A little public humiliation not always a bad thing in sports these days

By Tim Dahlberg, AP
Saturday, July 31, 2010

Some humiliation not always a bad thing

LeBron James has left Las Vegas, though tales still exist on the Internet of the good times he had in Sin City. Turns out what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there.

It’s been a tough summer for the King, or at least the King’s reputation. Called out by his former boss, called every name in the book by Cleveland fans, he was finally called not ready for prime-time TV by anyone who tuned in for The Decision.

That’s the price you pay for being a superstar without portfolio. MVP awards look good in the trophy room, but until James wins a ring he will always face questions about his heart and desire.

Besides, he’s getting off easy. Playing in Cleveland may have been bad, but there are worse alternatives for an athlete.

Try being a member of North Korea’s World Cup team.

Like James, they lost the big games when it mattered most. Unlike James, they didn’t get rewarded for it with some fancy new digs and a vacation on the Vegas Strip.

According to various news reports, the entire soccer team was marched onto a stage in North Korea and berated for hours by the country’s sports minister as several hundred government officials and others watched. The team — which lost all three of its games in South Africa — was taken to task for, among other things, failing in the “ideological struggle” to win the World Cup.

Then they were forced to do what usually comes natural to most players — blame the coach. That reportedly got Kim Jong Hun expelled from the Workers’ Party of Korea and a new job working in construction.

A bit harsh, perhaps. But losing 7-0 to Portugal probably wasn’t what Dear Leader had in mind when he sent his team off with instructions to come back with a world championship.

A little public humiliation can sometimes work wonders. Take Albert Haynesworth, for example.

Seriously, will someone please take Albert Haynesworth?

The poor guy has been sweating his 350 pounds off the last few days for the Washington Redskins, who had the audacity to expect the player who cashed in a $21 million bonus check a few months ago might come into training camp in somewhat reasonable shape.

Intent on showing there’s a new sheriff in town, coach Mike Shanahan is making Haynesworth pass a conditioning test before being allowed to practice. But Haynesworth keeps flunking it, including a session Friday when he violated test rules by taking a long bathroom break.

“He had to use the restroom,” conditioning coach Ray Wright said. “You get 3½ minutes. He was gone close to 10.”

So now everybody knows Haynesworth can’t follow potty rules. Does it get any more humiliating than that?

Actually it does, as anyone who was in a Philadelphia courtroom Friday with Matthew Clemmens can attest. The 21-year-old was not only sentenced to up to three months in jail, but got a tongue lashing from a judge who blamed him for ruining the reputation of an entire city.

The official charges against Clemmens were assault, harassment and disorderly conduct. We know him, though, as the guy who was having such a fun time at a Phillies game this year that he decided to cap his night by intentionally puking on a man and his 11-year-old daughter.

Clemmens sobbed in court as he apologized for the incident that so traumatized the girl that she refuses to go back to Citizens Bank Park. But the judge wasn’t buying it, and added some community service time he wisely suggested be served cleaning toilets at the ballpark.

And then there are those who take what could be a moment of humiliation and rise above it. Katherine Connors did just that at a Washington Nationals game, where she threw the ceremonial first pitch Friday night to Miguel Batista.

Batista is a 39-year-old journeyman pitcher who a few days earlier was booed by most of the 40,000 fans in attendance when he was called upon at the last minute to start a game in place of injured star Stephen Strasburg.

“Imagine,” Batista said after the game, “if you go there to see Miss Universe, and you end up having Miss Iowa — you might get those kind of boos.”

Connors was sitting in a beauty salon in Marion, Iowa, when her cell phone started buzzing. She is, as you might have guessed, Miss Iowa.

And, luckily enough, Miss Iowa has a sense of humor.

Wearing her Miss Iowa sash over a red Nationals jersey, Connors accepted a bouquet of flowers from Batista before the game, and then fired a pitch high and outside to the pitcher.

It was all in good fun. Well, kind of.

“A lot of people are mad about it because somebody’s talking smack about Iowa,” Connors said. “You do not talk smack to an Iowan.”

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org

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