroids, I don't think it slows things down too much.

At 2/12/2009 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the admission of "I am not a role model," isn't shameful because Barkley relishes in his self-destructive behavior(gambling, DUI, golf swing etc.), but knows his ways aren't for everyone.

Also, Shaq or D-Wade getting busted for PEDs would taint their Mavericks championship, in a realer way than how Simmons whines about it. Shaq using them to recover from the rigors of 82 games, and D-Wade using it for explosion to the rim? If some % of Bonds' HRs are seen as ill-gotten, don't you think some of Shaq's deeds would be defiled?

PED use, poor team behavior, and dogging it are fundamentally different than character issues off the field. Like, Albert Haynesworth stomped a motherfucker, but no one would ever say he's a bad teammate. Pete Rose broke a sacred rule of baseball, but at least you know he always tried his hardest.

WV: penties- five pennies

At 2/12/2009 1:19 PM, Blogger LeMarc said...

"So you think Barkley was more in the wrong than Michael Vick? You think that a DUI is more reprehensible than dog fighting/animal cruelty/torture/killing dogs? Inconcievable!"

John --- Driving drunk endangers other human beings. No matter your opinion of the reprehensibility of the dog fighting culture, claiming that the life and well-being of a dog (no matter how cute) is of more value (whatever that means) than a human being's is inconceivable. Put it this way. Imagine you are driving through an alley and your breaks stopped working. At the end of the alley, you see a man and a dog, each chained to a separate post side by side. The alley is wide enough that you can get through without running over both the dog and the man, but narrow enough that you're going to have to run over one. Sure the man has a better chance of surviving the accident (the dog would almost certainly die), but are you really going to potentially kill a man to save the life of a dog?

At 2/12/2009 1:34 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

You can be certain that there are performance enhancing drugs that will benefit a basketball player, be it for his stamina, reducing recovery time, for muscle growth, weight loss etc. From what I'm hearing from collegues who have studied sport science and are reporting on doping in various sports, just to get to the body fat level of Karl Malone or David Robinson (around 3%) is next to impossible without PEDs. Even if Malone ran uphill with a parachute strapped to his back all summer long.

The biggest discussion in Europe centers on cycling, a sport where gaining a physical advantage is even more important than in basketball. It's gone so far that TV stations are trying to get out of their contracts to broadcast the Tour de France live. Just out of interest, does this discussion about PEDs even reach the US? Maybe the story about Lance Armstrong not agreeing to have his old samples retested with improved methods? So far the big stories have mostly been baseball and track and field (Marion Jones, the shot putter who's name I don't remember, and some sprinters), right?

At 2/12/2009 1:39 PM, Blogger ZFiSH said...

LeMarc said...
"John --- Driving drunk endangers other human beings. "

There it is. Yes, driving drunk endangers human beings, and I agree that the life of a human has more value than a dog. What your argument fails to take into consideration is that, while there is the potential for endangering human lives while driving intoxicated, there is also the potential for there to be no injuries whatsoever. Only the person who chooses to get in his vehicle has an idea of how impaired he or she is.

This doesn't make it acceptable to drive while impaired, not in the least, but it is less reprehensible than dog fighting because that specifically involves the INTENTIONAL injuries and death of the "athletes" (not to mention the "household pets" that Vick allegedly enjoyed throwing in the ring with trained fighting dogs).

It is the intent that makes a difference. Charles just wanted to get a BJ around the corner - nothing, human or otherwise, was hurt by his actions (again, that doesn't make them not wrong). Vick slaughtered his own pets when they didn't win him money. That is conceivable to you?

At 2/12/2009 1:57 PM, Blogger mdesus said...

hey unrelated to the monumentally stupid talk above, lebron's 47 were the most ever scored against the pacers. I thought kobe's 61 seemed low to set a record, but 47? Apparently dropping 50 is way less common than I'd imagined.

At 2/12/2009 2:01 PM, Blogger LeMarc said...

