Tuesdays With Sorry

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Sportswriter turned hysterically best-selling nostalgia-peddler Mitch Albom is in full-court contrition mode, after writing a column with this utterly fraudulent lede:

ST. LOUIS—In the audience Saturday at the Final Four, among the 46,000 hoop junkies, sales executives, movie producers, parents, contest winners, beer guzzlers, hip-hop stars and lucky locals who knew somebody who knew somebody, there were two former stars for Michigan State, Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson.

They sat in the stands, in their MSU clothing, and rooted on their alma mater.

The main problem—Cleaves and Richardson weren't, in fact, there. They had planned to be, and told Albom about it beforehand, and he alchemized this material into a nifty past-tense column. Hijinks ensue.

Albom's hilariously buck-passing, teeth-clenching, I-have-caused-pain-to-my-readers column is here. ("It wasn't thorough journalism"—no shit, Sherlock!) The Detroit Free Press' ashen-faced, we-will-investigate apology here; see also Editor & Publisher and Romenesko's letters for fresh heapings of schaedenfreude.

Just to kick a wealthier colleague while he's down, I'll take the opportunity to point out that the thesis of Albom's erroneous column—college players ruin their tender boyhood innocence by accepting million-dollar professional contracts before graduation—is the kind of paternalistic, nostalgia-drenched, anti-capitalist swill that gets served up a thousand times a day in our nation's sports pages, and I reckon it inflicts more damage than lazy reporters pulling the occasional Lewis Lapham. Here's a sample of Albom's gee-willickers prose:

When athletes talk about leaving college early, I always wish they would forget for a moment the financial gains or their draft lottery position. I wish they would think about the fun.

I'm not talking about the fun of seeing yourself on "SportsCenter." You can do that in the pros, too. I'm talking about the fun you take for granted as a 19-year-old because you've never known anything else. I'm talking about plopping on the dorm couch and laughing about nothing, or squeezing in an old car and making dumb jokes about how your buddies smell, or sharing a sub sandwich at 3 in the morning, or putting your speakers out the window of your room, or hanging in the cafeteria for hours on end as the table changes characters, some coming, some going, all friends. […]

How many of us wouldn't trade a year's worth of professional accomplishment for one more year of sharing dorm pizzas?

How many of us would trade a dormitory's impenetrable smell of ass for a $3 million contract? Gosh I'll really have to think about that one.

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  1. “How many of us would trade a dormitory’s impenetrable smell of ass for a $3 million contract? Gosh I’ll really have to think about that one.”

    It’s not rocket science, Mr. Welch. Though I envy you the smell of *your* dorm.

  2. Dorm, schmorm! I only lived off-campus….

  3. I actually listen to Albom’s radio show occasionally and caught it yesterday while he was talking about this mess. He was sloppy, but honestly I don’t see it as some huge deal. Of all the things to be caught fudging, it’s hard to imagine something less significant.

    And yes, I agree that Albom’s schlock-peddling is far more lame than this particular mistake. His show is marketed as the voice of common sense, where common sense is defined as a center-left viewpoint without a lot of heavy intellectual lifting propping up the opinions. He’s a well-meaning dude, but just about everything he’s involved in is steeped in mediocrity. Including his sportswriting, as you indicate.

  4. Living in the dorm was a pretty good experience as far as I’m concerned. Met some of my best friends while living in a dorm as an undergrad. That said, my other option didn’t involve millions of dollars, it would have meant working for 20-30K a year right out of high school.

  5. I’ve never seen/read the play/book “Tuesdays with Morrie”, but I think your headline is really funny. In a mean-spirited way. And that’s always grood. (Great and good).

  6. I’m still pissed at Albom for taking time out of his sports writing and producing a snide and condescending column making fun of people lining up for weeks for one of the Star Wars movie. While such people might need to be made fun of, I wanted to scream at him, “Dude! You make a living writing about kids games played by adults! Pot kettle and all that.”

    (this was before he starting writing cheese books)

  7. Matt,

    I am generally in agreement about Albom’s bloviating, but let’s take the passage you clipped:

    “How many of us wouldn’t trade a year’s worth of professional accomplishment for one more year of sharing dorm pizzas?”

