Competing With Cancer

Stellar athletes often seem superhuman just doing what they do best— riding bicycles up mountain ranges faster than the rest of us can ride down them, running the 100-meter hurdles in less time than it takes your cell phone to connect, nailing the no-look pass more consistently than any of us can make a good cup of coffee. So we're heartened, but somehow not surprised, when Lance Armstrong wins the Tour de France after beating testicular cancer, or when Olympic gold-medalist Lyudmila Engquist returns to hurdles competition three months after a mastectomy and before her chemo treatments have ended. In a season of such thrilling comebacks, the death from lung cancer of Houston Comets point guard Kim Perrot last Thursday comes as a particularly harsh reminder of the random, ravaging reach of a disease that will claim some 563,000 lives this year— in the U.S. alone. African Americans are 34 percent more likely to die of cancer than white Americans. And still, the huge cancer institutes neglect research into environmental causes of the disease, and still have nary a clue about what causes it or how to prevent it.

At 5-5 and 130 pounds, Perrot played a game that was at once scrappy and elegant, snagging seven steals in one game last year and averaging six assists per. Though not the biggest name among the two-time WNBA champs, she was a fan favorite and by all accounts the team's emotional leader, always unifying the personalities with her fiery focus. She brought a similar upbeat determination to her battle against cancer. Unlike basketball opponents, however, cancer doesn't flinch at resoluteness and strength.

But those who control research money and legislation— those that could force Medicaid to cover breast cancer treatment, or enact a patient bill of rights that requires insurance coverage for clinical trials— do respond to such pressure. A Liberty game earlier this month promoted breast health awareness, encouraging women to do self-exams and get mammograms and so on. Good enough, but that's detection, not prevention. It's time for a Perrot-style full-court press against the political and economic players who keep research narrowly focussed on genetics and pharmaceuticals, and who keep what treatments there are out of reach of those who aren't wealthy.


Market Envy

This just in: Cleveland is smaller than Chicago! That was among the stunning findings of a baseball market survey by the industry trade mag Sports Business Journal, which concluded that "the eight small market teams have won more games than the eight big-market clubs in four of the past nine seasons"— where "market" is defined entirely in terms of city population.

As they say in the world of high finance: Well, no duh. But it's long been understood that when baseball honchos say "small market," they don't literally mean it. Otherwise they'd get a lot more funny looks when referring to, say, the Philadelphia Phillies as an example of a small- market club in need of help. The distinction between sports haves and have-nots is one of revenue streams, which can mean either the monstrous media contracts that come with playing in a city like New York or L.A., or the cost-free cash flow that comes from playing in a new, publicly financed stadium. SBJ, noting the box-office success of several small-city teams with new ballparks, suggested that baseball should refocus its energies on "making the most of its markets." Perhaps that was what Marlins owner John Henry had in mind last week when he announced he'd take his team to the Florida city that showed the most "community support," making it clear that he meant the kind of support with pictures of dead presidents on it.

The whole small-market/large-market conundrum can be a puzzler for fans, because it's so hard to know when you're being sold a bill of goods. Certainly, there are lots of ways for teams in smaller cities to do well, even if a new ballpark doesn't drop into their lap; unless we're mistaken, the Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland A's have all won World Series titles more recently than any team from L.A., let alone the accursed Chicago Cubbies.

Still, those Kansas City fans who turned their back on the large-market Yankees this spring had a point: When the New York Mets blunder by acquiring a Mel Rojas or a Bobby Bonilla, they can just dump him and throw $10 million at the next free agent down the road; when the Royals acquire a dud (Gregg Jefferies, anyone?), they have to sit tight and wait to see what rolls in on the next turnip truck from Omaha. To acknowledge that, though, would mean recognizing the need for revenue sharing, which is anathema to the Lords of Baseball. Besides which, aren't the Mets and Yankees headed for a Subway Series? Rooting for General Motors does have its privileges.


Jockclips

  • Scanning the Mets' clubhouse in search of just what the hell is inspiring all this winning, Jockbeat came up with two particularly tell-tale artifacts: a 12-inch Bart Simpson doll hanging from Edgardo Alfonzo's locker, and a large, red, skull-shaped "good luck charm" hanging from Benny Agbayani's. . . .
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