Unrequited Love: Athletes Betray Sports Fans

Sports columnist cites attitudes that lead to big contracts and big egos, and proposes how fans can fight back

Mad as Hell: How Sports Got Away from the Fans -- and How We Get It Back

By Mike Lupica

G.P. Putnam's Sons

236 pp., $22.95

When the controversial outfielder Albert Belle agreed to a five-year contract last month with the Chicago White Sox that will pay him an estimated $11 million a year - the richest in baseball to date - he broke with his oft-demonstrated contempt for journalists, leaned into the microphone at the traditional news conference and said, "This isn't about money."

Mike Lupica's new book, "Mad as Hell," did not exactly anticipate Belle's move, but puts it into perspective nonetheless. Lupica, one of the nation's eminent sports columnists, quotes a widely respected professional football executive on the subject.

When an athlete says that it's not about money, "it's always about money," the executive maintains.

Besides analysis of the bloated salaries paid to professional athletes, Lupica drops other pearls on the reader from his long experience in the arena. And most of them are unsparing in their assessment of what's become of the sporting world.

Take player agents. They add nothing to sports, he writes, except zeroes on contracts. He notes too: If professional athletes are loyal to anything, "it is to their own sense of entitlement."

And he advises fans, "Go ahead and love your team. Just don't expect it to love you back."

The unique feature of the book is that it's solution-oriented. (The subtitle after all is: "How Sports Got Away from the Fans - and How We Get It Back.")

For instance, every team owner who threatens to leave town unless a new stadium is built for him, Lupica writes, should be required to finance the first 25 percent of it himself.

Fans, he says, should refuse to patronize sports-memorabilia shows where arrogant pros charge whatever the traffic will bear for their autographs.

The book also proposes a system under which teams would charge for tickets on a sliding scale - less if they are playing badly and losing, more when they're on a roll.

Lupica also trains an unflattering spotlight on the college coaches, writers and broadcasters, "talk-show" callers, and promoters who have helped to inject cynicism into sports - and even on media favorites such as Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys and basketball star Clyde Drexler.

At times the writing is uneven.

There are places where the editing is downright sloppy, as when no one caught Lupica's reference to Antonio McDyess of Wake Forest as the No. 2 pick in the 1995 National Basketball Association draft.

McDyess was picked second, all right, but he attended the University of Alabama, not Wake Forest.

Be aware, in between its good points, "Mad as Hell" is laced with crude, gratuitous, and often profane language. Why this is necessary and what it accomplishes are highly questionable.

Rather than buy a copy for yourself or one to put under the Christmas tree for the sports fan in your life, here's another idea: If you really want to read it, wait and borrow it from your local library.

*Robert Kilborn Jr. is on the Monitor staff.

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