January 27, 1997
JIM LEHRER: Haynes, America at its best yesterday? Or something less?
HAYNES JOHNSON, Journalist/Author: It was all the things you said. It was great athletes and wretched excess. I mean, I kind of thing, you know, if a cultural anthropologist looked at America a hundred years from now, or a space traveler, they wouldn't read the historians; they wouldn't read us pundits and journalists and interpreters. They'd unearth the archives of Super Bowl. It can't be just a game or a championship. It's got to be super. It can't be just the 31st championship; it's got to be Roman numerals, like we're all gladiators. You look in the sky, and all the commercialization, and then you sort of reflect and say, you know, a hundred and thirty million people watch this thing; that's almost twice as many voted for president. So it tells you something about America, good and bad, I think.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mike?
MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: Well, Jim, it occurred to me watching Charlayne's piece at the top of the hour about the psychops warfare in Peru that if they played the entire tape of the half-time show these hostages and the terrorists would be begging for us to accept their surrender. (laughter among group) I mean, I was watching the show. You had James Brown, and clearly they've been lying to us about how starchy those prison foods truly are. You had John Goodman, part of the Blues Brothers, who looked like he ate the Super Dome. You had ZZ Top who looked like stunt doubles for Ted Kaczynski, the alleged unabomber, and you had 400 bikers looking around like they were trying to avoid contact with their parole officers, and they call this amusement and entertainment, and all of it, to my mind, increasingly each year gets in the way of the actual game, itself, where you have people Farr and Ben Coats for the Patriots who would absolutely play football for nothing, 6 AM in the parking lot, they'd play, and yet, we clutter this thing up with this incredible commercialism.
JIM LEHRER: Incredible commercialism, Clarence?
CLARENCE PAGE, Chicago Tribune: I'm shocked, shocked to hear the Super Bowl is being commercialized. What are we talking about here? We're talking about an entertainment industry known as professional sports. This is the epitome, the epitome, as we've just heard, super, super, top echelon of modern-day professional sports. I say modern day. You know, the Super Bowl, unlike the World Series, unlike so many of the Olympics, so many other tests of who's really the best in athletics, this was created in the second half of this century. This is very modern, and it's the biggest because they're so much in tune with the way we live today in America. Americans love winners. We're a nation of competitors. It's part of our national culture. I wish that college football had a Super Bowl, so we would stop just arguing over drinks as to who's really the best. We have all these various Bowls, and I think there's a real value to this. As far as a half-time show, I've got to say--and this is part of my Chicago roots here--I enjoyed that half-time show. I was happy, although the House of Blues which produced this, you know, is to Chicago blues what Red Lobster is to Boston seafood there, Mike, but, nevertheless, you know, this is a commercial enterprise. It's designed to pull in big audiences. There are a lot of people who dashed out to the refrigerator during the game so they wouldn't miss the commercials.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Paul, your team won.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I can't top any of--well, this--I agree about the broader cultural point. This is a country where the most popular movie now is a movie about a sports agent called Jerry McGuire where the signature line is, show me the money. I mean, that's, that's what a lot of this has become. One of the ironies here is that Green Bay is probably the least commercial team in professional sports because it is--it can only survive because of profit-sharing by the rest of the league, and it's, of course, owned by the citizens of the town, a small irony, but they have to--in order to survive, they have to participate in this broader spectacle.
JIM LEHRER: What about Clarence's point? I think--I'm going to extrapolate what you said, Clarence--
CLARENCE PAGE: Be my guest.
JIM LEHRER: --that the more gross we become as a society, the more gross our Super Bowls are going to become, because it's keeping right up with this, because all of us could--all of us are old enough to remember the first Super Bowl. It was nothing like what--like yesterday, and our times were nothing like what they were yesterday, is that correct?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that we are a nation that likes to do things to excess, commercial, movies. When Michael Johnson, the great sprinter, who was the greatest sprinter of all time, ran in the Olympics, he ran in gold shoes before he won. But I think it also is, it is also we do appreciate excellence, and I think we shouldn't forget that point, that these are athletes, incredibly disciplined. They worked incredibly hard. And there's an awful lot at risk for them too in this, in their reputations, and we celebrate that.
JIM LEHRER: Well, speaking of the athletes, Haynes, there was another thing that struck a lot of people yesterday. It's been going on now increasingly for years, is that after a player does something terrific and commits an athletic something that is terrific, tackles somebody, scores a touchdown, there's this gloating process that goes over.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Hot dogging--and all this stuff, and you--
JIM LEHRER: Is that also our society catching up?
HAYNES JOHNSON: May I confess to sort of a personal childhood sort of memory, and Mike Barnicle won't like this maybe, being a Boston Red Sox fan. I grew up in New York worshiping Joe DiMaggio because he was classic and sort of self-effacing and performed brilliantly and flawlessly. And none of this--you have the idea of Joe DiMaggio hot dogging as he ran around the bases in baseball, is just an anathema. But this is now the way we do it. We've got to get up there and show off and loud mouth or Dennis Rodman will kick somebody or wear these crazy clothes, and it's all part of the game, part of the aspect.
