Keeping humor afloat in sports - even Olympics

If sports aren't fun, there's no justification for them.

After all, while food, water, and shelter are absolutely necessary to life, sports aren't. Yet, sports add enormously to our existence. They are exclamation points. They are grace points. They are Monets in a world in which there is too much graffiti.

When the sharp edges of life cut and aggravate, sports lift and exhilarate.

And it is when things go wrong that the laughing must really begin. After all, if you're going to live and if you're going to compete, you're going to lose. It's a given.

In sport, humor is essential.

The story goes that when a star Texas A&M basketball player got four F's and a D, the coach said, "Son, it looks to me like you're spending too much time on one subject." Very funny, except to those dour folks who cluck and say it's not funny to make light of someone a trifle dim.

That's why one Daron Malmborg, who lives in the Salt Lake City area, gets perfect marks for understanding humor. As a good citizen and supporter of Salt Lake's 2002 Winter Olympics, he bought special Olympic license plates for his 1997 Chevy pickup truck and for his wife's car. The original cost was $144, then $44 annual renewal thereafter. "We wanted to show our pride," Mr. Malmborg says.

Understand the Salt Lake Olympic effort has been bedeviled and besmirched by scandal, sordid stories of bribes and assorted skulduggery in order to get itself selected as host. So in a nifty bit of whimsy, Malmborg ordered plates that read: SCNDL. For those of you with only a public education, that's SCANDAL, in license-plate lingo.

Actually, Malmborg confesses, he wanted to have BRIBE, but it had been taken.

Anyway, after Malmborg sported his plates proudly for 11 months and evoked much laughter, state pooh-bahs decided it was in poor taste and sent a humorless letter stating the plate would be revoked. Malmborg, living in what he calls the "City of Scandal," was mystified: "If you don't laugh with people, they'll laugh at you."

Malmborg - who doesn't want to talk about any personal aspects of his life, but concedes he is "35 going on 17" - took up the matter with his lawyer. The lawyer's license plate reads: ISUE4U. Ultimately, it became a free-speech issue when the American Civil Liberties Union joined the fray. In short order, the bureaucrats apologized, recanted, and slunk off into the night. None of this would have happened if they had had any sense of humor whatsoever.

Why the state would approve someone else having BRIBE on their Olympic plates and deny Malmborg having SCNDL on his defies logic. Perhaps one has to be a state employee to get it. On the other hand, hey, that's funny.

Humor admittedly is easy to criticize because it strikes people differently. A joke to one person can offend another. Legendary baseball owner and showman Bill Veeck once sent a midget up to bat, then had him get into a deep crouch, making it almost impossible for the pitcher to throw strikes. Very funny, except to baseball purists, who felt Veeck desecrated the game.

When Florida State University's football team was embroiled in accusations that involved players who received gratis shoes at a local store, rival Florida football coach Steve Spurrier said FSU apparently stood for Free Shoes University. Very funny, except to FSU. The irrepressible Spurrier once said there had been a small fire in an Auburn football dorm that destroyed 20 books. "The real tragedy," Spurrier said, "was that 15 hadn't been colored yet." Very funny, except....

Former football player Joe Theismann, now a television commentator, once said, "Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein." Very funny, except....

Back when Abe Lemons was the University of Texas basketball coach, he was asked prior to a season if his team should be ranked in the Top 20. Responded Lemons, "You mean in the state?" Very funny, except to those who soberly say it's not good to make fun of these young athletes who are trying hard and something like this might hurt their feelings.

Sports are the perfect leavening agent for heavy hearts. But we have to let the joy enter. "We can't," Malmborg says, "take ourselves so seriously."

And if Malmborg hadn't been awarded SCNDL for his license plates, he had another backup request: SCAM. Very funny.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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