I find risk-taking that could potentially lead to the death of a human being, no matter how small the possibility, clearly more reprehensible than killing any animal, domestic or wild. Driving drunk shows reckless disregard for human life, which is not as reprehensible as intentional disregard for human life, but in my opinion, more reprehensible than intentional disregard for an animal's life. It's the potential consequences of drunk driving that are the problem. When LeBron James got a speeding ticket last year getting clocked at like 110mph, we all shrugged it off. Nobody got hurt, so no big deal. but ask David Wesley how he feels about driving that fast. Better yet, ask the family of Bobby Phills, who died drag racing with Wesley a few years back. You can't condemn a drunk driver who actually hurts someone, but let a drunk driver who hurts noone off the hook. That's a double standard.

I also would defer, to a degree, to your point about level of intoxication. But rarely do we see athletes getting popped for DUIs at or around the legal limit. Barkley, for instance, had around a .15 blood-alcohol level. For a guy his size, that takes a lot of booze. I refer you to -- http://www.badjocks.com/bacleaders.htm -- which catalogs some of the worst DUIs among sports figures. If you don't think that what those guys did trumps Vick's pittbull operation, then we'll just agree to disagree.

At 2/12/2009 3:00 PM, Blogger vanjulio said...

I do not get the joke about dogfighting. Obviously it is up there along with murder in the eyes of the media. why do you have it ranked so low?

At 2/12/2009 4:48 PM, Blogger Jon L said...

The NBA already had a dogfighting incident, but the media doesn't mention it and Qyntel Woods isn't even in the league anymore (granted this was pre-Vick, and if it happened now there would be a post-Vick reaction, maybe).

Speaking of which, though, I just realized that no one mentions the old Blazers anymore. As recent as a few years ago people talked about the Trailblazers as a "welcome respite" from the Rasheed/Stoudamire/Bonzi Wells/(Qyntel Woods) era, whereas now the media seems to enjoy the team for what it is vs. what it's not.

At 2/12/2009 5:02 PM, Blogger ZFiSH said...

LeMarc said: "You can't condemn a drunk driver who actually hurts someone, but let a drunk driver who hurts noone off the hook. That's a double standard."

I agree 100%. Whether or not someone is hurt by a drunk driver is not the point, not in my argument anyway. Driving drunk is wrong, and unconscionable, but hurting people never seems to be the intent.

My previous argument was poorly constructed, so hopefully this time I do better. Our difference in opinion all seems to come down to a single factor, one that would better be discussed on a discussion board at LiveScience or something of that nature. Also, it appears we will have to agree to disagree. Please keep in mind that I'm not trying to change your POV, just telling you what mine is.

I am agnostic and I believe in evolution, not creationism. I do not think of humans as "God's children" or of being a separate entity from other creatures living on Earth - we are all members of the Kingdom Animalia. For this reason, it is my personal opinion that intent is the deciding factor in rating the severity of a wrongdoing, not whether or not there is a possibility of human lives lost as opposed to the lives of lowly beasts.

Sorry to diverge from the topics of basketball and PEDs in sports (though the latter is one I'm very sick of and aware that it is only going to become a more prominent topic in the future). I don't care much about PEDs because it's the athletes' bodies that we're talking about - their choice. They are entertainers doing something to further entertain, nothing more. Sure, people make a lot of money with such entertainment, but how is that different from an actor getting plastic surgery? It seems that arguments always come back to stats and records, and that is weak. Stats and records are not the sole determination of greatness - nobody ever argued that Roger Maris was better than Mickey Mantle, let alone Babe Ruth, and nobody will ever argue that Barry Bonds was better than Willie Mays. What else matters?

At 2/12/2009 5:04 PM, Blogger Dan said...

I agree with this post for the most part. Certainly none of the NBA's scandals have stuck anywhere near as much as those of the NFL or MLB. I just wanted to say I find it surprising that FD would have any respect for Barkley. Sure he has a big personality/presence and his seeming untouchability in regards to what he says adds an element of chaos into the sphere of NBA opinions, but really, has the man ever said anything worth listening to? He can hardly compose a sentence in comprehensible English, much less produce any insight into a basketball game that involve much more than insulting a player in some way or another. If anything, I see freedarko as a push to elevate the depth of insight and the height of rhetoric far beyond anything available in non-blog sports reporting, while Charles Barkley is the equivalent of listening to an angry seventh grader who has never studied in his life. I guess I just can't see how he fits into the FD universe.

At 2/12/2009 6:12 PM, Blogger nadiel said...

I think the list needs a horizontal rubric too, depending on the athlete.