JIM LEHRER: Does that bother you, Mike?
MIKE BARNICLE: Well, the mere thought of Joe DiMaggio going around the bases bothers me.
JIM LEHRER: Right. Okay. You're a Red Sox fan. Forget it. Right. He did that a lot in Fenway Park.
MIKE BARNICLE: 1929 killed us in the last week in September, killed us. I mean, you want to talk about that, I can talk about that.
JIM LEHRER: No, that's all right.
MIKE BARNICLE: The whole thing, I mean, the spectacle of Desmond Howard stopping at the goal line, going into the goal line, and duking his way in, to me is akin to the half-time show, and it's not gross so much as it is unbelievably lame. And yesterday I thought there was a vivid contrast where you had the Green Bay Packers and they ought to know better playing a team where the players are banned from doing anything like that. When they sack Brett Farr they don't stand there pointing over him and they don't run around in the end zone and spike the ball; they act as if they'd been there before. They didn't get there that often yesterday, but they act as if they've been there before. And I don't know what to tell kids, you know, if you coach Little League or you coach, you know, Pee Wee Hockey, I don't know what you tell kids about that, you know, that it's not a good thing to do. Don't show up your opponent. If you're good enough to win, win, look at the score, and go home with a smile on your face. You don't have to do that.
JIM LEHRER: Clarence.
CLARENCE PAGE: You know, there's sort of a dilemma that professional sports has insofar as that sort of behavior because all people like it, and to a certain degree it puts the spotlight on the individual which enhances the ability to get the big commercial endorsements, where the real money is in professional sports, the--you dye your hair a funny color, or do the macarena in the end zone. This sort of thing is part of that commercialization, which Americans say is so troubling on the one hand, but on the other hand, it is rewarded commercially. Now they have set rules insofar as any kind of intimidating gestures that are made, you know, if you spike the ball and then, you know, clown in such a way as to provoke your opponent into wanting to punch you out. They've tried to set rules, boundaries against that. But at the same time, there's a certain amount of that, of that flashy behavior that is all part of the commercialization of the game.
HAYNES JOHNSON: And you put your finger on something. You reward it commercially.
CLARENCE PAGE: Yes.
HAYNES JOHNSON: And this is not true just of the football. It's true of the athletes--go from there into the courtrooms, and the O.J. trial, and the lawyers act like they're in the Super Bowl, passing out autographs and getting their multi-million dollar contracts, so that wretched excess extends beyond the gridiron.
PAUL GIGOT: Let me disagree with these guys a little bit in this sense. I mean, some of the most admired athletes we have are the people who don't strut. Michael Jordan in--
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yes, absolutely.
PAUL GIGOT: --basketball is a class act in part because he doesn't need to. Reggie White and some of the others, Eugene Robinson, some of the other players in the Patriots yesterday expressed their spirituality. Now, it doesn't run to my taste to broadcast that over nationwide television, but they feel they should do that. They live their creed, and they're respected for it. They're not people who show up their opponent, and I think that a lot of Americans admire them for that.
JIM LEHRER: What about Mike's point, Paul, that you see this great athlete do that, and then he taunts the person and then he goes like this and says to the crowd, you know, cheer me, cheer me, cheer me, what does that say to all the kids about what sportsmanship used--or am I just being old-fashioned about this?
PAUL GIGOT: No. I played rugby as a kid, and one of the reasons I liked it was because, you know, you didn't show up your opponent. You shook hands. It was a great game. You go and had a beer with your opponent afterwards. It's rude behavior, but it's rude if it's on a subway as much as it is if it's on--you know, in your office, or on the field.
HAYNES JOHNSON: There's a great lesson. We have to win. What if you lose? How do you learn how to handle loss? This was all about winning. It's not about handling defeat gracefully. Life is a lot of defeats. Mike's point is right, I think, about how you teach kids, what's the emulation, and I think that is part of this process.
JIM LEHRER: That's a good point, is it, Mike? How do you--if this is the new way to win, what's going to be the new way to lose? Is there a new way to lose?
MIKE BARNICLE: Well, you know, it's funny when Paul is talking about all the sports and other athletes. One of the great moments in sports in the last quarter century had to be Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's record.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Right, exactly.
MIKE BARNICLE: And he didn't run around the bases going I'm No. 1. You know, he didn't, you know, taunt Lou Gehrig's family, what's left of it, things like that, and he plays perhaps our greatest sport, not our most commercialized sport, not a sport that has become the object of our biggest spectacle, the Super Bowl, but perhaps our greatest sport, baseball. It's played over the longest of seasons, and it teaches any child at any level beginning to play it, it teaches them one thing above all else; that you have to learn how to lose in order to play that game. If you hit the ball three out of ten times, you go to Cooperstown, and I don't know that we teach kids in this country the importance of learning how to deal with loss, not accept it, but deal with it.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We're going to leave it there. Thank you.