Somewhere, Oliver Stone smiles. A perfect vehicle for his filmmaking
skills has suddenly been thrust upon him, and it won't even require dressing
Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon.
Namely, the end of our belief in the essential purity of sports.
Now it matters not whether or not Chan-Ho Park grooved one to Cal
Ripken, or if half the field at the Pepsi 400 conspired to put Dale Earnhardt Jr. across the line first, or if the NBA and/or its officials helped
push the Philadelphia 76ers past the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern
Conference finals and then helped push the Los Angeles Lakers past the
Put simply, we need a lot more proof than this to go where we are being
asked to go with this. But this isn't about us.
What is troubling, except to Ollie The Rock and his future in film, is
that people believe any or all of those things have happened.
In the matter of the Sixers and Lakers, the complaints were made first
by the Bucks and then by the Sixers, a claim fueled by the disappointment of
defeat. In the old days, this would have been dismissed as whining.
But the Earnhardt and Ripken matters take this to a new and presumably
disturbing level, not because they are necessarily true (suspicious
conjecture not having yet risen to level of truth, except on cable news
shows), but because they assume that competitors would be involved.
The problem is a simple one. If you believe that the fix was in for
Earnhardt and, to a much lesser extent, Ripken, you are going to find it a
lot harder to believe that other sports aren't fixed. After all, you can't be
sort of a virgin in something like this. You're either Chris Schenkel or
Arnold Rothstein, and there's no middle ground.
This takes us into dangerous ground, namely, letting semi-employed
whack-jobs with cellphones on radio chat shows drive the national agenda. Not
that everybody who calls a radio chat show is a semi-employed whack job, mind
you; it's just that semi-employed whack jobs tend to have to stay on hold
longer because there are so many more of them.
But if it seems plausible to you that sporting events might have been
torqued to reach a preordained result, you can either be very, very
frightened, or you can proclaim Vince McMahon a genius.
That's even scarier than taking your cues from the radio audience.
And what about the damage to be done to the gambling industry. If some
events can be fixed, why not others? And if others can be fixed, which ones
are honest? And if you can't tell which ones are honest, why are you putting
your daughter's orthodontia bill on Bengals-Chargers?
If enough people pull out of the gambling biz, doesn't Las Vegas dry up
and blow away? And if Las Vegas dries up and blows away, what happens to
Never mind that. If you can't trust sports, what happens to ESPN? And if
ESPN can't survive, what's the point of having Connecticut at all?
Now you see how this would interest Oliver Stone.
We have already abandoned all hope in politicians, and in most cases
deservedly. We have surrendered our faith in the judicial system. We distrust
the free market, given that we have discovered that it is never actually
free. The only thing left was sports.
And now, some of us apparently no longer believe in that, either, for no
better reason than we just don't feel like believing in it any more.
God, this is getting bleak.
On the other hand, consider the obvious benefit to Stone. Marginalized
by a series of not-happening movies and his reluctance to work with talking
animals, clever animated ogres or Angelina Jolie waving a gun, he has been
handed his comeback vehicle.
He has been handed a screenplay that he doesn't have to pay for, the
possibility of big names galore, and all he needs to do is find a clever plot
twist and a studio exec willing to take a few laps around the Darkside Motor
And eventually, when we've outgrown our everything-is-fixed fixation,
we'll smile at the movie and what it suggests about sports and its army of
Not to mention the vision of Charles Durning as Mia Hamm. After all,
Stone has always taken chances with his casting decisions.
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to ESPN.com