    Let’s be honest. Some of us would. And that argument, I think, that there may be something of value in the college experience besides a stepping stone to a 3 Mill contract, could actually be made in a reasonable fashion. It all depends on how you interpret the value of the college experience. Of course, I understand that Albom makes the argument by dipping it in sugar and looking at it through a Vaseline filter, all pretty and sweet, and so he deserves all he gets.

    And while “Tuesdays with Sorry” is a good turn of phrase, “impenetrable smell of ass” is real genius.

    Anon

  8. Yeah, I had my fun moments during college, but I was also flat fucking broke. Working between classes and homework pretty much wiped out a lot of my free time. I think if I had a few million and a 3 month “off season,” I could make up for the lack of “college fun” thank you very much. Maybe cram all my buddies into an Escalade and zooming off to Vegas, my treat, will bring lasting memories of buddy bonding!

  9. Now imagine the pontificating treacle spewed by Albom, multiply it by 4, stick it on television Sunday mornings and you have The Sports Reporters, featuring human chihuahua Mike Lupica and the African-American community’s answer to Jabba the Hutt, Jason Whitlock (who, I will admit, is one of the few sportswriters to actually bash the Congressional steroid hearings). Substitute self-congratulatory, middle-brow profundity for penis size and watch these fools interminably whip out their ideas to see which one is bigger.

  10. By the way, didn’t Pink Floyd release The Inpenetrable Smell of Ass in 1987?

  11. H&R-meisters seem to focus a lot on what people say or write lately as opposed to what they do. That tendency is starting to scare me a little.

    Albom’s factual faux pas notwithstanding, he’s free to print that sort of nostalgic, anti-capitalist(?) glop all he wants. Apparently, there’s quite a market for it.

    I don’t see his kind of nostalgia as against laissez-faire so much as against a crass culture apparently beoming moreso, and a cheesy amalgam of “higher education” and “Best Damn Sports Show”-style sports marketing hype that continues to make animal attributes like agility and strength – no matter how acquired – more appealing to students than intelligence and a well-rounded education.

  12. what use is a well-rounded education when one’s first contract out of school will give you more money than you’d make in 50 years with said education?

    besides, set aside 60 grand, and you can always go back.

  13. dhex – what use is a well-rounded education when one’s first contract out of school will give you more money than you’d make in 50 years with said education?

    Yeah, that’s pretty much the attitude my classmate, the starting QB of my state championship high school football team, took. He got a full ride to Iowa, but his knees didn’t make it past Christmas of his sophomore year. Goodbye scholarship, goodbye knees, goodbye education. He wears a blue vest at Wally World back in the old home town now and hobbles around on two canes.

  14. SPD — You deserve at least a taco for that.

    Anon — You’d really trade $3 million for another year in the dorms? Wow.

    clarityiniowa — Being an opinion magazine, we sometimes express opinions about other people’s opinions. Challenging someone’s ideas has nothing inherently to do with wishing to suppress their right to express them, especially when it comes (as it does) from a publication that bangs the drum for the free exercise of unpopular or otherwise transgressive speech. And I see very little difference in criticizing the contents of someone’s speech, and criticizing an entire subset of the culture for being “crass.”

  15. No need to be defensive, Matt. I’m not complaining, just saying…

    Although in this particular piece, you seem to be doing less challenging of ideas than simply sticking your thumbs in your ears and going “neener neener neener” at an admittedly better paid colleague.

  16. clarityiniowa,

    Of course, if his knees went out during his senior year, he’d look like a dope for staying at college and missing his payday. Education is certainly something that should be valued, but the number of years a person has an optimally athletic body is generally fewer than the number of years someone has a brain capable of education (assuming they had one in the first place).

    My biggest problem with the system as it currently operates is that many colleges are now primarily teams with universities attached, in terms of income and priority. Distinct minor leagues make more sense to me than the pretense of the “student-athlete”.

  17. “H&R-meisters seem to focus a lot on what people say or write lately as opposed to what they do. That tendency is starting to scare me a little.”

    In the marketplace of ideas, what you say means quite a bit. Subsequently, I’m not sure if you can prove that H&R-meisters have refrained from criticizing the actions of people. Nor am I sure why, even if this was so, it would “scare” you.

    “Albom’s factual faux pas notwithstanding, he’s free to print that sort of nostalgic, anti-capitalist(?) glop all he wants. Apparently, there’s quite a market for it.”