Level 1 (MLB/NFL Superstars, and Transcendent Athletes (Phelps, Tiger, Federer))

Level 2(NBA Superstars, NY Athletes, MLB and NFL All Stars)

Level 3 (NBA All Stars, NHL Stars, MLB/NFL regulars, College Athletes, Coaches/Owners, and other major market athletes)

Level 4 (NBA regulars, Top Female Athletes, Olympics, retired mlb/nfl)

Level 5 (niche athletes, peripherals (commentators, sportswriters, GMs, assistants, etc)

At 2/12/2009 6:50 PM, Blogger Z said...

I, for one, would be surprised if NBA players weren't taking steroids, particularly Wade. Dude's jaw line/head is majorly fucked looking.

At 2/13/2009 2:29 AM, Blogger g said...

First off can I say that dogfighting should not be ranked that high at all. Why is that killing dogs is seen as so cruel and wrong but killing other animals is not. There are slaughter houses all across the country killing cows and pigs. Cows in some slaughterhouses are bound by chains and barely allowed to move. Most animals barely have any space to move in some slaughterhouses. And yet no one is willing to complain one bit. It's okay to kill a cow because, well that Big Mac tastes so good. We all love eating beef, ham, chicken, turkey, etc. No one complains when we kill one of these animals. But when Michael Vick kills a dog everyone gets outraged.

What makes a dog more valuable to us than a chicken? (I, a dog owner, personally think a dog is worth way more than other animals and would be willing to kill a 100 chickens before killing a dog). Most people are probably willing to accept that an animal like a dog or cat has more value than a chicken or pig. But how can we fairly judge the value of each animal. Is the sole purpose of a chicken or pig only to get fat and be eaten by us? Would it be okay if a player has underground cock fighting? What about other animals. Is a chicken worth as much as a pig? Also when we start making generalizations like this on animals, well why can't we apply them to people too?

Is murdering a soccer mom worse than murdering an antisocial loner? Should murdering a church preacher who's a father of four and the head of the community get you a life sentence; whereas murdering some unemployed drunkee get you only 15 years? The moment we start favoring one type of crime over another, we lose all impartiality.

If we are willing to hate on and ruin Michael Vick's career because of the dogfighting then we must be willing to hate on fast food chains like McDonalds and Jack in The Box and so on. However this is much harder to do since we all love McDonalds and such places. I personally love McDonalds and hope it never goes out of business. I also hugely oppose dogfighting. However I couldn't help but feel a bit bad for Michael Vick. Sure he fucked up but was it really that big a crime? All he really did was play with our emotions. He did something that made us hurt emotionally. However he didn't really do anything worse than many fast food chains. I believe he should have been punished but the sentence he received was just unfair. Now PETA still won't leave him alone. I am in no way saying that he did nothing wrong. He fucked up big. I would never want my dog to get tortured or killed. However his crime was really not that bad. How can we have an impartial justice system when Michael Vick goes to jail and yet there are slaughterhouses all over the country? We can't just hate on one and turn a blind eye to the other (like I do).

At 2/13/2009 2:33 AM, Blogger ronald james davis said...

did anyone else who really wanted to see the rookie sophmore game want to see it 100x more when they found out lebron was going to be part of the play by play team? an interesting development indeed.

At 2/13/2009 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this article on yahoo sports a couple of nights ago.


I don't know too much about steroids, but I can't see many NBA players doing them. They limit flexibility too much. Some other kind of PED, I could see. The players are way more ripped then before. But at the same time, the science of bodybuilding and nutrition have just really hit professional sports. I would love to find Karl Malone was on the juice, I can't stand that motherlicker.

At 2/13/2009 10:49 AM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

I'm gonna take the other side in the drunk driving issue, at least scale-wise. All drunk driving is not created equal, especially with varying tolerances and the relatively low BAC level required for prosecution. Buzzed driving is not drunk driving, and the idea that reaction time being impaired by something like 10-30% will lead to fatalities is absurd. Drunk driving fatalities occur because people are blacked-out, hallucinating-aliens drunk, not from people who killed a bottle of wine at dinner. I guess that sometimes decision-making is impaired, but the real crime here is deciding to go 100 mph with impaired reactions. Certainly, I agree that people driving drunk for long distances (sleep danger), at high speeds, or at irresponsible levels of drunkenness are awful awful people, but I'm not sure that your drive home from a bar people are worse than people that fight dogs or are even bad people.

