ESPN Commentary: In our opinion

Periodically we post short opinions about the topics of the day. They are collected here when they come off the ESPN Commentary index.

Nov. 18: Book smarts

LeBron James

The mystery at the core of sports lies in the lives of its fans. What stokes all that unrequited fire and devotion and wanting? In a world rotten with mercenaries, free agents and betrayal, whom do we trust? Who rewards our purity? Our passion? Who reciprocates our madness? What price do we pay for loyalty or honor? For inspiration? For services rendered? How much cash should we leave on the nightstand?

No matter what you've heard or read, these are the questions at the broken heart of Scott Raab's memoir and confessional, "The Whore of Akron."

Mr. Raab, a senior writer from Esquire and a Clevelander to his chromosomes, takes up that city's sad abandonment by one LeBron James. The book is both poem and polemic, a lyrical inventory of rage and appetite and loss.

The book is easily misunderstood. It is not for the prim, the delicate or the weak-livered. Because the book is honest. The book is strong drink. Because profane explains sacred, the book is a punch in the nose.

Because the book is a book about love.

-- Jeff MacGregor

Nov. 15: NBA labor strife


Too many marquee sports authorities misunderstand the difference between a lockout and a strike.

How many NBA owners earn their primary living from the operation of these basketball teams? One? Two? None? Understand then that ownership is a hobby -- or a tax write-down -- for almost every one of them.

The incredibly hard line taken on behalf of these owners by the league has been an effort to reconcile mistakes of their own making. Their punitive, ever-diminishing offers were meant as a bad-faith remedy to their own impulse-control failures, and to make the players pay the cost of the lockout.

The owners want to break the players' union. Simple.

The owners are spoiled children. Having overspent on their action figures, they want a do-over. Being made to open their books in a court of law will likely prove that point.

-- Jeff MacGregor

Oct. 28: Road games


How much sense does a West Virginia move to the Big 12 Conference make? Our answer can be found in the driving distances (via Google Maps because the Mountaineers' own directions were incomplete) from Morgantown, W.V., to each of their new Big 12 "rivals." Missouri didn't make the list on the assumption the Tigers are headed elsewhere.

To Ames, Iowa: 871 miles
To Lawrence, Kan.: 900 miles
To Manhattan, Kan.: 981 miles
To Stillwater, Okla.: 1,091 miles
To Norman, Okla.: 1,140 miles
To Fort Worth, Texas: 1,240 miles
To Waco, Texas: 1,300 miles
To Austin, Texas: 1,400 miles
To Lubbock, Texas: 1,472 miles

Pack some snacks, a sleeping bag and plenty of gas money.

-- Matthew Friedrichs

Aug. 2: After a fashion

Alexander McQueen

This is everything you need to know about fashion or football. The sporting dog days are here, so rush to New York City this week to see the last few hours of the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met.

A crowd-pleasing record-breaker, the show is a sizzling antidote to your summer doldrums and an electrifying inventory of actual genius. McQueen himself is lost to us, but the sensation he ignites blazes bright as ever. Thus the museum stays open 'til midnight this Saturday and Sunday to accommodate the avid. There are few things left in the world worth a wait. This is one of them.

Then hop the 7 train out to Queens, where the Mets are home this weekend against the Braves. The Yankees are out of town. And remember please, it's only a game.

-- Jeff MacGregor

June 7: Giving back


With a swipe of the eraser, the BCS has removed the 2004 USC national title from its record book. The Trojans are giving back the crystal football and trophy that they held aloft so proudly after the game. The penalty for cheating is clear, if slow to develop.

But we still have questions.

USC made about $3 million from the BCS in its back-to-back title-game appearances in the 2004 and 2005 seasons, its share of the roughly $30 million that went to the Pac-10. Should the rules change to require an offending school to pay back its portion, or -- better yet -- to require the offending school's conference to reimburse the whole amount? A little peer pressure to toe the line, in other words?

