Sports Editor Chipp Reid on the universal need for class and dignity...
By Chipp Reid
There’s nothing like controversy to get sports fans talking. Whether it’s NBA star LeBron James holding his team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, hostage as he ponders free agency or the very public dustups between Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and head coach Brad Childress, sports stars behaving badly is very much the in-thing these days.
Maybe it’s simply a clash of egos, maybe it’s the pressure of winning, or maybe it’s simply a lack of class. Yankees great Joe DiMaggio, even though he held out for more money five straight times, never took his contract battles public. Niklas Lidström, arguably the greatest Swedish player ever to strap on skates in the NHL, also never made public his own dealings with the Detroit Red Wings. In fact, Lidström took less money this year to allow Detroit to dabble in the free agent market.
It’s all in stark contrast to the goings-on here in the States. Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young is in hot water over a fight at a strip club while his teammate, Gerald McRath, faces a four-game suspension for smoking pot. And, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Media as leverage Players and management no longer treat one another equally. They take their fights public, using the media to act as leverage in a nasty game of one-upmanship. It all makes for great headlines and long talks on sports radio and it all combines to give professional sports an ever blacker eye.
Maybe it’s time for American athletes and sports managers to take a look at Swedish football to follow the goings-on at Elfsborg and IFK Göteborg, even if they can’t speak Swedish or know how to use Google Translate. Elfsborg manager Magnus Haglund and Australian goalkeeper Ante Covic are very much in the newspapers these days as the media speculates over the Aussie’s future with the club.
Covic received a red card against IFK Göteborg on April 18 in the seventh match of the season. He left with Elfsborg leading 1-0. His replacement Joakim Wulff came in and promptly surrendered five goals in a 5-1 loss. Covic had to sit out a pair of matches for the red card, watching as Wulff allowed just one goal over that span as Elfsborg won twice. He hasn’t played since.
The Australian has made no secret of his “frustration” but has taken the absolute high road as the goalkeeper controversy at Elfsborg appears to have less to do with Wulff’s ability than it does with a rift between Covic and Haglund. Neither, however, has used the press to blast the other. Haglund has been completely mum on the situation, while Covic, in a refreshing change from many American athletes, vowed to “not give up” in his quest to prove to his manager he should return to the No. 1 position.
No nasty squabbles It would be easy for either – or both – to take their spat public. It would be easier still for Covic, with all the attention on poor goalkeeping at the World Cup, to make a very public “play-me-or-trade-me” demand. He hasn’t, despite the fact many teams, including seven in Major League Soccer, the U.S. pro league, are desperate for net minders.
All this is in stark contrast to the nasty squabbles between former Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley and manager Lou Piniella. Bradley publicly questioned every move Piniella made regarding his playing time, order in the lineup, even where he stood in the Wrigley Park outfield. Piniella, whose fiery nature accepts no challenges, let Bradley feel his wrath and war of words between the two made headlines around the country.
Then there is the sad situation at IFK Göteborg, where general manager Håkan Mild fired popular co-coach Stefan Rehn. The move took everyone in Sweden by surprise, including the players. Rehn and Mild are former teammates and even though Rehn helped guide Djurgården to pair titles a few years ago, he bleeds blue and white.
The reason behind the firing is clear as Mild made what is a very American decision. His team was playing poorly and near the bottom of the standings and someone had to take the blame. He couldn’t fire the players, so he sacrificed one of his coaches. It was more the manner of the firing that has made the situation ugly. Mild never gave his longtime friends the benefit of a heads up and tried to cover up the move by creating a new position and moving Rehn into it.
No one is buying it, not even former IFK megastar Glenn Hysén, who said he can’t understand Mild’s reasons for firing Rehn nor does he believe Rehn can possibly remain with the club.
It’s a similar situation in which former Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Tremblay found himself after the Orioles played their way to the worst record in baseball early this year. Although rumors swirled for more than a week in early June that Orioles owner Peter Angelos would fire Tremblay, Angelos denied those rumors and even gave his manager a “vote of confidence.” A day after that pronouncement, Angelos fired Tremblay.
Class and dignity Rehn isn’t saying anything, other than he is looking forward to his new job of finding talent for the club to develop. His class in the face of what is nothing short of a betrayal from a club to which he remains dedicated is a mark of just what kind of person Rehn is and his personal strength.
It’s too bad these events are unfolding in Boras and Göteborg. There are a lot of sports people – athletes and management alike – that could learn from Covic and Rehn and they wouldn’t even have to learn Swedish.
Class and dignity need no translation.