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Insights: Sports

As the number of injured professional athletes rises, compensation is finally catching up
George Vecsey
From the Print Edition:
Raquel Welch, Jul/Aug 01

(continued from page 1)

You don't even have to follow golf to marvel at Woods. I acknowledge golf as a sport demanding skill and stamina, but I don't have the time or money to commit to what could obviously become an obsession. And I say Tiger Woods is a tremendous athlete.

People were not that kind to Henry Aaron, an absolutely superb ballplayer who approached Babe Ruth's record for home runs only to discover sacks of hate mail piling up in his locker. Aaron's big sin, back in 1974, was being African-American, but he was also guilty of challenging the great Bambino. To this day, I bet more baseball fans could recite Ruth's career total (714) than Aaron's (755). That's just the way it is.

Aaron is not alone. Pete Sampras felt a huge segment of tennis fans tugging on his backswing when he broke Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slam titles last year at Wimbledon.

Maybe it was the way Pete trudged around with his shoulders hunched and his eyes averted and his mouth hanging open, almost sheepish in appearance, but the general public harbored enough ambiguity about him to set up a support group for Good Old Emmo, who was not even in the top three Aussies of his era.

Somehow, Woods is different. He's not even that warm or accessible, but rather a motivated and remote one-man multinational corporation. He has done nothing major to tick off the public, which has the good sense to appreciate his domination.

I have to admit it wasn't that way for me back in 1998, when I had absolutely no problem rooting for Roger Maris and Babe Ruth to hang in there.

It was nothing personal. Mark McGwire is a trifle testy, but he carried himself well under intense pressure. I was essentially numb to the fact that McGwire was bulked up with androstenedione, a chemical deemed illegal by most sports except Major League Baseball. If he grows two heads by the time he is 50, that is his business. Sammy Sosa was a prince, but it would not have bothered me in the slightest if he and McGwire had gone 0-for-September.

The reason was that, as a young reporter, I had covered Roger Maris during the 1961 season. Maris was a really good player -- an instinctive athlete with a great arm, deceptive speed on the bases, and the perfect stroke for Yankee Stadium, and for most of that season he showed a twitchy gallows humor about most baseball fans rooting for Mickey Mantle as well as the Babe.

Knowing all that, Maris went out on the last Sunday of the
season and stroked one more home run, his 61st. He beat the mob. Thirty-seven years later, I had no problem rooting for him as McGwire swatted 70 homers and Sosa hit 66. And good for them.

Race was not an issue between McGwire, who is white, and Sosa, a Dominican of color, and race is virtually a nonissue for Woods, who has a Thai mother and an African-American father.


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