CHICAGO — If you’re having difficulty summoning sufficient outrage over Jimmy Graham’s contract or baseball potentially returning with seven-inning games for doubleheaders, I feel your pain.
During normal times, say, a month ago, I’d be totally on board with those arguing the Bears paid the veteran tight end way too much and that a seven-inning major league game is too ridiculous to contemplate.
But these obviously aren’t normal times, and with so many real-life issues to deal with during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard to muster up the kind of outrage necessary to be a regular sports fan, much less a sports columnist.
I applaud those who still can do so, such as my favorite sports shouter, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. While I’ve had to watch “First Take” on mute during Illinois’ stay-at-home order to avoid scaring my neighbors, Smith’s faux anger over seemingly trivial matters in the sports world still comes through loud and clear in the closed-captioning.
On Thursday he and the gang were arguing about whether Tom Brady still can throw a long pass. Usually I’m all in on any Brady argument, even one that inane.
But lately I’ve been forced to reserve my outrage for more important things, such as when the guy behind me at the Jewel checkout counter reached across the partition to move my package of sliced turkey 5 inches so he could begin cramming more of his groceries onto the conveyor belt.
I momentarily wanted to emulate Francis, the character in the Bill Murray comedy “Stripes” who uttered a memorable soliloquy on respecting his personal space that included the classic line: “I don’t like nobody touching my stuff.”
But because these are sensitive times, I didn’t say anything to the oblivious shopper. I simply chucked the package of sliced turkey in the garbage when I got home, then washed my hands for a half hour or so.
Getting outraged at sports-related matters is one of the main reasons people love watching sports. It’s why sports talk radio is so popular and why frequently indignant TV personalities such as Smith and former Tribune colleague Skip Bayless are so well-compensated.
But with the NBA, MLB and NHL seasons on hold, the pickings suddenly are slim. Other than NFL free-agency moves, there’s nothing much to get indignant about.
Can you really be that upset, for example, about a reported agreement between MLB and the players union that freezes the 2019 allotments for draft-pick bonuses?
Agent Scott Boras can. According to a tweet from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, Boras said it was “unconscionable in this climate to change negotiated CBA provisions and reduce the agreed-upon bonus schedule due players. Owners used the circumstance of the pandemic to revise terms of the ‘20 and ‘21 agreement.”
Perhaps it is unconscionable. But with 3.3 million people filing for unemployment this week, a 3.5% hit for a bunch of future millionaires just doesn’t make me bristle as much as it does Boras, who stands to lose some money if his potential clients are paid less.
Maybe you’re like me and think a seven-inning game, which apparently is being considered, would be a stain on the sport that could never be removed. At this point, however, I don’t really care enough to rage against the machine.
Maybe in July? Maybe never? Who knows?
Meanwhile, the easiest punching bag in sports, the Houston Astros, inadvertently might have benefited from the postponement of the baseball season. Fans’ anger over the sign-stealing scandal dominated the headlines early in spring training, but that was before the pandemic took center stage. Assuming the season will be played, will opposing fans be a bit “nicer” when the Astros come to town?
“Maybe, but I don’t think so,” manager Dusty Baker told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman. “There are some people that haven’t vented their true feelings and emotions yet.”
Baker said he still anticipates fans venting at the Astros in every city they go to until July or August, if it begins by then.
“And it might not be over then because there are some people that (feel) the need to voice their opinions out loud,” he said. “You’ve just got to put your big-boy pants on and you’ve got to take it. … This is something you almost have to take for a little while, and I hope the guys’ skins are thick.”
Having a thick skin obviously is a prerequisite of every athlete, manager, coach or executive, because hearing critiques about their performance is an occupational hazard, especially in this era of social media, when everyone with an internet connection is an instant expert.
That’s why I feel sorry for Graham, whose two-year, $16 million deal with a no-trade clause likely would be a minor annoyance for Bears fans if there were more things in the sports world to be outraged about.
It’s not Graham’s fault the Bears treated a 33-year-old tight end like a prime-time free agent, but he’s the one forced to defend the deal instead of general manager Ryan Pace, the guy who handed it out.
Hopefully when the rest of the sports world resumes, we’ll have plenty more things to be upset about, and the Graham signing will become a relatively minor matter until we see how he performs.
Until then, I’m going to reserve my real outrage for the small minority of people who forced Mayor Lori Lightfoot to shut down the lakefront by ignoring social-distancing rules — and the grocery-store shoppers who touch my stuff.
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