Is Image Everything?

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: August 21, 2007
PHILADELPHIA — Remember when Andre Agassi had hair? Well for me, Agassi had that long hair — and I had my dreadlocks back then. No “impasta Rasta” stuff, either.
Long, long ago, Agassi used to do the Canon camera commercials with the catch phrase, “Image is everything,” between clicks of the shutter and swings of the tennis racket.
Now that time and Mother Nature have relieved both Agassi and myself of our hair (smile), all that is left is the image of us being cool bald guys. Over the past few months, the world has seen several images of incidents involving athletes in the four major North American team sports.
Regardless of whether on or off the playing field, the effects of these events on the conscience of fans has called attention as to how their governing bodies handle everything from sensibility to credibility.
Lost in the media firestorm of Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Michael Vick’s pending legal decision was the agreement made by Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward Mark Bell.
While a member of the San Jose Sharks, Bell’s vehicle rear-ended a pickup truck during Labor Day weekend last year. He fled the scene, leaving the driver with head injuries.
Bell was eventually caught by San Jose police, and was also cited for driving under the influence, with a blood/alcohol ratio 2.5 times the legal limit. This was also the third alcohol-related offense Bell was involved in since his entry in the League.
In a plea deal, Bell was sentenced to six months in prison — to be served after the completion of the 2007-08 NHL season. In most states, a third citing for aggravated DUI would run someone a minimum mandatory sentence of 3-7 years in prison, yet Bell literally gets to ice skate in hell as the controversy is frozen over by most of the media and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
This depressing denouement capped a years worth of drama in which each commissioner was under the microscope. For the NHL’s Bettman, hoping to skate in the world of national exposure was the least of his problems before legal decisions on Bell and former NHL’er Rick Tocchet, who was given two years probation for his role in an illegal bookmaking operation.
Bettman, who stated the league was satisfied no NHL games were compromised because Tocchet did not bet on hockey, has been strangely silent on the issue that a three-time DUI offender would be allowed to play the season without further punishment.
I don’t know about you, but if you’ve ever seen or been privy to a hit-and-run situation, you know that the act itself is tantamount to attempted murder when alcohol is added to the equation.
I’m amazed that an advocacy group like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) isn’t after Bell’s ass with the same passion as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in Vick’s case.
For Bettman to make light of these incidents is to imply hockey has no problem — and the treatment in both issues further gives the impression ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the ice.
Bettman’s laissez-faire attitude says “No problem — because ‘our guys’ aren’t troublemakers like those in those “other leagues” — and there are no moral issues in conflict with our athletes.”
Meanwhile, 50 years since the first black player, Wilie O’Ree, laced up his skates for the Boston Bruins, the NHL still wants to pretend that Black folks in America aren’t worth cozying up to sell their game to.
Well, Commissioner, I’ve got a bone to pick with you — in fact, several. Like Dany Heatley. Or Pelle Lindbergh, Steve Chiasson, Rob Ramage or Craig MacTavish — all who either died or killed someone due to their irresponsibility with alcohol and being behind the wheel.
So where is the same zero-tolerance initiative shown by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell? To his credit, Goodell has endeavored to offer a badly needed dose of reality to its charges in enforcing a personal conduct policy off the field.
If it does nothing else, it reminds the rank and file of NFL players — especially the over 65% that are black — that your ass is on double secret probation from high school until you make a NFL roster.
And if you are able to succeed, your shit had better be cleaner than clean from there on in. However, it would be nice to give Adam “Pacman” Jones the benefit of the doubt like every other citizen and go on the premise of innocent until proven guilty. Until someone has proof, they deserve the umbrella of protection — even if they were responsible for “making it rain.”
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was attempting to rain on Barry Bonds’ parade when he stood up with his hands in his pockets after Bonds hit No. 755 in San Diego, and it was the kind of gesture a petulant, punk kid — not an adult representing an entire sport — would do.
Selig’s contempt for Bonds pales in comparison to the jabbering jackals and jackanapes who snipe about steroids and the “clear” and the “cream”. Some of these same mental midgets who scream now about asterisks and tainted records were also responsible for voting into the Hall Of Fame an avowed cheater, Gaylord Perry, who winked about it and made jokes along with these same writers.
Where was the outrage for the sanctity of the game then?
