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Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001


Sports world fails to confront fear

It's very interesting to see how people react to crisis. Some embrace it and confront it. Some try to fight it and overheat. Others just run from it altogether.

Unfortunately, the responses we have seen from many of our sportsmen over the past three months in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States have fallen into the latter category.

I have been nothing short of amazed by the lack of courage shown by athletes and sports executives on numerous occasions.

It seems as if just about everything under the sun has been blamed on Sept. 11. Whether it is the poor balance sheet of a Fortune 500 company or a drop in tourism in any country, it has become a convenient excuse for just about everything and everyone.

What has disturbed me most of all is how many people, including those in the sporting world, have let this affect the way they go about their business, especially in light of the sacrifices of previous generations. We are talking about people in years past who were sent off to war, knowing there was a very good chance they were going to die.

Now we have folks afraid to play in, or attend, a sporting event. Not to mention go to the bank, the grocery store or the movies. Unbelievable.

Here are just a few of the sporting cancellations blamed, in one form or another, on security not being "guaranteed" in the aftermath of Sept 11:

* A joint minor league team from the Chunichi Dragons and Orix BlueWave called off a series in South Korea.

* The U.S. (the defending champion) Fed Cup team refused to go to Spain to defend its title.

* Japan refused to send a team to the World Gymnastics Championships (even though the U.S. did) in Belgium.

* The John Ruiz-Evander Holyfield WBA heavyweight title fight scheduled for Beijing was postponed and relocated to the U.S.

* The NBA canceled its entire slate of preseason games overseas.

There is no doubt many more examples of this overreaction to the shocking events of Sept. 11. The graphic nature of it all being caught on video and replayed time and again on television no doubt served to magnify the incidents, but in the sports world, machismo and toughness are supposed to be a part of the game.

When I heard NFL players, huge men known for their fearless exploits on the field, saying they were afraid to fly in the days after Sept. 11, I couldn't believe it. Especially in light of the fact that practically every NFL team flies by charter to its games and not on a plane filled with regular passengers, which means that not just anybody can get on board.

The level of hysteria has been so great, it has even touched our sporting heroes. These are people that many look up to when times are good, so they should set an even greater example when times are tough. But in the final analysis, they showed their humanity.

I went on as planned with a vacation to Europe last month. I just couldn't see the point in calling off something I was going to so thoroughly enjoy. When I had dinner with a friend of mine (a fellow sports writer) in Spain, he said to me, "What are you doing in Europe now? This is a dangerous time."

I had to laugh when I heard him say this, again another person affected by the fallout from Sept. 11.

Has there been a single instance of violence on an individual in Europe in the past three months related to the attacks on the U.S.? Not that I know of. There have certainly been many rumors, but those are about 10 yen a dozen right now.

What I haven't been able to reconcile is the correlation between the attacks in the U.S. and "going overseas." It doesn't seem rational to me. But the paranoia has been so great the past three months that people will believe just about anything they hear.

We face a lot more danger in everyday life, when we get in cars, ride trains and cross the street, than we do from threats from other sources -- real or imagined.

Want an example? Here it is. I did see violence in Europe, however, only it was of the more garden-variety type. Where? On the way to -- not at -- a soccer match.

Less than one minute after boarding the Piccadilly Line in London for the trip out to see Manchester United play Arsenal at Highbury, two huge guys -- local types -- got into a punch up and started duking it out as the train pulled into the next station.

All those in the carriage, including myself and my wife, evacuated into the next car as beer and punches were flying.

The funny thing was, both of the guys appeared to be Arsenal fans, but hey, whatever.

There were no problems at the ground though, as the fans were well behaved as the Gunners scored a stirring 3-1 triumph over United.

A couple of weeks after returning to Japan, I had a little taste of violence -- domestic style -- as I was standing on the platform of my station waiting for the train one day around midday. I suddenly felt a whack on the top of the head and somebody shout something in Japanese.

At first I thought it might be somebody I knew, but when I realized it wasn't, I uttered a 12-letter expletive and took off after the guy. But I pulled up a few steps later, when I realized the perpetrator appeared to be retarded.

The thing was, the guy could have just as easily waited and tried to push me in front on the oncoming train. So much for the dangers of traveling abroad.

It just goes to show you that sometimes the line between fantasy and reality can become so blurred, that we actually start to believe they are one and the same. Nothing in life is guaranteed -- including your next breath.

At times like these, those in the sporting world should set the example for the rest of us. They should carry on with and fulfill their commitments, both on and off the field.

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