ANGELO CATALDI: The Olympics are full of injustice

olympic ring failure
Four of five Olympic rings are seen lit up during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 7, 2014. Credit: REUTERS/Phil Noble

I hate the Olympics. Now, please understand my dislike for two-week sports extravaganza is not the kind of distaste that most male sports fans feel when confronted with a night of figure skating. No, my feeling is genuine, pure hatred.

The precise moment when I developed this rage remains vivid to me even now. It was 1988, and I was assigned by the Inquirer to cover the Seoul, South Korea, Summer Games. In chronicling the exploits of the U.S. boxing team through a grueling series of trials, I got to know boxer Anthony Hembrick, an inner-city Detroit native who saw boxing as an escape from abject poverty.

The day he had dreamt of for most of his life became a nightmare unlike any I have ever encountered in four generations of covering sports. Hembrick never got to fight in South Korea because one of his coaches screwed up the bus schedule. By the time Hembrick had arrived at the arena, 12 minutes late, for his first Olympic match, his South Korean opponent had been declared the winner by forfeit.

An appeal brought no justice for Hembrick, with the Communist countries banding together to shaft America. The fact that Hembrick was an innocent victim meant nothing to these heartless bureaucrats. Eventually, Hembrick became a successful pro boxer, but he never got over his Olympic experience – and neither did I.

If you believe this is an isolated case of Olympic injustice, then you have not been paying attention. The 1972 basketball final between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was the single most corrupt finish in sports history. The assault on U.S. figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 was another blight, as was the Zola Budd-Mary Decker debacle in 1984. There are literally hundreds of other examples.

In fact, no sports tradition has ever featured more injustice than the Olympics, which continues to be packaged as a sweet television spectacle. What the coverage won’t show you is what I saw in 1988: women’s coach Bela Karoli verbally abusing teenage gymnasts every day, every minute; Roy Jones Jr. losing a gold medal by decision after demolishing his opponent; and so many others steamrolled by the Olympic machine.

The TV ratings for the Sochi Olympics will be spectacular because Americans love a heroic sports story, and NBC knows how to strum the heartstrings. But count me out.

Whenever I see the medal ceremony, I think about Anthony Hembrick and the look of utter devastation on his face that day in South Korea. To me, this bogus sports event will always be about him, and about all the other young athletes who lost their dreams at the Olympics.

Vegas is kinder than Phillies own fans

An extraordinary thing has happened in the final days before the Phillies report to spring training later this week in Clearwater. For the first time in recorded history, Las Vegas has more optimism for our baseball team than its own fans. The Vegas sports books believe the Phils will win at least 83 games. Most fans are in the 70s, at best.

How is this possible? How can a fan base that set attendance records two seasons ago bail so quickly on a team with many of the same names – Rollins, Utley, Howard, Hamels, Ruiz – that represented the most successful era in team history? Are the customers spoiled?

No, they’re not spoiled. The source of their pessimism is simple to pinpoint, but difficult to correct. They believe the team is doomed as long as Ruben Amaro Jr. is GM of the team. Many are amazed that an executive who took over a championship club six years ago and turned it into a 73-89 disaster five seasons later still has a job.

There is no reason to believe in Ruben Amaro, so there is no reason to believe in the team. At least that is the fan mindset as the familiar names gather together for what promises to be a somber last hurrah. The new guys – basically, Marlon Byrd and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez – inspire only more longing for off-seasons that brought more talent, more optimism. The other guys are too old.

Las Vegas looks at the roster of talent and says, hey, anything can happen. Eight-three wins can become 85, maybe even 90 with a smattering of good luck and good health. The fans know better. They know you have to reach bottom before you start back up. And the season that awaits us – at least in many eyes – promises only the dark before the dawn.

Michael Vick is no NFL starter

First, Michael Vick lost his job, and now he’s losing his mind. What other logical explanation can there be for the insane demand the Eagles quarterback is making as he embarks on another round of free agency? Vick wants the starting position handed to him.

That’s right. During his round of interviews leading up to the Super Bowl, Vick had one clear message for all potential suitors. He doesn’t think he should have to compete for a starting job, even though he’s 34 now and hasn’t had a healthy season in four years. His argument is that he presents such a unique skill set, he really only fits as a starter.

Vick has had an inflated view of his value in the NFL for a long time now. Yes, he still has a terrific arm and excellent – though declining – mobility, but his baggage is even bigger than his talent. He is a turnover machine, he gets hurt all the time, and do we even have to bring up prison and the dogs and his crazy brother Marcus?

During his errant pitch for a new job, Vick even had the audacity to suggest that he should not have had to compete for No. 1 status on the Eagles in 2013. He said battling with Nick Foles held back his preparation for the season. Has he already forgotten that amazing first half of the season opener in Washington, probably the best 30 minutes of football in his career?

Michael Vick still has something to offer an NFL team, but first he has to deal with the reality of the situation. It is 2014, not 2004, and he is entering the twilight of an increasingly puzzling career.

Idle thoughts

  • If the rumors are true, Comcast is about to make a colossal mistake in the Phillies TV broadcast booth, choosing Jamie Moyer over Mitch Williams. Moyer is classy and intelligent, which is another way of saying he’s boring. Williams is interesting and entertaining. Williams will cost more? Comcast just paid $2.5 billion for the TV rights. Pay the man.
  • Ed Snider freaked out last week when Flyers captain Claude Giroux was snubbed again by Team Canada. What the chairman is really steamed about is the fact that the long Olympic layoff arrived when the Flyers were playing their best hockey of the season.
  • The best news in the new TV deal for NFL Thursday night games on CBS is that Mike Mayock is out as a color analyst. Phil Simms will do double duty on Thursdays and Sundays, and Mayock will take his condescending coach-speak style back into the college booth, where it belongs.
  • Sixers coach Brett Brown is the only person in Philadelphia tortured by the awful play of his overmatched club. Whether he realizes it or not, fans are actively rooting against their own team, to ensure a high draft pick. Brown truly has a mulligan this year.
  • Eagles president Don Smolenski actually said last week that fans have been asking for a chance to buy personal seat licenses to go with their season tickets at Lincoln Financial Field. The team complied by added 1,600 more seats, and 700 new PSLs. Fans want to pay extra to go to games? Go figure.

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