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Fair Play and Foul Times

Now is far too early to be writing about the upcoming Democratic party primary race, although we’re tempted to by a newly released Quinnipiac poll that shows many of the contenders currently well ahead of President Donald Trump in key states. Trump was waving around of piece of paper that he contended was a secret agreement he’d reached with Mexico, which reminded us of Sen. Joe McCarthy waving a piece of paper he contended was a list of all the communists working in the State Department, but better to let that play out before writing about it.
There was plenty of other news afoot, as usual, but two separate stories in the sports page caught our eye. Both had to do with sportsmanship, which is one of those old-fashioned values our conservative souls hate to see slipping away.
Although we’re too all-American to care much about soccer — or “football,” as the damned foreigners insist on calling it — we’ve been pleased to see that for some time now the American women’s team has been quite good. The American men’s team has achieved respectability, but the distaff national squad has been a dominant force, winning three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals and more than two dozen titles in other prestigious international tournaments. They started their defense of the World Cup championship on Tuesday beating Thailand by a score of 13 to 0, which prompted criticism in some quarters.
Soccer is such a low-scoring game that a three goal differential is considered a butt-kicking akin to the 60 to 6 scores that the big time college football teams routinely rack up in their early games against tune-up teams, so the record-setting 13 goal difference was considered an unsportsmanlike running up of the score intended to humiliate a clearly outmatched opponent. The team and its coach were unapologetic, however, and based on accounts of the game we figure they had nothing apologize for. Old-fashioned notions of gentlemanly and ladylike require that a team pull its starters once a game has been clearly won, even if it’s not yet halftime, which the American squad apparently did with a six goal lead or so. No coach can ask the substitutes to play less than their best during their time on the field in front of family and friends, however, and in this case the bench was also six or seven goals better than the Thai starters.
“To be respectful to opponents is to play hard against opponents,” U.S. Coach Jill Ellis said, which sounds about right to us. Ellis also noted that the team is playing for another world championship, adding that “I don’t find it my job to harness my players and rein them in.” Those substitutes will play some crucial minutes in the closer matches are sure to come, and Ellis is wise to keep them sharp. We do feel badly for those outmatched Thai players whose family and friends watched them endure a record-setting butt-kicking, and after our inept years on the playgrounds we can empathize, but our best advice is that they try to get better.
The other story came from the National Basketball Associations finals, where the powerhouse Golden State Warriors, the defending champions and winners of three of the last four playoffs, found themselves down by a seemingly insurmountable three games to one in the best of seven series against the underdog Toronto Raptors, who were in the finals for the first time in franchise history. One reason for the Warriors woes was that the supremely gifted small forward Kevin Durant, a recent most valuable player who was twice the the MVP of the finals, was on the bench with an injury. Durant either foolishly or courageously took to the court for the fifth game, depending on how you look at it, and although the Warriors won and are now down only three to two and have a chance of extending their dynasty he aggravated an achilles tendon in the efforts, and he wound be around for game six or a possible game seven and might even start next season on the bench.
As Durant was being carried off the court many of the Raptors fans loudly cheered the injury, and there’s no excuse for that. Canadians are typically very polite people, but the big sport up there is ice hockey, which doesn’t understand the concept of unnecessary roughness, so we weren’t entirely surprised. To their credit the American players who make up the Raptors’ roster chastised the cheering fans, and gave Durant respectful applause on his way to the hospital, and the team’s management also issued a “tweet” saying they don’t approve of anyone cheering a player’s injury. The Warriors had earlier apologized for one of its franchise owners who started a sideline fight with Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, and banned the fellow from the rest of the finals, so at least the league is taking an admirable stand on sportsmanship that shouldn’t be necessary.
Both stories are about mere games, but we think they illustrate a broader cultural decline that also infects our politics. On both sides of the political divide people want to run up the score, recognize no standards of unnecessary, and think it doesn’t matter how you play the game so long as you win. We hate to lose a game just as much as the next guy, but we’d hate even worse to lose the tradition of fair play by the fair rules.

— Bud Norman

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Those Thai Kids are Safe, and We Hold Out Hope for the Rest of Us

Tuesday’s news was full of the usual worrisome developments, but at least those dozen Thai boys and their soccer coach were at long last rescued from that awful cave they’ve been trapped in since June 23, which gave us a hopeful feeling about all the rest of it.
In case you’ve been trapped in a cave of your own for the past few weeks, the youth soccer team and its coach went on a routine spelunking adventure but found themselves trapped beneath a mountain when an unexpected torrential rain storm flooded all the exit routes. Nine days passed before a SCUBA-diving rescue crew could find them hungrily huddled in an improbable air pocket, a seeming miracle that was broadcast around the world by waterproof television cameras, but even then it seemed another 13miracles would be required for all of them to get out alive. More torrential rains made it difficult to bring food and oxygen to the unlikely survivors, a brave Thai naval frogman and former Buddhist monk died in the effort, and getting them all through the tunnels filled with muddy water and back to safety seemed impossible.
All of which made for compelling television around the world, even though the realists and fatalists among us figured all along that this hit reality show would end tragically for everyone involved. Four of the children were eventually rescued and rushed to hospitals by heroic methods a few days ago, though, and another four were treated to the same action-adventure movie heroics the next day, but it wasn’t until Tuesday that the rescuers beat the torrential rains and rescued the final four players and the 25-year-old coach who had bravely volunteered to be the last one out, and only then did such such realistic and fatalistic sorts as ourselves breath a sigh of a relief that miracles do indeed happen and that some times they even come in bunches of 14 or more.
The ingenious and heroic exploits of the rescuers make for a riveting based-on-a-true-story action adventure movie that will surely be coming soon to a theater near you, and there are all sorts of feel-good subplots to the story. Thailand’s dubious government came through for those poor kids and and their soccer coach, and an entire world offered its sympathy and help. Even President Donald Trump took time out from his “America First” agenda to “tweet” his sympathy and offer some American help that proved somewhat useful, but it was the brave and ingenious Thai and more nearby Australian and British divers who pulled off the miracle, and in a rare moment of global unity everyone everywhere celebrated the feat.
Despite our realistic and fatalistic sensibilities, it reaffirms our religious faith in miracles and bolsters our hope that the rest of the news might also turn out more or less well. Here’s hoping that all those Thai kids and their selfless soccer coach lead long and satisfactory lives, and that so do the rest of us.

— Bud Norman