'Cause so far, nothing else seems to be working.

And what of the Associated Press title? Do its voters live in a different universe? Are they sanctioning cheating or saying they can do nothing to stop it, even after the fact?

As it stands, the Heisman committee has sanctioned Reggie Bush. The NCAA and BCS have sanctioned USC. The AP title will live on in the Trojans' media guide and on the recruiting trail.

At least the fans will always have the highlights of a game that, according to some of the revised books, didn't happen.

-- Matthew Friedrichs

June 1: The old college try


is all you need to know about corruption in college football. Even in 1932, boosterism, cash and the fiction of amateurism were laughable cliches. They remain so, and "Horse Feathers" remains America's most pointed commentary on the matter.

So it's hard to judge which reaction to Jim Tressel's graceful exit from the Ohio State football program
is harder to swallow: the handwringing of the schoolmarm elite who claim they never saw it coming, or the glib hipster cynicism of those who pretend they never believed in anything to begin with.

In fact, the very word "corruption" implies the infection and ruination of a pure and healthy body. As Marxism teaches, that hasn't been true of college football for a very long time.

-- Jeff MacGregor

May 23: Lockout rhetoric


Ray Lewis is right. Without the NFL, I'd long ago have tunnelled through bedrock with my bare hands, learned to program computers and disarm security alarms and pulled the heist of the century.

Or maybe I should just file his remarks with those made by so many high school debaters, whose language and documentation can be as esoteric and voluminous as an NFL coach's playbook. In that kind of brinkmanship rhetoric, the next logical disadvantage of the lockout will be global nuclear war.

Novelist Gary Shteyngart has written a book whose title is fully descriptive of where these labor negotiations stand: "Absurdistan."

If there is no football in the fall, I'll have plenty of time to read it. After I steal it.

-- Matthew Friedrichs

April 29: NFL draft


Words of caution for those of you who woke up with draft euphoria today: That QB may never win a playoff game. That linebacker might not be fast enough to cover the middle. That receiver might hold out until midseason. Heck, he might not even have games in which to play.

And yet, amid the many gloomy (and billable) hours of this labor mess, at least we have actual football moves to discuss this weekend.

So on second thought, ignore the dour warnings. Go ahead and fantasize about that rookie lineman's first sack. Imagine a game-winning punt return. Think about how many games these youngsters will improve your team.

Hey, NFL: Nice to have you back. Stick around, OK?

-- Matthew Friedrichs

April 24: Spring


You need to get out of the house. You need to turn off the television. The game doesn't start for hours. Find a cherry tree or a magnolia or a lilac coming into flower somewhere in the park and walk to it and stand in such a way that the branches reach down to brush your hair. Turn west, look up, face the sun. See the buds and blossoms pink and white and perfect and how they move in the breeze. Breathe. Feel the sun on your face. Feel spring and the return of life. Think of how brief and beautiful a thing this is, and how impermanent. Breathe. Think of what you've lost. Think of what you've won. Breathe. Game begins at 7:05.

-- Jeff MacGregor

April 20: NFL schedule


This should be Christmas morning. Cowboys fans should be online, searching for flights to New York on the second weekend in September. Giants fans should be asking their bosses for time off to visit Bourbon Street at the end of November. Raiders fans should be planning an early-November party to fete their return to greatness or to burn Al Davis in effigy. Again.

The release of the NFL schedule should be that kind of present. Instead, we're kids with a gift card and no place to use it. The doors to the mall are bolted tight.

In a normal year, the NFL draft and schedule release mark the first dawning rays of a new season. They're opportunities to fantasize about Sundays with family and friends, to imagine young players bursting onto the stage with dazzling skills that bring hope of a season to celebrate with a title.

But not now. This year, those offseason fantasies may have no outlet. Dread blunts our anticipation. The NFL lockout casts a pall over our offseason gaiety.

-- Matthew Friedrichs