Bumptious: Say it ain’t so, Joe.

As I wander into my third year writing this column, I pause before reflecting on the general theme of the past two years’ proselytizing about some alleged spiritual connection between the athletic endeavors of our idols and the psyche of the average American.

Perhaps it is the fact that my beloved Mariners are folding faster than the French in the face of any German entity; perhaps it is the fact that my childhood-favored University of Washington Huskies embarrassed my allegiance to them on national television a few weeks ago; or perhaps it is the fact that for all my long-winded denunciations of the New York Yankees, they continue to rack up pennants like Williams racks up No. 1 rankings.

Whatever is the catalyst, I’ve begun to question my aforementioned position on the place of sports in my life. I’m sure I can sum up my position with the following: If sports are to reflect the character of America, I’m going to Canada.

Let me use one aspect of professional or pseudo-professional athletics as an example: the coach. The coach is an institution allegedly based on the principles of honesty and integrity, whose duty is not only to win, but is also to uphold certain principles. These principles are displayed by made-for-movie coaches like Wilford Brimley in “The Natural,” Gene Hackman in “Hoosiers,” and Denzel Washington in “Remember the Titans.”

Yet in this past summer of discontent, it appears that the coach, as much as the corrupt owner, town or society, has evolved into a dishonest, disloyal and morally torpid monster. I need not even mention the late activities of Mike Shanahan in Denver, who lied on an injury report, claiming that his star quarterback had a concussion instead of a mere dislocated shoulder.

No, instead I can recount the activities of the coach of my beloved Dawgs, Rick Neuheisel, the former coach of the University of Washington football team. It seems that “Slick Rick” has been engaged in an elaborate but “harmless” betting scheme during the NCAA Basketball Tournament for a few years. When it became public that the NCAA had made allegations to this effect, Rick denied it vehemently.

When it became clear that he had been an active member of a four-person team that not only bet $5,000 on the tournament, but managed to win $20,000 Neuheisel was apologetic, and claimed that he was only acting in accordance with a memo circulated by the NCAA compliance officer at the University. In the end, Slick Rick was terminated by the University for lying to the school and to the NCAA about his involvement in the activities and Neuheisel claimed that he had never lied.

However, towards the end of the summer, tapes of the interviews with the NCAA emerged in the city of Seattle. In his interviews, Neuheisel first claimed he had no knowledge of any betting, then claimed that he had only observed the betting, but had never placed any bets, and finally, that he had been confused by the first few questions, and that in light of his new interpretations of, “Did you place a bet on any team?” he had no choice but to respond in the affirmative.

So here was Rick Neuheisel, the golden boy of the Washington Huskies, allegedly the vehicle of the Dawgs’ reemergence as a football powerhouse, walking into the sunset with his tattered dignity hanging from a thin twig on his shoulder. As far as I know now, he’s volunteered to coach quarterbacks at an inner-city high school in Seattle.

And Neuheisel was only the tip of the iceberg this summer. Along with Mike Price and Dave Bliss, Neuheisel seems to be part and parcel of a growing trend of dishonesty in that coaching, that last arena in sports in which I’d placed my hopes for an image of character. Every time college sports were mentioned in mass media over the course of the summer, it was another story about gross dishonesty and disloyalty in the institution.

Lebron James’ fate was decided with the lottery last spring, turning the NBA Draft into a joke. Maurice Clarett couldn’t walk outside his lavish dorm complex without running into some shady story. And this is college sports. I didn’t mention the Portland Trailblazers’ new pact: Don’t break the law. I didn’t get to the perennial NFL Holdouts, engaging in their act tantamount to spitting on the law of contracts. I didn’t touch Kobe Bryant with a 10-foot pole.

Like I said, if athletics were truly going to be a mirror of the state of our nation, then I want to have no part of it. I guess I’ll have to search for moral guidance in some other aspect of my life and watch sports for sports. Or I can play Madden.

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