Picking on Mitch Albom is easy. Too easy. I know it. You know it. Yet just like Mitch, we’re going to reach for that low-hanging fruit. However, we’ll do so without bopping you in the nose with that fruit as we’re plucking. Because we respect you.
Nearly two decades after his interests have moved past sportswriting to the Hallmark-cards-as-novels for which he’s now best known, Albom keeps insisting on wagging his finger at sports and sports fans with some kind of half-baked commentary. The question is whether the Detroit Free Press asks him to occasionally chime in on sports because he used to be known for that sort of thing or if he feels it’s his place to revisit former territory and tell readers what he thinks about athletes in uniforms tossing balls back and forth.
The thing is, no one wins by reading Albom’s current sports columns. (Or columnettes, really.) There’s nothing to these pieces, other than the feeling that Albom is stepping down from his crystalline, doily-draped pedestal to share his thoughts on what sports has become, wagging his finger with self-important authority at those of us who still enjoy watching games and appreciate the diversion they provide.
Maybe that last point is where Albom was trying to go with his latest column from Sunday’s Freep, in which he depicts an imagined conversation between a father and his young son. The kid wants to go outside and throw a ball with his dad. But Dad wants to watch ESPN and a “Year in Sports” retrospective chronicling the big stories of 2014.
But in the world Albom lives in, there’s nothing about Derek Jeter’s final season, the first openly gay man being drafted by a NFL team, LeBron James returning to Cleveland, or the World Cup igniting deeper interest in soccer, leading to a sense of community and national pride among diehard and casual fans. Nope, the show in Albom’s dark, joyless place — surely being watched in a room with the shades drawn and no sunlight allowed in — instead rubs our noses in the filth, like a dog owner making his pet smell the mess he left on the floor.
There’s Ray Rice entering an elevator with his then-fiancée, followed by Adrian Peterson out of uniform in court, Jameis Winston standing on the sideline while serving a suspension, and Luis Suarez and Donald Sterling and Tony Stewart and Oscar Pistorius. Then Albom’s hellish nightmare reel of the year in sports ends with basketball players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts.
Do you get it? Sports are awful. You are awful for watching them. You’re even more awful for delaying a cherished, fleeting moment with your child to catch up on all the stories that you’re already familiar with because your life is empty enough to follow this stuff in the first place. But you can’t change the channel. Not with Albom holding the remote. He’s paused the telecast, hoping you’ll continue to stare at the still screen because you probably haven’t gotten the message yet.
Of course, we all understood this long ago. We’re all far smarter than Albom believes. We just chose to move on to something else that reminds us why we enjoy sports. You know, like the games, highlight shows and studio programs that are still on TV at all hours of the day.
But we already know this because we watch sports. We never stopped. (And if we did find something else to do, we certainly don’t care what a jaded, grouchy former sportswriter who now composes books for retirement communities thinks on such matters.) Albom can’t be bothered to do so anymore — certainly with nothing resembling joy or amusement — so this column is basically him catching up on the past year in sports and recapping it for us, because he felt we needed to be reminded.
Maybe Albom actually does follow sports more frequently these days than I imagine, rather than him noticing every few months that the Tigers are trying to maintain a World Series contender, the Lions are a playoff team and the Pistons haven’t been good in about 10 years. And let’s not even talk about the abominations that are his “Dr. Football” columns. My mother could do better. And she’s presumably who that tripe is being served to.
Albom is right about one thing, however. We’re all far better off going outside to throw a ball with a kid than reading the lectures he passes off as sports columns nowadays.