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Athletic Cliches Cross the Political Line of Scrimmage

By George Solomon
Sunday, May 18, 2008

For decades I've watched, heard and read about Washington Post political reporters calling Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, for a pithy quote. In fact, over the past 10 years, Larry Sabato has been quoted 150 times in The Post, so many quotes that former Metropolitan editor Robert Barnes once instituted a brief ban on quoting Sabato, much like the Sports department avoiding Dexter Manley's outrageous midweek locker room comments in the 1980s.

But over the course of the current presidential campaign, which has seemingly lasted as long as three seasons of NBA playoffs, political reporters and columnists have been worse than tired sportswriters in using tired sports cliches such as political horse race, Hail Mary, slam dunk, heavyweight slugfest, blowout, fourth and long (we know who has been on the receiving end of that one, don't we?), counterpunch, three yards and a cloud of dust, end run, smash-mouth politics, hardball, curves and so on. (I don't know where the term "thrown under the bus" fits.)

"Politics and sports are entertainment," said Sabato, answering my call in Charlottesville on the first ring and stringing quotes together for me with the speed of Joe Theismann. "Politicians and political writers are looking to communicate to the public; by using sports terms, they engage their audience because everyone likes sports."

Sabato, known to some political reporters as "dial-a-quote," added, "News has become a big circus -- with political elephants and donkeys basically the same as the Redskins and Giants."

Washington Post columnist/TV political pundit Eugene Robinson was more succinct: "This campaign has been going on for so long you need to find something to say. Anything, really. It's political chatter, and those sports cliches just come to mind. Sports are a treasure trove of cliches -- just there for the taking."

But the man who operates best on both sides (politics and sports) of the street is James Carville, who provides strategy for Democrats, political wisdom for TV and college football talk for XM Radio.

"Politics and sports complement each other," Carville said. "That's why we steal the metaphors. It's all about competition. Anytime you keep score, it's competition. I love 'em both."

Losses and Gains

Busy week for women's sports. Two of the most dominant female professionals will be retiring from their respective sports, with Annika Sorenstam, 37, leaving the LPGA Tour at the end of the year with at least 72 victories and Justine Henin, 25, retiring immediately as the No. 1 women's tennis player in the world with seven Grand Slam titles.

On the positive side, the WNBA opens its 12th season this weekend with the addition of one team (Atlanta) to the 14-team league and optimism that growth and interest in the college game will carry over to the pros.

"Business is up," reported Greg Bibb, the Mystics' new chief operating officer, noting the addition of 900 season tickets to bring the total to 3,000, with corporate sponsorships "up 27 percent." The Mystics, who often have led the WNBA in attendance, need to provide their loyal fans a playoff team.

Looking for that college carry-over, the Mystics drafted Maryland's Crystal Langhorne with their first pick, joining a veteran cast headed by former Duke stars Alana Beard and Monique Currie, who played high school ball at Bullis.

"I like being a rookie," Langhorne said. "It's not comfortable, but I like that."

GM Linda Hargrove added, "We have a nice mix of veterans and young players who get up and down the court."

The Mystics, who seem to turn over much of the squad every year, missed the playoffs by one game last year. Their coach, Tree Rollins, a veteran of 18 years in the NBA, spent the winter, he said, "looking at tape."

"The big difference coaching women," he said, "is they play beneath the rim." Tree is very tall.

On a shorter level, two women's soccer teams -- the Washington Freedom and Northern Virginia Majestics -- open their seasons in two weeks in hopes of a new women's pro soccer league starting play in 2009. Good luck to them.

Peace in Our Time

Much going on this week with the Nationals, including their bird mascot "Screech" venturing unharmed to Baltimore's Inner Harbor on Thursday to promote this weekend's series at Camden Yards and the return engagement June 27-29 at Nationals Park. The Baltimore Sun reported that Orioles owner Peter Angelos, once a staunch foe of baseball in D.C., had no problem with Screech's incursion. "It's a free country," he told the Sun, adding that the Washington-Baltimore region "is one huge megalopolis." Rapprochement is fine, but I miss the old Peter snarling, "There are no baseball fans in Washington." Is Peter mellowing?

Advice to Screech: Do not get cocky and go to Philly to promote anything.

Meantime, the Nats seemed deader than a slab of lox (one of Tony K's favorite expressions) after getting swept at home by the Marlins last weekend. But despite the jinxed Nick Johnson heading to the DL for at least a month with an injury to his right wrist, right fielder Austin Kearns hitting below .200 and endangering himself every time a fly ball comes his way, and pitcher Luis Ayala a candidate to replace Tony Soprano on Doctor Melfi's couch, Manny Acta's guys still won three of four from the Mets at Shea.

Go figure.

Jason Bergmann's seven-inning shutout stint Thursday after being called up from Columbus, Jon Rauch's closing, Willie Harris's spectacular catch in left field (the best catch by a Washington player since Griffith Stadium, I believe) and Aaron Boone starring in the field and at the plate were highlights after a week without any. I know Dmitri Young is back, but I'd keep Boone in the lineup.

Finally

· Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams, who has taken his lumps of late over the academic performance of his players, proudly reports all three of the team's seniors (Bambale Osby, James Gist and Jason McAlpin) will receive diplomas this month. On the women's side, three players (Langhorne, Laura Harper and Ashleigh Newman) walk this month and two more this summer.

· Nationals owner Mark Lerner, team president Stan Kasten and filmmaker Aviva Kempner will be among the panelists next Sunday evening for a discussion on Jews in Major League Baseball at the Washington Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q.

· Enough: If the NCAA discovers former USC football star Reggie Bush and freshman basketball player O.J. Mayo took money illegally, that fine institution should get two years off from bowl games and postseason basketball tournaments. Or will the NCAA respond to USC's transgressions by taking away two additional scholarships from Howard?

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