Jaffe: Lockouts overshadowing actual sports

July 14, 2011, 1:47 a.m.

We didn’t grow up idolizing Susan Richard Nelson. We didn’t check the newspaper to see what DeMaurice Smith was up to every day. We didn’t have posters of Billy Hunter on our bedroom walls. And we didn’t see Roger Goodell or David Stern in a single segment of Top-10 Plays.

Instead, you probably followed players. If you’re like me, you grew up thinking sports was about the games on the field, court, ice, pavement, pool, course or whatever other venues let athletes show their talents. You probably didn’t think of your favorite star players battling in the courtroom.

Unfortunately, this summer is a growing-up process for all of us. We’re learning that money really does drive sports. We’re finding out that the names listed above could matter a whole lot more for our sports fandom than Kobe, LeBron, Manning, Vick, A-Rod or Pujols. And unlike when people usually talk about sports being a business, we’re not just giving excuses for the latest big-name signing with Scott Boras.

No, this is much worse than just a greedy athlete or two. We’ve now got greedy leagues. Greedy owners, greedy lawyers and, of course, many greedy players.

It’s midsummer, a time when the sports world is usually in a lull anyway. College sports are taking their summer breaks, and baseball is the only major pro sport still going. And even for hardcore baseball fans, there is a little feeling of the dog days once their team’s fate seems obvious but 70 games still remain on the schedule.

With such a lull, the current lockouts of the NFL and NBA have even less to compete with for media attention. And as much as I love the latest “things that have happened since the lockout started” graphic and the incredulous looks on my parents’ faces when they see the phrase “ESPN legal analyst” on the television, I still cannot stand lockout conversations. Yes, I want these things to get settled as much as anyone. I want players playing, and I want seasons to go off as planned. But updates on the war between millionaires and billionaires over a pile of money don’t interest me.

Maybe I’m just holding onto that childhood naivety (the same one that makes me love plain hot dogs, fruit punch and board games), but I still love sports for the actual sports themselves. You can have all the steroid rumors, contract negotiations, ownership lawsuits and DUIs you like. I’ll stick with touchdowns, RBIs, buzzer-beaters and goals.

The thing is, there are still some actual sports out there to care about. The aforementioned lull in baseball hasn’t really happened. This week’s Home Run Derby was one of the best in years, with Robinson Cano edging out Adrian Gonzalez 12-11 in the most exciting final ever. The guy that won the All-Star Game, Tyler Clippard, gave up a single to the only batter he faced. Even in exhibitions, you see things you’ve never seen before.

At the All-Star Break, all six divisions are close — no team leads its division by more than 3.5 games, something that has never happened before. Even with guys like Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols struggling out of the gate, other formerly good players are ascending the ladder to greatness. Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Jair Jurrjens and Jered Weaver all have put up crazy numbers in the first half after years of talk about their potential. The second half should be quite a show.

This past weekend, the American public discovered the Women’s World Cup, and it turns out that women’s soccer can be pretty dang exciting. The win over Brazil was one of the most heart-pounding, emotional games you’ll see in any sport, and even Americans can embrace soccer when the U.S. is actually good at it. The Gold Cup gave us a blown lead — and one of the best goals you’ll ever see — but the WWC can give America wins, and there isn’t much America loves more than winning.

Still, with lockouts marring two of the nation’s biggest sports, there isn’t much winning to go around. Whoever makes sacrifices, whoever gets a bigger share of the pot, whoever “wins” the negotiations, just settles these lockouts. Until then, every sports fan loses.

And I hate losing.

Jacob Jaffe would gladly go to court over a change to the formula in Welch’s fruit snacks. Share your love for caranuba wax, palmitate and red 40 at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu.

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