Worth Talking About
By Neal Shaffer

Virtually every media outlet takes some time at the end of one year and the beginning of the next to stop and look around, to make a few lists about the year that was and a few predictions about the year that will be. It’s a vanity project of sorts, but it’s also a great deal of fun. Here will be no different, except that it’s even more fun to not bother limiting the screed to just predictions or just wrap-ups. Instead, what follows will be a little of both. In no particular order, here are five things to consider:

  1. Dan Issel quit...

    ...and it was, indeed, a damn shame. This one comes first only because it needs little or no comment in light of this column’s previous installment. Suffice to say that Dan Issel has proven beyond doubt that he is a good man. Like so many others, that trait cost him his job.

  2. The Baltimore Ravens will not win the Super Bowl again.

    With any luck, this prediction will prove out for many years to come. The Ravens as presently constituted represent most everything that is wrong with professional sports in America, and they show no signs of either recognition or contrition. The team is devoid of class: they talk too much trash, they neither lose nor win gracefully, and they insist that their ignorance is confidence. The Steelers, the Packers, the Rams—these teams have confidence, but they do not act as though they are God’s gift to the gridiron. Coach Brian Billick is no better. Here is a man who committed an unforgivable act of disrespect in ditching quarterback Trent Dilfer and still, despite a wholly mediocre season by hand-picked replacement Elvis Grbac, insists he made the right move. When they lose in the early rounds at least one Baltimorean will have a beer raised to justice.

  3. Hockey is interesting; nobody cares.

    Right now the NHL is the closest thing to the old-school America has. Hockey is as tradition-rich as it gets, and no other sport boasts such a consistent mix of grit and flash. Still, it lags far behind the Big Three in both ratings and coverage. This is vexing. Why, after all, do we watch sports? While hockey players certainly don’t have trouble paying the rent they are not, save for a very small handful of elites, pulling in the kind of ridiculous money that has led to the popular disdain for pro athletes as a class. The punishment they take in a given match would land the average athlete in any other sport on injured reserve, and they take it in relative anonymity. Someday we will wake up and be very angry that we hadn’t been watching all along.

  4. Baseball is in serious trouble.

    Where to start with this? Baseball is a glorious and beautiful game, but greed and mismanagement are threatening to make it a thing of the past. An overstatement? Not exactly. Fans in places like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, and Florida will approach Opening Day knowing that their teams will not compete. Economic troubles have gotten so serious that fans in Montreal and Minnesota may not have a team at all come April 1. Meanwhile, the Yankees buy a winning team every winter because they can, and the players union fights tooth and nail to keep it that way by refusing to acknowledge the need for a salary cap. This is just the tip of the iceberg – there will be more to come on this subject later.

  5. Sports will, for another year, be worth talking about.

    This column was conceived with the idea that sports is a major force in American culture that deserves serious attention. While some folks—John Feinstein, Tony Kornheiser, Michael Wilbon, and Dan Patrick come to mind—do provide a measure of intelligent analysis, the field is far from cluttered. Most of the time sports "analysis" consists of some pundit who played in high school waxing pseudo-philosophical about what he would do if he were the coach. Despite this not a week goes by without some event in sports that has implications and repercussions for the culture as a whole. Hunter S. Thompson currently writes a sports column for, and that alone ought to be enough to make one stop and wonder. So here, then, is to 2002.