They also covered the Grand Old Game through Ken Caminiti’s MVP season on 1996 — with a Padre official acknowledging (after the fact, of course) that he “suspected” Caminiti’s use of steroids.
Tom Grieve of the Texas Rangers also came out and admitted he suspected usage — about 25 years later. Well, to put it bluntly, you all had years to speak on this — every one of you so-called “professionals” — now that Bonds has passed the great, ultra-unappreciated Henry Aaron and is the all-time home run king, please — shut the fuck up!!!!
My heart bleeds Coca-Cola for you — and all this noise pollution you’re generating would’ve been warranted had you used your keyboards and vocal chords when it mattered.
Given the actions of Brat Selig, Aaron should have been the commissioner — hell, his sense of deportment before, during and after No. 756 was exemplary — given the possibility Aaron himself could still be suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome during his last days prior to breaking the home run record in the 1970s.
Aaron endured the hate mail and death threats when he passed Babe “Mr. Third Place” Ruth, and was dogged out by another punk, Bowie Kuhn, whose lame-ass excuse for not being there when Aaron hit No. 715 is not good enough to let the dead rest peaceably.
Quiet guys like Aaron keep stuff inside — and Selig, admittedly or not, was likely more afraid of what Aaron might say rather than what Bonds would eventually do.
If we remember anything about the chase, the most noteworthy things were what Aaron did and didn’t do. After Bonds hit No. 715, Aaron was nowhere to be found, which leads me to believe he told everyone to kiss his asterisk and leave him the fuck alone, because he wanted no part of the bullshit.
When he did talk, the thing he said that ESPN neglected to point out regarding Bonds was (paraphrasing) why is all this talk about the man (Bonds) when they don’t have any proof of what he did?
However you may feel about Bonds, the piss-poor actions of Brat Selig condemn MLB to a purgatory of hypocrisy.
But without a doubt the most heinous affront to the sporting fan and public was the busting of NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Donaghy, who earned $260,000 a year, was found to have passed on information on basketball games and adversely influenced outcomes of games.
This opened the door for organized crime and, in the mind of a league source, destroyed the image of the league for good. “From my view at courtside, you can’t tell what is going on now,” suggests the source, who was a former beat writer.
“Every nuance and gesture will be questioned — when a call is missed or when a lead official is called upon for clarification on a judgment call, fans won’t just boo — they will scream ‘fix’ or worse.”
My source further revealed Donaghy’s actions also put in question games where he may not have been involved. “Over the years, I’ve seen games where the officiating has been a little funky, but nothing where I would’ve thought there was out-and-out cheating — except for one game.”
“The Western Conference finals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers a couple years back where Sacramento was a dozen points or so ahead going into the fourth quarter of the final game in the series.”
“In less than nine minutes, all three of Sacramento’s centers fouled out against Shaq — it was ridiculous the stuff they (refs) were calling.”
“Everyone knew that it didn’t matter who came out as the Eastern Conference representative, (Commissioner) Stern and the television people wanted the glamour team (Lakers) coming out of the West for those (TV) ratings.”
Some would call David Stern a marketing genius — some would say he saved basketball from going down the tubes. But there are those that see him for what he is — a stone cold, control freak.
Because image is everything to Stern, his initial response to the Donaghy scandal was that he had things in place that insured such things wouldn’t happen. Well, if that were true, then they would’ve caught Donaghy’s ass long before it became a full-blown mess and public relations nightmare!
Finally, when there was no getting around Donaghy’s indictment and firing, Stern, the soul of contrition, walks up to the podium and says, “I have been betrayed.”
So why did Stern feel betrayed? Maybe because he spent all this time and effort to help White folks spend money watching non-threatening (don’t forget smiling) Black men play basketball.
According to the NBA’s Great White Father, in his world there cannot be any tattoos, doo-rags or b-ball jerseys not tucked in. After all, that would present the wrong image.
And all the so-called NBA “insiders” wouldn’t want to jeopardize their place at the NBA’s table, so they won’t criticize Stern in his assessment that Donaghy is representative of an isolated thing and not pandemic throughout the league’s officiating corps.
All I have to say is how does it feel, Mr. Control Freak, to have as your definitive image, not some doo-rag wearing, glowering competitor laced with tats — portrayed as an arrogant twerp with a whistle in his ass?
Control that.