    Um, of course he’s free to print it. I never heard anyone say he wasn’t. You seem to be confusing content disagreement with rights. Calling somebody on their crap does not amount to censorship.

    “a cheesy amalgam of “higher education” and “Best Damn Sports Show”-style sports marketing hype that continues to make animal attributes like agility and strength – no matter how acquired – more appealing to students than intelligence and a well-rounded education.”

    This is bullshit. The vast majority of us spend our lives in offices and factories, rather than truly enjoying life, just to be able to make it. Hmmmm, let me see, which would I want: 4 years of contrived liberal arts education and a pretty diploma, followed by 40 years of 9-5, traffic, and 2 weeks of vacation a year…..or…..skipping that contrived liberal arts education, making enough money in several years to last the rest of my life, then being free for the next 60 years to educate myself as I see fit, and truly enjoy life.

    Hm, let’s see. In this 9-5 prison that we all exist within, these multi-million-dollar contracts represent one thing: the key to the prison cell door. Now, sure, I’m making a gross generalization about careers, but let’s be realistic: how many, out of a random sample of 100 Americans, would continue to do the exact same thing if they suddenly came across a few million dollars?

    Sorry, but, 4 years of standard university courses is not the epitome of “well-rounded education”. I know quite a few BS-diploma holders who are anything but well-rounded. And then, idiots like this have the nerve to tell people that this precious little diploma is worth more than the freedom from the 9-5 prison for the rest of their life? Please.

  18. clarity — Not being defensive (I DO NOT BEAT MY WIFE!!), just explanatory. And yes, my main point here was “neener neener neener.”

  19. why is it folks think that in order to get an education you have to pay lots of money for some old dude to force you to buy his book, listen to him for 3 hours a week, and then cheat on tests? really folks, college is about bong hits and screwing, lets not pretend the ‘education’ part can’t be done at home on one’s own. and trust me, making 3 mil a year gets you lots of bong hits and screwing.

  20. Matt you criticize him for being over the top.
    Meanwhile, your last sentence is way over the top.
    Sorry that college sucked for you apparently. But his thesis about college is true. And if I inherited a few mill I would be at NYU tomorrow doing grad work hangin with 20 year old women.

    His point is valid other than the problem that if you’re 20 and your family lives in poverty the joys of college come a distant 2nd to getting them out of poverty now.

    Notably, Grant Hill stayed all 4 years at college because he didn’t need the money and starring for Duke is almost as good as it gets. In fact, that may have the high point of his career.

    Mike

  21. clarityiniowa,

    How did having his knees go out keep him from finishing college? He went on a scholarship and lost that scholarship. That is a shame, but if he couldn’t afford it in the first place, at least he got to go for a while.

    I bombed out of college because of, and spent a year recovering from, a hyperactive thyroid. Still, I managed to get back into school and finish eventually.

    On that thought, I was still in undergrad college well into my twenties. You’d have to pay me serious money to go back now.

  22. Mike — I *loved* college … I mean, until I was expelled. And even after that I enjoyed working at the college paper, living in the college town, watching our unpaid college basketball players kick ass on top-ranked UNLV….

    And I think you’re missing a crucial distinction — the millions/college thing is almost always an either/or question. So to check your guts on the issue, it wouldn’t be how you behave after you’ve *inherited* millions, but what you would do when faced with a zero-sum choice between earning millions or smelling your buddies’ farts for another year. For me, it would be a no-brainer; but then again, I’ve never been rich.

  23. The best 18 months of my life were spent in a 10 foot by 10 foot dorm room half a block from Times Square.

  24. Re: the college vs. Pro contract deal.

    What’s stopping a pro athlete from going to school. It’s not like it’s a full-time job or anything. And it’s not as though he can’t afford it. More likely they’re not interested.

    I can’t name names but I heard of some who have.

    The real problem is that most jocks don’t belong in college in the first place.

  25. Matt,

    No, I didn’t mean to indicate that _I_ was volunteering myself out of the dorms. But I gave the question some thought, and I can say without hesitation that it was during my college years that I met the highest density of interesting and engaging people. The density of uninteresting jerks was not trivial, but I would say it hasn’t changed much since college. Naturally, I have no idea where 3 million might have landed me — it’s possible there would have been even more interesting people in my world had I gotten the money. I just wanted to suggest that Albom treacly nostalgia has a germ of an interesting thought behind it. Just a germ, though. I also think the proper response to that nostalgia is to suggest that it is possible to take the money and _still_ have interesting college years. It is not either/or.
    Incidentally, in the spirit of fairness to your question, I have ignored the fact that I met my wife in college.

