(See also a fine letter to the editor on the same topic: Hutsell should kick it. It was published on July 21, as the finishing touches were being put on this essay.)
As noted many times in this space, the New Albany Tribune has made steady and quantifiable progress overall during the past two years. Might it now be time for the spirit of reform and renovation to be extended to that last, enduringly unreconstructed bastion of overt anti-intellectualism, the sports page?
Don’t count on it.
Nowhere else in the newspaper does the underachieving editorial "balls and bats in the belfry" legacy of the long-departed Eddie LaDuke remain more firmly ensconced than in sports, LaDuke’s former realm.
The most recent example of this lamentably bovine sensibility found the newspaper’s sports editor, Mike Hutsell, carefully constructing a massive straw man from the notion of David Beckham as heavenly deliverance for American soccer, and gleefully bashing it to bits with all the sparkle of a ‘roid enraged offensive lineman at a suburban Atlanta pit bull fight.
HUTSELL: Beckham will make it OK, right?
Hey, did you hear? We finally have our next great savior for the sport of soccer in the United States. No really, it’s happened this time.
As Hutsell takes his rhetorical Louisville Slugger to a handily contrived proposition, one holding that a much-hyped English professional player can single-handedly transform native sporting customs in the obtuse Colonies, it is acutely revealing that the real target of the editor's jibes – those who are in the habit of making exaggerated claims about Beckham's potential influence – are none other than Hutsell’s fellow sports scribes nationwide, for whom facts are just as inconvenient as they are for our local kiddie game assessors, personal prejudices just as likely to be substituted for logic, and straw men by far the favored sparring partner on a daily basis.
Tellingly, the idea of “Beckham as savior” currently is being expounded far less often by those millions of Americans for whom soccer has personal value than it is by media pundits in search of a mechanical rabbit to inspire addled greyhounds to adrenalize.
After all, those millions who enjoy the sport are busy pursuing their passion in the open air and have little inclination to play semantic games with frustrated ex-jocks on the sports page. Just as delightfully, by refusing to adopt the customary American sporting paradigm, they effectively render Hutsell’s tragic-comic foray into sociology (American soccer as an “elitist mindset” of the “upper-middle class of society”) into the utter absurdity that by all accounts it is.
Assuming he speaks Spanish, Hutsell might consider explaining this "upper-middle class" bias to New Albany’s Hispanic population, many of whom seem quite content to kick the ball around area parks and fields without official editorial sanction.
Seems almost disrespectful, doesn't it?
It all goes to show that while the local newspaper’s sports writers perform adequately when bound to the task of recounting baskets drained or balls roped by members of area high school teams, providing them with a soap box for commentary is a recipe for submerging the level of discourse to that of sports talk radio. Given low attention spans and the current state of sporting “civilization” on the airwaves, I imagine this occurrence isn’t entirely a coincidence.
Personally, I cherish the truly special times when the Tribune’s sports columnists surgically remove the discussion at hand from all necessary contexts, and with the speed of a Formula One race car, descend at full boor into inanity, trivialization or both.
Prior to Hutsell’s unintentionally hilarious sociological consideration of American soccer, there was Matthew Cress’s lamentation at the murder-suicide case of professional thespo-wrestler Chris Benoit. With a solemnity more in keeping for departed statesmen, tyrants or church fathers, Cress wrote that in spite of the senselessness of the tragedy, he’d been such a fan of Benoit that he couldn’t bring himself to “hate” him.
That's an interesting angle. Naturally, a far more edifying approach would have been to question the very nature of the megabuck wrestling farce, and if that is deemed off limits owing to the profit imperative, perhaps examine the many premature deaths and crippling injuries suffered by these muscle-bound “sporting” entertainers, but far be it from me to rain on the parade of deltoid worship.
No, not I. After all, I’m a baseball fan, and accustomed to looking the other way so long as the ball travels 500 feet or more on a checked swing. Do you think Bud Selig ever noticed?
Ironically, as sports editor Hutsell follows suit with the AM radio masses in lobbing dying quails at sporting pursuits that fall outside the mainstream of Larry the Cable Guy’s viewing range, the best sports columnist on the Tribune's staff, Aidan Kelly, writes about ... yes, soccer, and does so with erudition and flair.
Whassat? Soccer? That sissy game that a billion people in the world play in spite of the objections of the greatest country in the history of the world? Damn, that sounds Un-Uhmerican, dudintit? Hey, pass the cheetohs, would ya? There’s a rasslin’ match showing. Anyone got a Natty Light?