I never miss an episode of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher. Maybe I don't share Maher's ultraliberal views or agree with every opinion he offers, but I love that he can't wait to offer them. Supremely witty and impossibly stubborn, Maher never holds back while always staying true to himself. We need more of that in this country. And if that isn't enough for you, he looks exactly like the guy from Body Double. I always liked that movie.
One of Maher's signature segments is called New Rules. In his honor, I'm coming up with my own set for the sports world.
New Rule: U.S. Ryder Cup competitors can give each other only fist bumps. Like so many others, I looked forward to the recent Ryder Cup. Anytime America has the chance to beat Europe in something, I'm in … even if it's a leather-jacket-wearing Rob Lowe's outrowing of snotty English dudes in Oxford Blues. But after two days of watching awkward high-fives, dorky fist pumps and, worst of all, the dreaded two-handed high-five—"perfected" by Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry, who obviously spent months studying tapes of Judge Smails and Dr. Beeper—every big putt had me sweating simply because I was petrified of the ensuing celebration. "No, no, don't go for the two-handed high-five … Nooooo!"
So let's switch to fist bumps. If anyone wants to pull off a three-step handshake/ hug thing after the 18th hole, fine. But only after we name Will.i.am and 50 Cent as assistant captains to teach them. No more Smails/Beeper moments. Please.
New Rule: No uniforms for baseball managers. It becomes a little harder to get into the drama of the NL East race each time Phillies manager Charlie Manuel waddles out to the mound. Here's a 64-year-old man with a potttbelly (he's so well-fed, I need three "t's") crammed into a uniform. The poor man looks like he's just months away from putting on a Santa suit and posing for pictures at a mall. Can't managers wear hoodies and jogging pants like NFL coaches do? What happens if Charlie's pants fall down during the Series? His lard is on your hands.
New Rule: Playground rules for the NBA All-Star Game. Ever since the idea of having captains pick sides started to circulate, in February, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Let's say Stern names Kobe and LeBron as captains. Right before the game we have a coin flip, and the winner gets first pick. The All-Stars line up, and Kobe and LeBron pick their teams playground-style. Imagine the drama. Who'd get picked first? Would a snubbed player end up wreaking havoc in the game? Would bad blood carry over to the rest of the season? God forbid something fun happened on All-Star Weekend.
New Rule: We need a Super Bowl of Poker. I like what happened with the World Series of Poker. The more the merrier, I say. But I was watching one of this year's episodes, and Norm Chad casually mentioned that Phil Hellmuth defeated a 178-man field to win the 1989 title. This year, Hellmuth was playing against a field that was roughly the size of Sacramento. Can't they create an elite tournament that's even bigger in stature than the WSOP or the HORSE tourney? Maybe $100,000 per entry, only 250 pros invited—the cream of the crop—with the winner getting 15 mil and a cool trophy that looks like the Wimbledon tray crossed with a giant ace of spades? Isn't that better than a tournament that's inevitably won by a no-name with a goatee who managed a hardware store three years ago? You'd watch the Super Bowl of Poker. Don't deny it.
New Rule: No more bullpens emptying during baseball fights. All those relievers do is clutter the field and make it harder for me to see sucker punches and headlocks on YouTube. Stay put, bullpen guys.
New Rule: Only cities with locals who can play hockey outside in the winter can have an NHL team. Look, I want to like the NHL again. It looks magnificent in HD, and really, that's all that matters in life. For the umpteenth straight year, I'm going to advocate a 22-team league: two 11-team conferences, one in Canada, one in America, only in cold-weather cities (no ifs, ands or buts). That will give us more rivalries, deeper teams and a higher quality of play. Every Stanley Cup Finals would feel a little Ryder Cuppy, with the Canada vs. America subplot. Besides, warm-weather cities don't need the NHL. Why? Because it's warm there! Believe me, I live in LA—there's plenty to do here. But in Winnipeg? You guys can have the Kings. Please. I insist.
New Rule: We must never forget that Scott Boras is the greediest, most manipulative agent in sports history. For example: Let's say there was a happy-go-lucky slugger who was famous for sticking uncashed paychecks in his locker and glove compartment. Let's say that same slugger hired Boras. Let's say Boras got paid only if he could get the slugger's team to drop his 2009 option, or else that commission would go to the old agents. Let's say the slugger inexplicably became so moody and divisive that his team paid the rest of his 2008 salary for him to play somewhere else. Let's say his new team immediately dropped that 2009 option. And let's say the slugger immediately started hitting the crap out of the ball again, paving the way for one last monster deal this winter … and a big fat commission for Mr. Boras. Who do you think was the mastermind here? The happy-go-lucky slugger, or the greediest, most manipulative agent in sports history?
Shame on everyone who blamed the slugger.
New Rule: You don't apologize if you haven't done anything wrong. During the Week 2 Eagles-Cowboys MNF telecast, Tony Kornheiser suddenly apologized for something he'd said earlier, like he was worried about the 0.02% chance of a backlash and decided to defuse it. Well, I watched the entire game and had no idea which comment had concerned him. I rewound it and found the moment: After hearing a snippet of ESPN Deportes play-by-play for a kickoff return for a TD, Kornheiser joked, "I took high school Spanish. Either he said he's not going to be caught, or please pick up my dry cleaning tomorrow."
I heard this comment—which preceded a promotion for Hispanic Heritage Month— when it happened and didn't blink. Was it demeaning that Kornheiser played on the vicious stereotype that Hispanics, um, love to have people pick up their dry cleaning? My new career goal is for this to happen to me: I want to say something harmless, have it be misconstrued and refuse to apologize.
I want to be suspended. I want a national outcry on my behalf in the name of free speech. Basically, I want to have my "Donna Martin graduates!" moment. Kornheiser played it safe. I wouldn't.
See, here's the thing: Of all the things currently wrong with this country—a trillion-dollar war, a flagging real estate market, a crippled stock market, high fuel prices, Lynne Spears, the Jonas Brothers—the fact that nearly everyone with a platform is terrified to say anything might be the most depressing subplot of all. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? Hell, whatever happened to speech?
And you wonder why I watch Bill Maher.