Monday, August 20, 2007


I had an interesting give and take with famous Washington Post columnist and ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon today during one of his semi-weekly chats on I don't often write in questions when I read chats, but I did this time. Mr. Wilbon's response to the following question caused me to write.

San Jose: More on the various scandals. It's worth pointing out that many of these guys who are (allegedly) disgracing the sports we love have been also-rans in the battle for championships. Vick? Zero. Bonds? Zero. Tank Johnson? Zero. Pacman Jones? Zero. And of course Zidane cost his team a championship when he lost it on the field in Berlin.

If the point is to field a competitive team and win a title, acting like a responsible adult does seem to really help. (Except of course the Italian national team...)

Michael Wilbon: I SOOOOOOO agree with you. Rarely if ever do fools help you win championships. This is one of my favorite themes in sports.

This, in my opinion, is patently wrong. Sports is about who is the best on the field, not about who is and isn't a fool. There will always be exceptions to statements like that, but because there are so many sports and so many championships (and so many fools) the point could be argued infinitely.

In any case, I decided to write to Mr. Wilbon and contest the point. My email and his response follow:

Philadelphia: Fools help win championships all the time. There are numerous examples from all team sports. Rodman in basketball, Sheffield and Schilling in baseball. You can go far back too, with Namath and McEnroe, who are not considered "fools" now, but were at the time.

Your comment about fools not winning championships ignores the central theme in team sports that so many fans (and sportswriters) love to forget, and that is that teams win championships, individual players do not.

An perfect example of this is Alex Rodriguez, who despite being inarguably the best hitter in baseball over the past four years has failed to win a championship. Writers and fans are so fond of painting this as some sort of personal failing, when in fact it clearly isn't.

Michael Wilbon: You're definition of "fool" and mine are different. Schilling and Sheffield may say crazy things you don't like in interviews but they're not fools in or around the field of play. There's NOTHING in evidence that can support your statement. They play hard all the time. Both could wind up in the Hall of Fame. Now, if you're simply a conservative personality who wants everybody to be crew cut, that's your agenda, but it doesn't mean anybody who doesn't fit your views is a fool. McEnroe had an out-of-control temper, but was brilliant as a player. A-Rod is a fool? Your agenda scares me.

A couple things about this. First, its likely I didn't word my email very well. But, in my defense, I had little time to write in as the chat was ending and I wanted Mr. Wilbon to read my comment.

That out of the way, I submitted a reply but by that time the chat was just about over and Mr. Wilbon did not answer me. So, I emailed my response to him. The email I sent to him follows:

Hello Mr. Wilbon,

I am the person who emailed you regarding your comment on "fools winning championships" which you posted and responded to in your on-line chat on Monday, August 20th. I realize that space considerations do not permit an on-going discussion within the chat format, so I thought I would email you. I understand you are a busy man, and as such I do not expect an answer, though one would be quite welcome.

In your response to my statement, you said our definitions of fool may be different, and I have no problem believing that that is true. However, your characterization of my statement about A-Rod was incorrect. I never said A-Rod was a fool, and a re-reading of my statement will show that to be true.

Simply, I cited him because he isn’t a fool, and is frequently mis-characterized as a loser in the media despite his prodigious talents. I have no agenda here besides pointing out that ascribing certain character traits to winners of championships in sports is always a foolhardy exercise. Fools of any definition win championships, and alternately, the good guys sometimes don't.

As for bringing up Sheffield and Schilling, yes, again, our definitions of fools may be different. However, I brought up Sheffield because he has admitted to making errors on the field during a game in order to get traded. Schilling, regardless of your political view, is constantly putting his foot in his mouth (and now may be sued by Barry Bonds for libel) and this is certainly detrimental to his team.

Further, the fact that someone is in the Hall of Fame hardly invalidates them as a fool. Racists and wife-beaters help make up the population of the baseball Hall of Fame, and though their behavior may have been acceptable at the time, we can look back now with clarity and see how wrong they were.

I appreciate you taking the time to chat, and I further appreciate you responding to my question/statement. Keep up the good work.

If Mr. Wilbon sees fit to respond I will post his response here.

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