By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
The XFL has been taking a severe beating from all quarters since it launched earlier this monthand even before. In fact, the hyper-criticism strikes us as more than a little over the top. Hell, when sportswriters discover their feminist side and rush to decry the WWF's use of hootchie-mama cheerleaders to draw fans to its football circus, you can be sure that the piling-on is going strong.
Now comes word that the National Mental Health Association is calling for the league's Memphis Maniax to change their name. It seems "the name and logo [a spiral-eyed, freaky-haired chap] . . . are demeaning to the 54 million Americans and their families who are affected by mental illness each year," according to NMHA prez and CEO Michael Faenza. The team also displays the letters AXfrom the end of the club's nameon player helmets. "This sends the message that people with mental illness are prone to violence and should be feared by the public," according to the group.
Memphis team officials don't seem too worried by their new adversary. "Maniac is a person who has unbridled enthusiasm. We're just trying to have a little fun," says general manager Steve Ehrhart. But what about the well-being of those suffering from mental illness? "We're thoughtful and we're sensitive about that," says Ehrhart.
OK, so that's doubtful. The only thing the Maniax are sensitive about is the team's overnight Nielsen ratings. But oversensitiveseems to be the obvious word for the NMHA. (Especially, it seems to us, when the NY/NJ Hitmen's moniker is obviously much more offensive; how do you think all those victims of organized crime feel?) Using the group's logic, they'd have to issue an angry press release every time someone was called "crazy" in a heated exchange.
Jockbeat went looking for some real expert opinion on the matter that would settle things once and for all. Unfortunately, Natalie Merchant could not be reached for comment.
It was simply weird when Wayne Gretzky was traded from hockey haven Edmonton to forever-summery Los Angeles in 1988. It seemed wrong for pro hockey to be played in the hot weather, and downright sinful for the greatest player of all time to be starring there.
Now, the Great One is lending his name and credibility to hockey in the desert; after a long negotiation Gretzky's ownership group finalized the purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes last week for $125 million. This hard-to-swallow notion will go down a little easier for Jockbeat following our visit last month to American West Arena, home of the Coyotes.
At first, the whole scene was an exercise in culture shock: The game-time temperature was 60 degrees (the afternoon high had been in the 70s), a sizable percentage of the fans were wearing shorts, there were palm trees just a few blocks away, the concession stands were serving fried cactus, and the Coyotes' opponents were another Sun Belt team, the Dallas Stars. All in all, it was hard not to think that the setting would have left Peter Puck scratching his little hard-rubber head.
On the plus side, the locals appeared to be pretty knowledgeable about the game (although it became hard to take them seriously when the scoreboard kept posting the team's rather willful slogan, "Real Game, Real Fans"), and Phoenix's large Mexican population made for one of the most diverse NHL crowds Jockbeat has ever encountered. In fact, it was Hispanic Night, a promotion that old-guard teams like the Rangers and Maple Leafs won't be trying anytime soon.
And no, they weren't really serving fried cactus. That's an old gringo joke, which is just one more thing you probably never expected to get from the NHL.
JockclipsESPN has never been shy about self-promotion, but they've really scaled new heights in chutzpah by dubbing the ESPY Awards "The Greatest Night in Sports." Maybe next year they'll move the show to pay-per-view. . . . For basketball junkies/athletic self-torturers: The CUNY Athletic Conference is in the middle of holding its annual basketball championships. In fact, the community college finals for both men's and women's teams were held last Friday at Queensborough. The senior college championship games will be played this Friday at CCNY. But don't despair if you miss your chance at March (or whatever) Madness, NYC public-school style. CUNY-TV (y'know, channel 75; just hit the "fav" button on your remote) will be televising the games. Fortunately (or oddly, take your pick), they wait over a full week to broadcast the contests: Community college finals can be seen Feb. 25 at noon and Feb. 26 at midnight; senior college finals will be shown March 4 and 5 at noon and midnight respectively, and March 11 and 12, again at high-noon and the witching hour. . . . Jockbeat has learned that Rangers GM Glen Sather will take control of the club back from civilians visiting the Madison Square Garden offices in order to avoid another catastrophe.