    Anon

  26. I can’t name names but I heard of some who have.

    Gone to college, that is.

  27. Ah, see I should reload before posting. As you say, Matt, Albom’s dichotomy is a false one.

    Anon

  28. Albom’s paper, The Detroit Free Press seems to give their little star columnist a lot of leeway that others don’t get. I remember when his latest book came out, the paper commisioned freelancer Carlo Wolff for a review, and then refused to run it when it came back negative, starting out “How many ways can you define ‘superficial’?”

  29. Eh, most of my college life sucked. I went to Saint Louis U. in town. For the first three years I had no car to drive and shared a ride in with my dad, and had a job after work, and spent pretty much all weekend, every weekend, doing homework. Therefore, no social life. Also, I was a horrible nerd. Senior year was a bit better. I had some great writing teachers and some good friends.

    On the other hand, with a few edits …

    I’m talking about plopping on a friend’s couch and laughing about nothing, or squeezing in an old car and making dumb jokes about how your buddies smell, or finishing up an evening of martinis at the Ritz by eating at White Castles or IHOP at 3 in the morning, or putting your speakers out the window of your room, or hanging in the Irish pub for hours on end as the table changes characters, some coming, some going, all friends.

    … is pretty much what I do now. But I don’t have the wife-and-kids thing. Although most of the friends I hang out with do, so that might not be an impediment.

  30. Goodbye scholarship, goodbye knees, goodbye education. He wears a blue vest at Wally World back in the old home town now and hobbles around on two canes.

    I think it speaks more about his “all or nothing” attitude about being a pro QB. Anyone with the right sense and motivation would have said goodbye to the scholarship, goodbye to the knees, and hello to an education by means the other 95% of the world gets theirs, hard work, student loans, and/or part time job. Hell, I never got to even say hello to a scholarship as I was a mere walk on for the Chico State Track Team. Hey, but I did get to see myself on the George Michael Sport Machine, as a spectator!

  31. Evan Williams – Sorry, but, 4 years of standard university courses is not the epitome of “well-rounded education”. I know quite a few BS-diploma holders who are anything but well-rounded. And then, idiots like this have the nerve to tell people that this precious little diploma is worth more than the freedom from the 9-5 prison for the rest of their life? Please.

    No argument. Were I in such a position, or had I been as a college student, OF COURSE I’d a pro sports deal. Take the money and run is the American way, after all, isn’t it? But I don’t think that, in itself, is what Albom is decrying. It certainly isn’t what I’m decrying.

    The problem is reality – something people of high school and university age often are not equipped to deal with. Dribbling or kicking your way to fame and fortune simply isn’t an option for any but a very, very few, but in order to provide fodder for university athletic programs – certainly among the most venal organizations on earth – the possibility is marketed as if it were a sure thing.

    Among other things, this kind of racketeering tends to create young men like Pierre Pierce now, finally, charged with sexual assault and vandalism after being defended to the hilt by everyone for as long as possible because he is/was a ” star athlete.” Anyone else on that university campus would have been charged and would have faced the bench for his alleged behavior long ago. Personally, I’m more than a little pissed off that my public university coddled this bling-bedecked thug as long as it did, and I would think a Libertarian would feel the same.

    No, there is definitely something wrong in university athletics. Not saying the government should step in – far from it. I think the government, in the form of public, land-grant universities, ought to step OUT of big money sports entirely. The NBA and NFL ought to create their own damn farm system, and give college deferments from the draft, rather than early round draft choices to scholastic athletes.

  32. Stevo-

    …and had a job after work…

    Man, you did have it rough!

  33. clarity – i think university cowardice is at fault in that case, simply because so many of them get away with hiding things like sexual assault by players (or by anyone, really, depending on the school…my alma mater had some serious string-pull action due to being a dumping ground for retiring county cops)

  34. At least he didn’t make the “They should have stayed in college for the education” argument. That’s always the real knee-slapper.

    And of course today’s students don’t have to deal with the “Stay in college or the government will give you a pass to the Southeast Aisa War Games” argument.

