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You Want Respect? I'll Give You Respect!

April 22: An Introduction
April 23: Philip Michaels
April 24: Gregg Wrenn
April 25: Ben Boychuk
April 26: Greg Knauss
April 27: Jason Snell
May 1: A Loyal Reader
Fifty-one years ago, Jackie Robinson was the loneliest man in the world.

The only black baseball player allowed in the major leagues, Robinson stepped out on to each and every field, facing a sea of angry fields. Antagonized by opponents, shunned by many teammates, Robinson would have to endure taunts, slights, even death threats. And through it all, he couldn't fight back, lest the simple act of standing up for himself set back the integration of baseball 20 years. He just had to stand there and take it.

I used to think what Jackie Robinson had to endure was the ultimate indignity an athlete could face. Here was a man who was ridiculed, scorned, even threatened, not because of his playing ability or his qualities as a person but because his skin happened to be darker than everyone else's on the field. Could a person possibly face any worse treatment?

Apparently so, as it turns out. And I have Alex Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners to thank for setting me straight. Because while Jackie Robinson may have had it rough, it was a stroll through the daisy compared to that horrific bugaboo that haunts poor Alex Rodriguez and his fellow modern-day athletes.

A lack of respect.

St. Alex of the Kingdome clued me in to his martyrdom via the commercials for the Triple Play '98 video game, now airing on an ESPN, Fox Sports Net or other cable sports network near you. And after hearing about the agony with which poor Alex must contend every day, let me assure you that I go to bed each night thanking the Lord for not making me into a professional athlete cursed with a multi-million dollar contract and plagued by thousands of adoring fans.

The commercial in question features the sainted Rodriguez -- or at least, his computer generated alter ego since this is an ad for a video game -- holding forth at a press conference about that damnable lack of respect that torments him and, indeed, should torment us all.

"Guys like me, we don't get any respect," the misunderstood Mariner moans. "I mean, I put up the numbers, and I'm not even on a cereal box."

Rodriguez's computerized Doppelganger carries on in this vein for some time. He makes spectacular defensive plays and do we appreciate him? No. He knocks in runners and what kind of thanks does he get? Zip. He hits for power and average but does anyone care about Alex the person? I don't think so, Clem.

And all the while, as Alex's tale of woe pierces the heart of anyone within earshot, a guy wearing a backwards baseball cap and a Mariners jersey -- maybe one of Alex's teammates or a member of his pose or perhaps even just a hanger- on -- sits next to Alex and nods like a yayhoo at each word that the underappreciated shortstop has to say.

Because Minister Alex speaks the truth.

Well, I sat there nodding, too, wanting to be there for Alex, to support him through his horrible respect-less ordeal. Of course, then I realized that Alex Rodriguez is paid millions of dollars to play a child's game for a living. Fans buy t-shirts and sporting goods with his name plastered all over them. And if he doesn't realize how odd it seems to be ranting about a lack of respect while featured in a TV commercial, well, then Alex needs a few whaps with the ol' irony stick.

And that's pretty much when I concluded that the Triple Play '98 commercial was a crock of shit.

It's not that Triple Play '98 is a worthless product or that the ad's production values are somewhat lacking. That's not my objection at all. What makes the Triple Play '98 spot the most hateful commercial in the world is that it further perpetuates the revolting mantra of the spoiled athlete: We don't get no respect.

You can't have a title fight any more without at least one of the boxers belly-aching that some imagined display of insolence will motivate him to pound his opponent's face in to hamburger. At the recently concluded NCAA men's basketball tournament, all four teams in the final two rounds claimed they were being shown disrespect by the other three. And Mike Piazza -- an all-star Los Angeles Dodgers catcher whose exaltation by fans stops just shy of beatification -- has recently groused that his paltry $8 million salary shows what total disregard the Dodgers organization has for him.

(That's the same Mike Piazza, by the way, whose mug is plastered across Mao-like banners that now adorn Dodger Stadium. "There is great disorder under heaven," you expect to hear Mike say. "And the bullpen is excellent.")

I've always had a certain admiration for athletes. They have the physical talent, the mental discipline and the fire in the belly to do something that I can only dream about in my wildest playground fantasies. They deserve all the accolades and the millions of dollars they can get their hands on in my book.

But fame, fortune, sport-utility vehicles and the cheers of a packed stadium really should be enough to make any tight end, point guard or hockey goon feel respected. I mean, what more do athletes like Alex Rodriguez want from us, after we've spent $30 bucks on tickets, parking and hot dogs and cheered for Alex, even after that feeble pop up to shallow left in the bottom of the third? Probing questions about their thoughts on current events? A nice dinner after the game? A blow job from a lucky fan before each at bat?

Besides, you want to talk about lack of respect, let's talk writers...


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