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The Killing Field

Is there any defense for the "Sport of Kings"?

By Ron Martin

A friend called the other night after watching an interview with a representative of Showtime discussing the Lewis/Tyson fight. She was appalled after hearing the bout would be the biggest financial windfall in the company's history.

With a quiet, almost solemn, voice she said, "God must be looking down on us and shaking his head. He must be thinking he made us better than this, paying millions of dollars to watch human beings try to kill each other." Then came her clincher: "I don't think God would be proud of us for letting this happen."

I tried defending the "Sport of Kings." I threw in the fact that a lot of youngsters born into the deepest holes of poverty are able to fight their way out and make something of their lives. And, of course, there's the ole ace in the hole: Look at what Muhammad Ali has meant to the world. Ali shook his fists and fought for peace and harmony without ever fighting a war.

My comeback was this: Boxing is a sport; those who fight are not forced to participate.

A couple of days later I spoke with Stacey McKinley, Mike Tyson's trainer. Once we got past the hype regarding Tyson being in the best shape of his life and how he is at peace with himself for the first time in 10 years, McKinley hit me with a left hook and slipped in an uppercut that sent me reeling.

My question: "Lennox Lewis said this is a fight between good and evil. Your response?"

His answer: "I think he is forgetting the boxing ring is what we call the killing floor." Speaking as though he could not say the words fast enough, McKinley added, "He (Lewis) says it's evil because he is going into the ring with a cold-ring killer."

McKinley's voice rose an octave as he described his orders for Tyson: "All I want Mike to do is break ribs, break his jaw, and crack the back of his head hit him in the front of his head and crack it all the way to the back."

Still thinking there's a shred of redeeming value in the sport as Stacey McKinley defined it? Keep listening: "Boxing itself, inside the ring, is a vicious sport. Don't let anybody fool ya, it's mean inside that ring. I try to keep that killer spirit in Mike. I try to tell him every day to go in there and try to break something."

I sat stunned, connected via the phone line to a man in Maui who had just destroyed some great youthful memories -- of my dad and me watching the Friday night fights on television. The memory of us lying on a bed listening to a crackling radio as Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston had just lost some of its glow.

My friend was right. God can't be happy with what we've done with his world.

Flyers Former Memphis RiverKings GM Jim Riggs leaves town realizing that his forte is that of a "start-up guy."

"I didn't know it six years ago or six months ago, but I guess that's what I do best," says Riggs as he explained why he is leaving the 'Kings to become commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League.

Is it a coincidence that Riggs leaves as Robin Costa attempts to buy the RiverKings and the Explorers from Horn Chen? The negotiations have never included Riggs. He denies it but says, "I would've thought someone would have come to me and asked me what was needed, how things were going, or something, but they didn't," adding, "I've always wanted to work at the league level." Did his lack of confidence of a contract renewal play a factor? He denies that as well. "I can only say the timing couldn't be better."

St. Jude's Target House is $1,000.00 richer after Bruno Junqueira won the Indy 500 pole. The Indy car team donates $1,000 for each pole, $5,000 for each win, and $25 for each lap led.

Rambling Is Rashaad Carruth a good gamble for the Tigers? Only if they want someone to disrupt the program Am I the only one who thinks Shane Batttier is good for Memphis, even if he wasn't a great basketball player? FOR SALE: big house owned by a big man. Lorenzen Wright's Memphis home is on the market. His agent was surprised when I told him but said it doesn't mean the Grizzlies have put him on the trading block. n

Who Cares?

Life in the AFL2 is all about the next step.

By Chris Przybyszewski

ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" the other day showed the prevalent attitude that many sports writers (and sports fans) have about arena football. A letter writer asked co-host Michael Wilbon why the "50-yard war" didn't get more respect. Wilbon's answer: "Who cares?"

Such is life. In a world too full of professional sports, many worthy and fan-friendly entertainments are swept under the rug. Whatever regard the mainstream sporting media has for the AFL, the AFL2 gets even less. And while places like Quad City and Tennessee-Valley (wherever those two places are) seem to enjoy winning and popular teams, in a larger pond like Memphis the AFL2 Xplorers are off the radar.

No, the league isn't important, not in the grand scheme of professional sports in this country, but it does serve a purpose -- developing professional athletes. Sure, the players are there to put on a show, entertain the fans, play for the love of the game, and all that. But for the players, minor leagues exist so they can have a chance to get to the big (or bigger) leagues.

Some guys will never make those steps. Some guys have been there and want to get back. The Xplorers' Russell Copeland (6'1", 205 lbs.) is one of those guys. Copeland's a University of Memphis alum who played six years in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Green Bay Packers, and with the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. Copeland leads the AFL2 in receiving with 53 catches in six games for 755 yards and 15 touchdowns.

But Copeland's presence on the team is also about leadership. "That's in my contract," he says. "Here's a guy who has played in the Super Bowl, who has played in the NFL for six years. I have to bring that kind of leadership. To be honest, some of the guys are in awe of me, saying I can't believe I'm playing with Russell Copeland."

He's not bragging. The AFL2 is not used to talent like Copeland's and he probably is not long for this league. According to first-year Xplorers coach Danton Barto (also a UM alum), Copeland's leadership is invaluable. "Russell has been a true professional and leader for us on and off the field. He calms us down when we need to calm down. He's great for our team. He's been there, he's done it."

The team has seemingly responded to Copeland's leadership, with a 4-2 record after the first third of the season. Last season, the Xplorers only won three games. According to Copeland, this team is just beginning to find what it takes to win.

"As a young team you have to come out of the gates firing," he says, referring to the squad's 46-57 loss to the Tennessee-Valley Vipers. "We came out slow," Copeland says. "And when you're playing a high-caliber team like that, you have to have every phase clicking.

"Experience is a big key to that. Fortunately for me, I've played at the highest level. I've played in the big games. But not everyone has played in big games like that. It takes games like this for us to see what real teams are about."

But Copeland is used to losing as a professional as well. "We have to learn to forget mistakes," he says. "Don't dwell on it, don't repeat it. We're a young team, but we're doing pretty well overall."

Some might consider his current job a cake-walk compared to the NFL. But Copeland keeps his situation in perspective. "I'm playing pro ball," he says. "Do I think I should be playing at this level? No, I don't. But God has blessed me in so many avenues. This is an opportunity to play football again. So I come out here every day to use my God-given talent. That's what I tell these guys. I say, look, this is where you are. If you want to move up the next level, you have to perform and you have to produce. I have to perform as if I were in the NFL. Because this is what I do."

Copeland's attitude is partly professionalism but it's also realistic. He knows that the personnel blade of sports can be sharp, and he's vocal with his team about that. He's speaking from personal experience. "There's only so many eggs that can go in a basket in the NFL," Copeland says. "There's a lot of talent that gets missed. There's a lot of talent on an NFL team that doesn't play until someone gets hurt."

So Copeland goes out every day and plays. He hopes that one of his tapes gets sent to some higher-level team that needs a receiver who can catch. He does it because he knows he can play at the highest level and that his time on the playing field is not yet done.

So who cares? Copeland certainly does.

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