Dogfighting always hurts dogs.

At 2/13/2009 11:01 AM, Blogger StreakShooter McFloorburn said...

@everyone - DLic's list: not trying to change your mind, but if rape is worse than murder, surely child abuse must be as well? It's hard to come up with an argument for one that doesn't apply to the other in some way.
Drunk driving vs. animal cruelty, etc. - the wrong in drunk driving has to do with our sort of contract with society as people living in what we consider a civilized country, not any inherent risk in its undertaking. It is absolutely true that there are those among us who could get behind the wheel of most vehicles in nearly any state of intoxication and never run a serious risk of harming anything, while there are also those who are not safe drivers under perfect conditions. The same principles apply to speed, or any risk factor associated with dangerous driving. Bad decision-making is what it all really comes down to, and I'm sure even those of little imagination can imagine a realistic situation in which intoxicated or extremely fast driving was a justifiable choice, and also one in which sober driving was indefensible. The fact that simple truths such as these do not fit within our society's definition of justice or morality mean that we must all conform to some degree with things that don't make sense.
Drug use by athletes, performance enhancing or otherwise - just legalize and allow all of it, let athletes and everyone else make the choice for themselves. It's the only way we'll know who to believe and how much of an effect these drugs really have. Then let companies build ball-playing robots or whatever and see how they do. Let's smash some more home run records, and limit NBA membership to players who can dunk on 12 foot rims! Let's let a tank tackle a man on the football field, and see if he'll survive when we replace his entire blood supply with HGH! Then let's start sodomizing puppies with all the broken bones and baseball bats! Then let's open a chain restaurant called Underdog Smith's Famous Baby Bitch Ribs, and feed the fucked puppies to the soulless masses who would still inevitably be watching sports and hanging on every witty turn of phrase delivered by their favorite Sporntscenter (intentional misspelling) personality! Damn, these topics are keepin' me bitter. I take me too seriously, don't y'all make the same mistake.

At 2/13/2009 11:02 AM, Blogger Fat Contradiction said...

At work, don't have time to read the comments, but point shaving / integrity of the game (snicker) has to be pretty high...right after anything that actually harms another living thing.

I'm a level 5 vegan; I don't eat anything that casts a shadow.

At 2/13/2009 12:55 PM, Blogger philip said...

I think racism should be lower on the list. When White Chocolate said "I will kill all you Asian M-F's" to that fan, you're telling me that was worse than a DUI or dogfighting? Jason Williams had no real negative effect on the world by doing that, just like the Spanish national team didn't hurt anyone with their photo in the Madrid paper.

If you're talking about real racism, like not giving Tony Dungy a head coaching job so you can hire Schottenheimer over and over again, then I agree that's really bad.

By the way, how much more money can a team make from a white NBA player compared to a comparable black player? I was thinking of this because of David Lee who I love (I'm a Knicks fan) and I'm not sure how much of that is because his skin tone looks like mine.

At 2/13/2009 1:13 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...


I would have to disagree with you. NBA Superstars are the top tier level. More than any MLB of NFL stars.

No way is Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Farve, A-Rod, Roger Clemems, or even Barry the same level of star as Michael ever was, or Kobe or LeBron are now. Don't confuse the NFL's or MLB's popularity with it's own players. It's vice versa for the NBA.

At 2/14/2009 6:23 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Seriously, this is one of the best entries I've read here in a while. Some great thinking, that list is encouraging some great discussion here in the comments and, further, we get to really think about what constitutes popularity, insofar as sports figures. Plus, the motivation for all this was the Barkley absence? Even when he's gone, he's encouraging us to think great thoughts.

At 2/26/2009 10:57 AM, Blogger MC Welk said...

There are no human beings at DUI roadblocks: only drunks and cops.

wv: cloun - how clowns spell themselves

At 2/28/2009 10:50 AM, Blogger piboer said...

Spanish bombs: thank you for the levelheadedness of your DUI analysis. Seriously, everytime you get in a car, you are endangering people's lives. You are blasting through the universe in a wrecking ball of rubber, plastic and steel. Dogfighting is always a delight of blood, viciousness and violence, which pretty much puts it in the disgusting category, whereas DUI-as-a-crime whose illegalness is exaggerated by some tragic anecdotes.

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