  35. The problem with the “student athlete” is the student part that many of them are forced to attempt to be. I went to school to get a piece of paper to make my resume look better. A student athlete is in school to get exposure so that they look better to the pro teams. School is about getting a job. If an athlete can get paid then they should leave.

    I had good times and made some good friends in school also. And I still have good times and make friends after.

  36. dhex – Cowardace indeed. If this were an isolated incident, or if it occurred nearly as often with students on, say, academic or fine arts scholarships, that would be one thing. But it seems the egomania generated by big money university athletics creates, supports and protects low-rent, low-class creeps like Pierce with alarming frequency. Worse, it cultivates them long enough for the NBA to harvest Coby Bryants.

    Not with MY tax dollars, you don’t.

  37. I think ol’ Mitch had a different college experience entirely than I did.

  38. Oh, and I disagree totally with school being about getting a job. School was about making connections that could serve me well in the future and learning about what my options in life might be. Anything specifically related to job-getting took place well outside of school.

  39. God, Mitch Albom sucks ass. The funny thing is, his sappy schtick is 100% schtick. I have a source, deep in the publishing industry, who reports that Albom is an egomaniac and a cynical asshole, and everyone hates to work with him. Big surprise.

  40. Well, with me, school was about getting girls and beer, but that’s another story…

    I was fortunate enough to attend a private liberal-arts school of around 2200 enrollment. I was a National Merit scholar, had some other small scholarships, work study, and my folks shelled out a helluva lot. Perhaps hasn’t helped me all that much professionally, but it certainly made me a better writer, and a more thoughtful person. Was it worth the cost? Debatable.

    We had our share of jocks, too, many of which were my friends, but our school kept athletics in perspective, consequently, most of our athletes graduate.

    I resent having to subsidize the Pierre Pierces of this world, particularly if giving someone a “hand up out of poverty” by means of an athletic scholarship means helping pay for their bread and board long enough for them to cash in on a bajillion dollar pro contract I have an investment in, but will never collect from.

    Now, somebody will be quick to say that most large basketball and football programs are largely self-supporting, but that doesn’t account for bonded indebtedness for endless new athletic buildings, the fact that alumni and other contributions can be tax-deductable, leaving those of us with a conscience to shoulder more of the tax burden, etc. Ultimately, it doesn’t wash.

  41. Clarity: 2200 enrollment would be Div 3 yes? Far as I know Div 3 schools aren’t allowed to give athletic scholarships.

    Anyway, I thinking University of Oregon probably has the best system for Athletics: The entire Athletic Department is self-funding, it’s the only one in the Pac-10. The only money that flows between the school and the AD is about $2MM in student fees to pay for student admission to all AD events all year. It’s a reasonably good set up, at least on the revenue side. Good athletics = free exposure for UO = more students. Of course, in the mean time, you’ve gotta deal with those pad-wearing buffoons cluttering up Rennie’s once frat-haven Taylor’s fills up.

  42. Timothy –

    You are correct, Luther College in Decorah, IA – “Built On A Bluff, And Operated On The Same Principle” – is a Div. III school, and thus does not give athletic scholarships. How that’s relevant, I don’t know, but there ya go!

    Having said that, I applaud the U. of O. for its apparent separation of Jock and School, but having that sort of huge attachment just for PR value seems kind of dog-wagging to me.

    Does revenue flow from the AD to the general fund at all? Does revenue generated by the AD pay for all capital investment and upkeep of facilities like stadiums and practice facilities? Would general tuition be higher or lower, do you think, if athletics were strictly intramural or intra-conference?

  43. “…and had a job after work…”

    Lewis: Man, you did have it rough!

    Oops! LOL. Now I’m flashing back to that sketch on the old In Living Color series, about the family of West Indies blacks and their multiple jobs. “Two jobs?! What lazy kind o’ mon only have two jobs?”

  44. Timothy:

    OSU’s athletic dept. is also funded without tax dollars. It’s state law.

    However, that’s not to say that the Ducks and Beavers don’t enjoy state funding. Lottery dollars from the SportsAction game help fund athletics at all state schools. Also, bonding for new construction is made easier when the state acts as a guarantor.

