By Bill Campbell

Are you ready for some football?

Many pro football fans will agree that the best running back ever was Jim Brown. It was, therefore, interesting to see a quote on the NFL labor situation from a player of Brown’s caliber. In a New York Times interview the other day Brown said, “I don’t see anything positive that the union is doing for me. I see what they don’t want the owners to have but I don’t see what they want me to have.” Brown is referring to the players’ union that it had voted to decertify in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent a lock-out by the owners. Jim Brown is now 75 years old and is questioning where retired players fit into the equation. There always has been a divide between current and retired players, ever since former players’ union director, the late Gene Upshaw, was accused of representing the current players and forgetting about the older guys. So when a player of Brown’s stature speaks out, the divide becomes only deeper. Brown asked, “Why isn’t the union talking about health care and improving it? Why isn’t it talking about better pensions?” The lock-out may end soon but the estrangement among players could continue for some time.

Brown expressed the opinion that some players are, indeed, part of the NFLPA and others are not. Many who are not are the older, retired players who need help and there seems to be some question about whom the union represents and who it does not. “It seems to work out that if you’re old, you are not a part of it” says Brown. “If you’re young you are a part of it. I don’t understand that. You should definitely look at your old, sick and wounded who don’t benefit from anything the union does.” The lock-out may end soon. We may yet have a football season, which seemed quite doubtful a hundred or so days ago. But the animosity between the older and current players may continue indefinitely.

It appears it’s going to take some time before we find out the truth about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others possibly involved in baseball’s steroid era. Now that the Clemens perjury trial has been declared a mistrial, I wonder if we’ll ever know. But I find the issues of misbehavior, and the constant arrival of undisciplined players entering the sports scene every day, to be more than mildly disturbing. The latest story about a former Eagle is one for the books. And in this era of outrageous gasoline prices it should easily strike everyone at home.

Reno Mahe is a former BYU player, Andy Reid’s alma mater, who played for the Eagles from 2003 to 2007. In 2005, he led the NFL in punt returns. He surrendered to authorities last week to face a criminal theft charge in Utah. Mahe and another former BYU player are among five men charged with stealing more than $15,000 in gasoline from a construction firm’s tank near Salt Lake City. Someone allegedly shared the gas code with buddies and they used the pumps to fill their personal cars over a four-year period. Mahe is out on bail until his next hearing in August. The concrete company had privately filed a civil lawsuit against the men for stealing more than $55,000 worth of gas.

I don’t know if these guys are innocent or guilty. But I find it more and more disturbing when they are identified as past, present or future professional athletes. And their names keep appearing and reappearing on the American sports pages. There was a time when athletes used to be held up as role models to the next generation of kids – a period that seems to be fading fast — if not completely disappearing.

While I can’t seem to remember what it was, the Irish have always been famous for something. Lately it’s been winning major golf tournaments. Daren Clarke confirmed that this week by winning the British Open. Three of the last six major golf classics have been won by players from little Northern Ireland. Phil Mickelson had a golden opportunity to regain some prestige for American golf – as well as for himself. His game has been struggling of late. An American has not won a major since Mickelson won the 2010 Masters and Phil looked like he was about to break the streak last Sunday. But, once again, his putter failed him. He appeared to be really “in the zone” for the Claret Jug but it became elusive. The luck of the Irish.

One of baseball’s most glorious streaks was noted last Sunday. The 56th consecutive game hitting streak of Joe DiMaggio was ended on July 17, 1941 by Cleveland pitchers Al Smith and Jim Bagby. It is mentioned here because 1941 was a significant year for baseball and the nation. America entered World War II in 1941 and fans were concerned with military matters for the next five seasons. It was the same year in which Ted Williams hit 406, truly a year to remember.

While on the subject of noteworthy accomplishments, Jim Thome – who played briefly with the Phillies – hit his 596th home run last Sunday. I mention this simply because Jim Thome is one of the most likeable persons in all my years on the sports beat. He is now 41 years old. Last year he hit 25 home runs in 108 games. But this year he’s had a difficult, injury-plagued season with the Minnesota Twins. If he hits 4 more homers, he will become only the eighth player in the history of the game to hit 600 home runs. And the distinction couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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