MIAMI -- I have some writing blind spots.
For example, I have a "What's the big deal?" attitude about most of the outrage surrounding our games. Manny Ramirez and Ochocinco and Ron Artest are always sources of joyful comedy for me, not indignation. This gets me called an apologist or a contrarian because I tend to laugh at behavior that upsets many of you, and it undermines my credibility because I too often sound like I'm defending the indefensible.
I rationalize it away by saying that I try not to judge people. But, although this is probably a decent quality in general, it isn't a great one for an opinion columnist or, you know, a judge. So, in explaining bad behavior, I too often sound like I'm excusing it. Wrong? Not wrong? I rarely care about judging that. We can all agree Tiger Woods cheating on his wife with three-eighths of North America isn't any kind of right. I'm more interested in the conversation that comes after the consensus because, as Pulitzer-Prize-winning American intellectual Walter Lippman once said, "When everyone is thinking the same thing, nobody is thinking."
(I didn't know who said that. I didn't know Lippman won a Pulitzer Prize, either. And I thought he was British. But that's why Google's inventors are billionaires. Remember when we had to go to the library or encyclopedias for this stuff? Whoa, that sounded old. Let me Google some Kid Cudi lyrics. . . . Embrace the martian, embrace the martian. I come in peace, but I need ya'll rockin' wit me.)
So, anyway, let's start there with Gilbert Arenas -- by me apologizing for what might sound too much like an apology for Arenas when all I'm really doing is wishing Arenas worked in an environment that didn't force insincere apologies from people who clearly aren't apologetic.
Arenas was wrong, period. You can't defend the dumb and dangerous. Bringing guns into any workplace, never mind an emotional one, is certainly that. I can tell you that good guy Greg Anthony admitted to The New York Times in 2003 that he used to bring a pistol into the Knicks' locker room. I can tell you that since the in-home muggings of Antoine Walker and Eddy Curry, basketball players are more armed and alarmed than ever -- so scared that Antawn Jamison usually circles his neighborhood two or three times when returning from anywhere just to make sure no one is following him. And I can tell you the locker room is more like the gym or the country club than the sales guy's cubicle. But, again, there shouldn't ever be a gun there, never mind four.
(Although, you have to admit, it is pretty amusing that one of them was like the gold-plated one favored by Austin Powers. You can't make up the things that happen in sports.)
I'm just more interested in how this mess has gotten Arenas a stiffer penalty and vastly more backlash than former New York Jet Damien Robinson received a few days after the terrorist attacks of Sept.11,2001, when he drove to the stadium with a semiautomatic weapon and 200 rounds of ammo in his trunk.
Arenas, far as I can tell, was suspended for being funny.
Real guns at work? Those didn't get him punished, believe it or not. Making imaginary guns with his fingers at work? That will go down as one of the most expensive jokes in sports history.
I laughed out loud when I saw the incriminating photograph: Arenas, knees bent, head thrown back, joy on his face at the center of a crisis, making index-finger pistols while surrounded by smiling teammates during a pregame huddle. I hadn't laughed that hard at a silly sports moment since Terrell Owens pulled a Sharpie out of his sock in the fourth quarter of a violent game, but that wasn't received the way I thought it would be, either.
I'm always amazed when I think I'm at the circus, and people remind me that I'm at church. I thought what Arenas did was a playful and creative shot at his critics, but I'll never understand why we do this with the playpen, asking athletes to raise our children and teach life lessons with their behavior. It's like going to the party and asking marital advice of the clown making a horse out of balloons.
But we'll get the contrition out of you in this environment, whether you are contrite or not. Arenas isn't sorry for his actions; he's sorry for our reaction to his actions. Or, more specifically, for David Stern's.
And here is where another one of my blind spots comes into play. I love anarchists and hate dictators. It has always bothered me that fans wouldn't want to work for the kind of bully boss they seem to prefer in charge of their favorite players. I want more professional wrestling with my sports, not less. Arenas has been one of the most colorful cartoons in sports. But that kind of personality keeps getting scrubbed clean by old people with different sensibilities who make all the rules.
That's how you get a dress code that fines a player $10,000 for wearing a T-shirt and jacket while Stan Van Gundy has been wearing that for years without repercussions. And it is how, during a Purdue football game this year, we arrived in the sad but amusing place where a Purdue running back was flagged for hugging the joyous Boilermakers mascot in the end zone, the mascot's long but happy face never able to change even as he realized he had just cost his team 15 yards.
Stern was going to wait for due process until the Wizards got together in a huddle and almost literally laughed in his face. Oh, to have a picture of that moment, Stern seeing that photo for the first time, emotion raging inside him as he applied his 67-year-old sensibilities to seeing a bunch of his laughing servants urinating on his kingdom.
THIS IS LEADERSHIP?
Stern will be applauded, of course. The tyrant teaching these damn young millionaire punks a lesson always gets that. But it isn't real leadership. Leaders prevent embarrassment; wardens punish it.
As an aside, the original report that started all this mess doesn't appear to be true. Does that matter at all? The New York Post reported that Arenas and a teammate pulled guns on each other. None of the subsequent details support that. So what you have now is Arenas losing his paycheck and perhaps his contract because he mocked a story that wasn't true. This while Wizards management conveniently shuffles away from him with its arbitrary morality. Washington stinks, and management gave him a bad $111 million contract. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant would get better from their own bosses.
But, hey, that's where we are.
Laugh at your own peril at cartoons and mascots and jokes.
The cathedral isn't a place for fun and games.