What caused Steve Largent's fall from football great to cell-phone whore?

There was a best-selling book a few years back that claimed that all anybody really needed to know to be successful could have been learned in kindergarten. I never read that book; the title sounded trite, and I attended a ghetto-ass kindergarten.

The only thing I learned in kindergarten is that people will steal stuff out of your lunch bag if you leave it by the classroom door. And they'll steal it even if it's a mustard and mayonnaise sandwich, which my mother gave me because we couldn't afford any of that expensive bologna stuff.

I do see the author's point, however. A lot of significant patterns are developed early in life, and adults often retreat to behaviors that served them well in their early years. Actually, these behaviors didn't actually serve them well; they just provided a flimsy excuse disguised as an escape strategy. I think about this just about every time I see a lobbyist, a corporate spokesman or a government PR person on TV.

The most recent offense in this area came from Steve Largent, who, for many years, was one of my favorite NFL receivers. But then he retired and became this industrial-strength Christian right-wing political ... thing. He was in Congress for a while, before narrowly losing a race to become Oklahoma's governor. Then somebody waved a wad of cash at him, and he had himself inserted rectally into the cell-phone industry. They trot him out every time somebody suggests that cell phones might be being used inappropriately and/or dangerously by certain people in our society.

Whenever a state or municipality considers a law restricting (or banning) the use of cell phones by drivers, Largent pokes his head out and says stuff like, "But what about the people who are changing the radio station?" As though someone taking less than a second to push a button is the same as some moron taking his hands off the steering wheel and looking down to dial a number, then driving one-handed for several minutes (or hours) while engaging in a conversation that takes one's attention away from what should be the only task at hand. Personally, I'd be more likely to believe that one's canine companion consumed a sheet of paper covered with algebraic equations.

Largent's most recent foray into the public eye was a real knee-slapper. It seems that the movie-theater industry is taking a beating. It's been losing customers for three straight years, and only a rise in average ticket prices has kept the bleeding from becoming a gusher of red ink. At a recent meeting of industry leaders, several suggestions were made to help reverse the trend of falling attendance.

To their credit, one of their main suggestions is for Hollywood to make better movies. This, from an industry whose big event movie this summer is Mission: Impossible III, which is not about Tom Cruise impregnating of Katie Holmes (if, indeed, she is actually pregnant). They also already have next year's blockbuster, Spider-Man 3, penciled in for a May 2007 release. Truth be told, I like both of those franchises, but those aren't the kinds of movies that are going to bring people back into the theaters on a regular basis.

This suggestion is like that old Steve Martin stand-up bit where he says, "You can be a millionaire and not pay taxes. Yes, you can be a millionaire and not pay taxes! (Pause) First, get a million dollars ..."

The theater owners' group then addressed things that they can control. Among the suggestions were better crowd control (bringing back "ushers" who walk through the theaters and tell people to shut the hell up); the restriction or outright elimination of commercials before the feature (the first time I saw a commercial in a theater, I booed; I boo every single time to this day); and asking the FCC for permission to jam cell-phone signals in theaters.

Not surprisingly, this brought Steve Largent screaming out of his hole. "Of course, people should exercise discretion," he said in a feature on a national news broadcast, "but what if the baby sitter needs to call you, or if there's an emergency at the hospital?" Yes, he actually said, "(What if) there's an emergency at the hospital?" I could have sworn he wore a helmet back in those days, but I could be wrong.

What did people do 20 years ago when they went to the movies? They either hired a baby sitter they could trust, or they didn't go to the movies. If there was even the slightest chance that there was going to be an "emergency at the hospital," they almost certainly didn't go to the movies. So all a cell phone does is allows a person to be irresponsible on one end of his life and inconsiderate to people around him on the other end.

I wonder: How much money did they to pay Largent to, with a straight face, recite sentences that neither he nor anyone else could possibly believe? And how much did he used to lie back in kindergarten?

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