    The one thing that UofO has that no one else has is billionaire alum Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. The Ducks better be preparing for the day when Phil dies, because when he goes, so does an average of $10 million per year in donations from Sugar Daddy.

  45. Yeah, the book sucked too. It should have been titled Tuesdays with ME.

  46. Hey, Isaac, I actually know off hand of two players who dropped out of school, THEN returned for their degrees: Vince Carter and Juwan Howard. There you go. 🙂

    But yeah, you have a point. 🙂

  47. I was seriously bummed when Dwyane Wade left Marquette for the NBA’s Miami Heat after playing only two years, and leading our basketball team to the Final Four in `03. I can’t blame him, though. He was a Prop 48 student, the first the school ever recruited, so he spent a year on campus before he could suit up for games. Coach Crean says he’s finishing his Senior year, course by course. Hey, I took five years off between my 95th and 96th credit hours, and it wasn’t for any first-round pick money. 🙂 Unlike me, D-Wade has a wife and a kid, and has had since he was an undergrad. When baby needs new shoes, you get a job, something NCAA rules forbid scholarship athletes, in case overenthusiastic boosters give them phony ones. Our “student-athletes” don’t even get the stipend the ROTC students get. Meanwhile the colleges are raking in the bucks on ticket and clothing sales, with some of those jerseys selling because the star player’s number and/or name is on the back. Is Albom going to tell some kid like Louisville’s Garcia that he has to wait one more year to get paid, when a heavy check from an NBA team will allow him to pull at least some of his messed-up family out of their bad situations? Back in the old days of the NBA/ABA bidding war, these players would have been “hardship cases”, and if their coaches cared about them as people and students they would urge them to take the check, and put some money by in a trust, so they could finish school later, or if an injury cut short their careers. Coach McGuire hated to see Jim Chones go pro, but he had visited his mother in the bad neighborhood they lived when he recruited Jim, and knew it was for the best.

    Kevin

  48. We’ve got a lively conversation here about college life and the manner in which ass odor cannot be penetrated, to be sure. But I can’t believe no one has talked about the real deal here: One of the country’s most prominent media professionals just got busted for a big-time ethics violation.

    Come on — this is a Blog?! On the Internet?! Where’s the gleeful celebration of this latest MSM? screwup?

    Albom just destroyed his own credibility, and put the reputation of a big metro newspaper at risk. I want some dancing-on-corpses, dammit!

  49. Um… These things — ? — were supposed to be trademark symbols. Oh well. Just use your imagination and pretend. Like Mitch Albom.

  50. I remember hearing the argument that “what if the guy blows a knee once in the pros and he can’t play anymore? Without the actual college education, what’s the guy to fall back on?”

    Outside of the multi-million dollars he’s alread banked, he could go back to college and then just coach high school ball somewhere. Or if he had a good financial advisor, a couple of million put in munies and a few corporate bonds and the guy could live a comfortable near 6 figure per annum life without getting off of the couch.

    As opposed to blowing his knee while still in college and never getting that multi-million dollar signing bonus. And then he’d have to fall back on the grades that probably weren’t so hot to begin with.

    What do most of these guys major in anyway, home-ec or something?

  51. What do most of these guys major in anyway, home-ec or something?

    The two most frequent majors I hear in connection with Atletic Scholarships are Phys Ed and Communications. I guess most figure that after the pros or if they don’t make it to the pros they can get by as coaches or TV commentators.

    On the other hand one of the best engineers I ever worked for was recruited for U K football in the early 50s. He blew out a knee in his sophmore year and was on his own from then on. Luckily he had brains as well as athletic ability (he had also been invited to Cinc Reds training camp). He graduated near the top of his class.

  52. Let me clear my throat:

    ? …. ? …. ?

    OK. semolina, when I switched view to Unicode, your
    trademark symbols show up.

    NCAA athletes can now get insurance that will pay them up to $1m if they have a career-ending injury while competing in college. They have to exhibit “pro potential”, however, and the payout doesn’t come close to what a first-rounder might get under his initial contract.

    Kevin

  53. By the way, didn’t Pink Floyd release The Inpenetrable Smell of Ass in 1987?

    And every other year after about 1980.

    – Josh

  54. Oh, that Mitch is a classy guy. His explanation on camera about what happened: “I should know better than to trust an athlete”

  55. Matt, it’s schadenfreude, for whatever that’s worth.

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