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Jewish World Review April 29, 2002 / 17 Iyar, 5762

Bob Greene

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The starting lineup for
your All-Star Army | David McGrath, a 52-year-old teacher who lives in Oak Forest, Ill. has an idea that he believes will help America's professional athletes.

"They have to be concerned about how they are regarded," he said. "They know there's a lot of resentment out there from the fans -- because of the salaries they make, the stories about charging money for autographs, the perceived arrogance. . . ."

McGrath's idea, he believes, is the classic win-win situation. The fans -- and the nation -- would benefit from it; the athletes would find that they are greeted with new respect, admiration and even love. What is this idea? He can sum it up in two news stories that have never appeared in the papers, but that he canenvision.

KABUL -- Master Sgt. Brett Favre led a Special Forces platoon in the initial ground assault into the southwestern mountain stronghold of Taliban forces last night. . . .


JERUSALEM -- Approximately 1,000 Marines surrounded Bethlehem awaiting orders from the U.S. command post in Jerusalem.

"I'd like us to roll in and take care of business as soon as possible," said tank commander Kobe Bryant. "This is what we've been preparing ourselves for. . . ."

You see where McGrath is going with this, don't you?

He said he is a great admirer of pro athletes: "They are the biggest, the strongest, the swiftest people among us," he said. "They have the best hand-eye coordination, they are in the best physical shape . . . you want to talk about the best and the brightest? You want to talk about `a few good men'?"

Yet, he said, when he asked himself how many professional athletes -- big-league baseball players, NFL football players, NBA basketball players -- were fighting overseas with U.S. troops assigned to wage the war o

n terror, he couldn't come up with a single name. And that's when it hit him:

"Our First Strike Force should be made up of these men -- these great young athletes. They are the best -- they are our best. Think how the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines could use the great skills of these men. There has long been admiration for the Green Berets, for the Navy SEALs -- but think of the admiration that would come to our professional athletes if they were out there risking their lives for us, instead of just their anterior cruciate ligaments. If they put their strengths and skills to work for our country at war, the fans would be much more likely to forgive them for charging for autographs; for spitting at umpires; for not running out ground balls even when they're making $4 million a year."

Does McGrath think that professional athletes would volunteer to do this?

He does not. He thinks it would take a little persuasion.

To be specific, an act of Congress.

The Congress, he said, should "pass a bill that would require any professional sports contract to contain a military service provision. A sort of tax on the American Dream of wealth and fame that the pro athletes are living. My guess is that there would be strong public support for such a bill."

But isn't that sort of unfair? What would the athletes get out of this?

"A better sense of self-worth," McGrath said. "The feeling that now they really are heroes. And a real education -- one that means something. In the Army, the Navy, the Marines they would be taught maturity, discipline -- let Latrell Sprewell try choking a drill sergeant -- manners, selflessness, loyalty. They would even acquire a skill or a trade to fall back on if it turns out that in the big leagues they cannot hit the curve ball, or catch a pass in traffic."

Their exploits, he said, would move from the sports pages to the front pages, where Americans back home would read about them with genuine awe:

"Gen. Bill Walsh's elite infantrymen, all of whom can run the 100-yard dash in less than 10 seconds, plot the frontal assault against the enemy. Col. Bobby Knight's legion of snipers protects their flank. Maj. Mike Ditka's tank division brings up the rear, powering forward with all the pride and force of a special team covering a kickoff return."

And who is actually inside those tanks?

"NASCAR drivers," McGrath said.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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