By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) No Tebow, no Paterno, no “Linsanity.”
So fewer migraines for the critical thinkers among us, then. No ulcers, no fruitless jousts, no exasperation with the mush-headed bible-bangers, blind college cultists and ESPN-hypnotized masses. Easier breathing for the good guys, these days. Appreciate it while it lasts.
Just a year ago, rationalism in the sports world was under siege, buffeted by waves of craziness on multiple fronts. In the current, relative calm, it’s easy to forget what that was like.
Tim Tebow was a football demigod, wildcatting the Broncos to improbable victories and separating people from their senses. A combination of luck, novelty, and willing gullibility created something ridiculous that took all this time to finally subside. His acceleration to fame spun the hype engines to untested speeds, co-opting a national sports network in the process. It never mattered that he was bad, and any of us trying to point that out were faint voices within the roaring storm of incoherence.
Nothing humanizes the divine like backing up Mark Sanchez. Now it truly doesn’t matter that Tebow is bad. Or, as his famously anonymous Jets teammate said, “terrible.”
As he was dumbing down the discussion last year, the Penn State child-rape scandal was unfolding, becoming the worst story in the history of sports, rivaled only by the murders at the 1972 Munich Olympics. With every revelation of the size and depth of Jerry Sandusky’s decades of crimes, football loyalists found reason to lash out venomously at outsiders aghast at what Joe Paterno and others helped happen.
It was more senselessness, but not in the way of the thin, spiritual treacle and frothy, cartoonish mythos that marked the mania over Tebow. This was darker and deeper-set, as the generational thrall of a man and a program overrode what should be human instincts to protect children. Responses from Penn State fans were ugly. Exchanges were frightening. Where those caught up in the concurrent Tebow silliness could be dismissed as harmless saps, many of the Paterno defenders were quick with death threats, both veiled and specific.
That, too, has settled. Paterno is dead, buried and shamed. His statue is gone. School officials face trial. A recent story in the New York Times noted this, under the headline “Once Ubiquitous on Campus, ‘Paterno’ Is No Longer Uttered.”
Some last dregs of unfortunate, bizarre thinking remain – symbolized by poor Franco Harris wandering the wilderness with his cardboard cutout – and the story smolders on, but a time has reduced a blaze to embers.
Soon to begin a year ago, too, was the legend of Jeremy Lin, the seemingly ordinary point guard turned heroic megastar. With his mix of Asian heritage, undrafted-from-Harvard background, and marketable religiosity, he was ready for his moment. Claimed off waivers and thrust into action due to injury, he took advantage of Mike D’Antoni’s wide open Knicks offense to score in bunches and create the next sports stock-bubble.
Remember that combination: luck, novelty, willing gullibility. As with Tebow, anybody noting that Lin could not use his left hand was ignored. So were those who warned that Lin had not yet been scouted, and those seeing that his 45 turnovers in his first seven career starts were an NBA record, and might be too many.
Lin is now in Houston. The Knicks realized Carmelo Anthony was on their team, after somebody apparently told them. Lin is shooting 37% from the field and 26% from the 3-point line.
The dumb days, there as well, are over.
One thread through these phenomena, it should be said, has been Skip Bayless, the oily tail that wags the dog of ESPN’s purported news operation. From his morning pulpit of scripted argument he chooses hard positions of irrationality, reinforcing the fallacy that there are two equally valid sides to every issue. Like a smarmy televangelist, he endorses the kind of slogan-ready, retail piousness exhibited by athletes that provides the oxygen to conflate stories beyond reason. Middlebrow America cannot get enough of that, so it will not stop.
Still, the lucid and balanced among us can relish how far removed the sports world seems to be from a winter-long spasm of foolishness, resigned to the fact that there is always more just on the horizon.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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