Angelo Cataldi: How long until the fans don’t really care

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants
After four years of playing football here, we still don’t know the real Mike Vick.







We don’t really care.

Take a long look at those words. They represent an arrogance that is infecting all of professional sports, an insane but growing belief that fans no longer hold the importance they once did.

That statement was made — in public, within earshot of dozens of reporters — at a symposium sponsored by the Rothman Institute in Center City last week. The speaker was Flyers president Peter Luukko, and he was talking about how frustrated fans have become over misinformation on player injuries.

At the time, Luukko was responding to complaints that the NHL identifies injuries only by “upper body” or “lower body,” presumably so that opponents cannot target a weakened knee or a sore shoulder. His implication was that protecting the health of the player had risen above the need to inform the public.

There are two problems with his logic. First, everyone knows the nature of an injury within hours anyway. Is it really any secret that Chris Pronger was suffering from a series of career-threatening concussions, not upper-body injuries? Or that Braydon Coburn sustained a separated left shoulder, or that Kimmo Timonen fractured his right foot? There are no secrets in sports, not in this digital age.

A far bigger issue is the attitude behind the remark. Luukko is a top executive in sports, and he openly admitted “we don’t really care” how the customers feel? At another point in the symposium, Luukko proudly announced that if a player is expected to miss eight weeks with an injury, “we’ll say 10.”

When did it become good business to lie to the fans? How stupid is it to charge $100 or more for a ticket and then publicly insult the person making that investment? If truth is not a priority, then why should fans pay attention to anything the Flyers say?

Peter Luukko is by no means a dumb man. He is regarded as one of the best arena builders in North America, a visionary who has made countless millions for Comcast-Spectacor. Unfortunately, he is also a product of his times, a symbol of a screw-you attitude that is smothering sports today.

As someone who has spoken to fans for 23 years at WIP radio, I can say with great conviction that the gulf between our teams and their fans has never been greater, and it is precisely because of statements like the one by Luukko. While the Flyers were sitting home, having failed to make the playoffs, their boss was boasting about spreading falsehoods to the fans.

Longtime Phillies executive Bill Giles once told me the biggest enemy of all sports teams is apathy. The games only matter when there are fans in the seats, or in the bars talking about last night’s game. How much longer will it be before fans fire Peter Luukko’s words right back at him? How long before his words become their credo?

We don’t really care.


Will the real Mike Vick please stand up?


Mike Vick has just finished an amazing week, even by his standards. He called his critics “ignorant,” helped publicize the Jersey shore recovery from Sandy and boasted that he’s still the fleetest-footed quarterback in the NFL. OK, I give up. Who is the real Mike Vick?

He has been the most intriguing sports figure in Philadelphia for four years, from the day he shocked the world by stepping out of prison and onto the Eagles. Vick has performed brilliantly, horribly, courageously, stupidly and with no discernible pattern of behavior.

His attack on people who criticize him for not reading defenses well is absurd. He admitted last year that he hadn’t really studied hard in the seasons preceding his imprisonment for dog abuse. As for holding the ball too long, well, is there a better explanation for 21 fumbles in the past two injury-riddled seasons?

Just when it appears that Vick has lapsed back into the anti-social style that led to all of his troubles in Atlanta, he redeems himself with another act of humanity. Not only did he donate $50,000 to the rebuilding effort at the shore, he has preached a reassuring message of second chances throughout the Sandy crisis.

If only he could send out an equally uplifting vibe for himself. Unfortunately, he cannot. His ego won’t allow it. Is Vick still the fastest quarterback in the NFL — as he so boldly proclaimed, without provocation, last Thursday? Here’s a better question: Does it matter?

Mike Vick still has a chance to be admired here and across the country, but first he’s going to have to decide who he is.



Galvis is Phillies future — and the future is now


When Chase Utley suffered his fourth significant injury in the past four seasons last week, this time there was hardly any reaction at all. What few fans have considered yet is that the oblique injury could be fatal — to Utley’s career in Philadelphia, that is.

Just follow the logic: His replacement, Freddy Galvis, is one of the most gifted infielders in Phillies history, a gazelle on either side of second base. He is also 10 years younger than Utley, who will be a free agent at the end of this season. If the Phillies continue to disappoint in the standings, wouldn’t it make sense to keep the kid in the lineup?

And if the idea of trading a hero like Utley is just too painful, what about saying goodbye to Jimmy Rollins and putting Galvis back at his natural position, shortstop?

Yeah, I know. Rollins is beloved, too. In fact, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. actually said last week that he’d be more inclined to buy than sell at the trade deadline.

What Amaro and the many fans with emotional attachments to the champions of 2008 need to understand is that the parade was five years ago, when Utley and Rollins and their gifted teammates were in their prime. They are old now, too old to pose a serious threat for another World Series run.

Freddy Galvis is the future of the Phils, not Utley and Rollins. And that’s why the amazing young infielder has a chance, right now, to begin our transition into a new era of hope and promise.


Idle thoughts from Cataldi


» The whispers are growing louder. Matt Barkley has a real chance to win the starting quarterback job on the Eagles, ahead of Mike Vick and Nick Foles. Barkley has never been a backup — not in high school, not at USC and maybe not here, either. Stay tuned.

» It was reported last week that Nick Foles’ time in the 40-yard dash was 5.14, which is well behind rookie right tackle Lane Johnson’s 4.7 and slightly ahead of an Arctic glacier. Is he too slow for a Chip Kelly offense? Stay tuned for that, too.

» New Sixers GM Sam Hinkie is conducting his coaching search in complete secrecy. Yeah, that should get some tickets moving. How long before the new owners realize that they need to stir up interest, not hide from it?

» Cole Hamels’ six-day media boycott is over. After his record dropped to 1-8 in Washington Sunday, he finally spoke. He said: “It’s baseball.” How did we survive for close to a week without thought-provoking insights like that?

» When it comes to chutzpah, no one can compete with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He said last week that the draft is moving to May next year because Radio City Music Hall is booked. The league has held its draft there for eight years, and now there’s a date conflict? The Rockettes are more powerful than the NFL? Yeah, sure.


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