Sure, millions of Americans can't read. Yeah, yeah, I guess welfare presents its fair share of problems, too. Oh, and crime in our schools ... that's not exactly a positive trend either.
Essentially, our fine nation is crumbling before our very eyes, with hope for a better future about as doubtful as O.J.'s plea of innocence, right?
I beg to differ. The American Dream is alive and well, in, of all places, the athletic arena. And no, you don't have to run like Maurice Greene, shimmy and shake like Peter Warrick or even bob and weave like the St. Louis Rams to think big.
This smells of a Sally Struthers employment infomercial: "You, yes you ... a middle-aged stock broker with two years of Pop Warner under your belt, the physique of a jelly doughnut and the grace of an anteater, can spend the rest of your life pretending you know something about sports ... and get paid for it."
I know, it sounds sardonic and cynical, but really, when you think about it, nothing in American society is more beautiful. Not blessed with Mach 9 speed, no "Eastbay Funk" slam dunks in your immediate future, no problem. You don't have to be the most lithe person around to be a sporto for life; all you have to do is be an NFL Draft expert, high-school recruiting analyst ... or a beat writer for a college newspaper.
NFL Draft Experts
Always conscious of tact, Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian once remarked that Mel Kiper Jr., the greasy-haired overlord of the NFL Draft, had "never even put on a jock before."
Right you are, sir. But again, beneath the sound of Kiper barking "that the Jets have no idea what the draft is all about" lies sports' true greatness.
Mel Kiper didn't play football ... ever. Not college, not high school, presumably not pee wee, flag, two-touch or even Nerf. One day he simply stumbled upon an ingenious idea: He would transform his garage into a World War II-like War Room, and he would become the Winston Churchill of the NFL Draft. Well, the boy made good on his promise, and what do you know. Some 20-odd years later he's still putting out a yearly mock draft and getting paid for it at the same time ... royally ... by ESPN.
It's a heartwarming story. Whether you love Kiper or you loathe him, chances are you can run faster and jump higher than the self-proclaimed draft demigod. But hey, he's the one putting food on the table by debating whether Ross Verba's limited lateral movement makes the offensive tackle a first round selection of the Packers or a Panthers fourth-round pick.
I believe his word, too. I chuckle at his story, but at the same time, I admire it, and I respect the undying passion he brings to the War Room each and every morning.
Basketball Recruiting Analysts
And you thought Kiper's saga put Ben Franklin to shame -- just wait till you get the scoop on some of these roundball recruiting gurus.
Let me be the first one to assure you that they did not play basketball, college or pro. It's likely they didn't coach it either. How do I know? What gives me the right to assume such things, to make such audacious judgments?
Well, let's just say that when you give them a jingle, a "coaches office" salutation rarely greets you. Instead, there's a good chance you hear a "correctional facilities" tag or if you're especially lucky, a "certified public accountant" reference.
America -- you've been had. These guys know little more about basketball than Bobby Cremins, and even Ed Cota shoots the jump shot better than them, but they have newsletters and publications inundated with nothing but their recruiting genius circulating all over the globe.
More power to them. If they can detail the trials and tribulations of a ballyhooed 17-year-old basketballer torn apart by his college decision and get paid for it at the same time, then my hat goes off to them.
And as if you need another example to crystallize the fact that you don't have to be an athletic wunderkind to be in athletics, take me for instance.
I never played football. I played two years of high school basketball, and just last month, I touched the net for the first time. I hit .225 as a second baseman for the Chamber Baseball League Cubs. And I'm writing about sports and talking about them on the radio every day of my life. I couldn't be happier. Life couldn't be better.
Sorry Latrell Sprewell, but you're not the American Dream (especially with those grotesque dreads), no matter what you may preach to us on television. Mel Kiper is. Bob Gibbons is. I am.