NBA guys don't have anything to prove

By Jeffery Armstrong

ESPN has this show called "Around the Horn" where four sports columnists from major daily newspapers discuss topics in sports with the show's mediator, a guy named Tony Reali.

Each columnist is given points for how good their banter is by Reali and the columnist with the lowest number of points gets eliminated. The winner is the columnist with the most points at the end of the 30-minute show and he or she gets 15-seconds to make a point about a sports topic.

Tuesday's winner was Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti and he said something that I don't particularly agree with. He said that the NBA players who have chosen to boycott this year's Olympic Games in Athens, Greece due to fear of terrorism should "toughen up" and participate on the U.S. Olympic basketball team.

I don't agree with Mariotti because NBA players are tough as it is and they, or any Olympic athlete, shouldn't have to prove their toughness by going to a country which was just bombed recently and compete in the Olympics.

I don't like the NBA anymore or the majority of its players, but they shouldn't be condemned because they don't want to go somewhere where death is a strong possibility. And yes, it is a strong possibility.

Terrorist attacks are a strong possibility in this country, which is probably the most secure and strong country in the world. I don't think I have to go over the nightmarish events of Sept. 11, 2001, where four U.S. planes were hijacked, three were crashed into buildings and many people were killed. Four planes right under our noses! We're threatened in our own country – why should these athletes go outside the U.S. boundaries in a place where a bombing recently took place and the venues aren't completely ready?

I don't think Mariotti was justified by saying these NBA players need to toughen up. You have to be tough to play in that league – 82 games overall, several in a row on the road and at home and getting hit by guys who weigh upwards of 230 pounds or more (topping with Shaquille O'Neal at 330 pounds). I really believe it when they're hurt – they got through a lot. I have a lot of respect for their toughness, even if I don't have respect for many of them as people or players.

It's too much of a risk, if you ask me. I believe any athlete in any sport shouldn't be lambasted for not competing in an area where danger is extremely imminent. I personally don't think any Olympians should risk their lives if they don't have to do that.

Sure, there are some Olympic athletes who will want to go to Greece, but many are going to make a name for themselves more than anything.

There are some U.S. Olympians who do it for the love of country and sport, of course, but they also know the Olympics are huge.

You do well in Olympic competition like Mary Lou Retton, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz and others did and you're basically set for life. Pro athletes don't have anything to prove; they are already set for life.

Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at jarmstrong@news-daily.com.