A crazy summer in sports

After a frantic year of developing sources, rushing to make deadlines and getting home when most folks are in deep REM sleep, sportswriters look forward to the summer the same way a teacher in a class full of unruly children does.

It’s sort of an unspoken rule that the hottest months are also the sports world’s dullest. With three of the four major sports leagues out of season, plus high schools and colleges done until the fall, the summer is when sportswriters work on those detailed stories they never got a chance to start, schedule vacations and get home at a decent hour.

So much for those summer doldrums this year.

The national sports scene has furnished two of the summer’s biggest news stories, the kind that our mystery-obsessed culture devours. When it comes to Kobe Bryant, even people who once wouldn’t know him if they saw him in a Lane Bryant now have an opinion. The murder investigation surrounding two Baylor University basketball players fulfills TV-watchers’ need for suspense and emotional involvement.

Locally, there’s been a never-ending series of surprising stories, many involving Division I college football players who are from Prince William County. Hylton grad Ahmad Brooks — everybody’s superstar at Virginia even though he’s been the first to point out that he hasn’t played a down of NCAA football yet — is scheduled to head to court Tuesday morning on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. Potomac’s Antwan Stewart was implicated in a rape case in Tennessee, and Hylton’s D.J. Walton was removed from the Virginia Tech team for multiple DUI arrests. Others have had academic problems. I wouldn’t even be mentioning their names again except for that each time another county kid runs into trouble, those of us that watched and covered those kids grows more dumbfounded. Most teenagers make some mistakes, but as writers and fans we tend to assume we know people when we really just follow them for a short sliver of their lives.

In the endless supply of Kobe Bryant opinion running in newspapers and on Web sites across the country, that’s one of the valid points I’ve seen made. We really don’t know what a celebrity’s persona is behind closed doors, and by the same token, we don’t know the outrageous things “ordinary” people will do and say to get a piece of that fame and fortune.

Furthermore, in stories such as the alleged Kobe Bryant sexual assault, I’m rather amazed that so many people have already picked a side or come to a conclusion despite there being a clear lack of facts made public.

But summer isn’t for pondering those difficult issues, is it? Aren’t we supposed to be enjoying weeknight baseball and weekends filled with NASCAR and golf? Summer is when we find ourselves watching TV late at night, actually enjoying a made-for-TV sport like TNN’s Slamball. Summer is when we watch Wimbledon, the Tour de France or in some years, the Olympics, and remember that we like sports besides our mainstream favorites.

We are talking about a sports culture when you can buy college football preview magazines in June, set up your fantasy football Web site in July and bet on preseason NFL games in August. I love football — not to mention basketball and hockey — as much as anyone, but summer has always been our break from our sports-crazed falls, winters and springs.

Most importantly, summer is usually when you can actually get yourself out of the house. From shooting baskets to shooting under par to shooting skeet, these are the times in our lives when we can try things we’ve never tried, or simply be a participant instead of an observer.

So just because this summer happens to be an interesting one, try not to waste it glued to the tube.

Keith McMillan’s column appears on Tuesdays. Reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or at (703) 878-8086.