Despite Daunte Culpepper’s departure for Miami, he’ll be making a few non-voluntary return trips. That’s because the Vikings Sex Boat scandal continues to play itself out in the legal system. We trust our courts of law, of course, but it was never clear to us what laws precisely were broken in that unseemly episode. Last time we checked, casual, consensual sex between adults was discouraged but not illegal. Lap dances, on the other hand, are perfectly legitimate and generally considered protected by the First Amendment as a sort of artistic expression. (To be sure, lap dances are supposed to take place in a licensed establishment, with the other trimmings of public performance—you know, stage names, soft-lighting gels, costumes of sorts, those sorts of things.) We’re not saying that makes lap dancing good; we’d rather not have to adjudicate that subject. It is easier to say that people ought to be able to express themselves, than to dictate how they should do it (or what they should wear while they’re doing it). Incidentally, the word is that the post-Culpepper era will begin with a bold move on the franchise’s part. The team is redesigning its uniform, including the risky sartorial proposition of purple pants. If they could also eliminate that faux-military script Vikings logo that has long polluted end zone and sweatshirt, we’d be grateful.
As it turns out, the Twins will be tweaking their uniforms, as well. In honoring the late Kirby Puckett, the players will wear number 34 patches on their sleeves this season. It was ennobling to see Puckett’s send-off in March, and we felt bad that he’d retreated so far from the public eye in the years after his retirement. Of course, it didn’t help when, three years ago, his private life was blown wide open in a Sports Illustrated cover story, and the self-righteous colloquy that proclaimed his good-guy image a “sham.” Sometimes public figures remember these injuries much longer than the public does. No one wishes to excuse the man’s flaws, but it was nice to have so many reminders of the joy Puckett brought to doing his life’s main work—or, really, to playing a game. What Puckett’s story underlines is how much media have changed in the past fifty years. There was once an assumption that pro athletes were role models for our youth, and the media helped prop up this felicitous myth in part by leaving alone the private unpleasantries that are, in some degree, visited on every life. In later years, plenty of pro athletes kicked back by getting tattooed and dying their hair and getting in fistfights at nightclubs. If their private lives were to be scrutinized and publicized by the press, then they would stop pretending to be ambassadors for their corporate owners, stop dropping into elementary schools and pediatric wards and tousling the hair of towheaded young fans. By those standards in his public life, Kirby Puckett was a throwback. He loved being a baseball idol and representing the honorable values of hard work, mutual respect, self-sufficiency, loyalty, and generosity. Whether these values carried over into his private life is probably a question we should all turn on ourselves.
The other day, another franchise player expressed his loyalties to our fair cities. Columnist Nick Coleman pleaded with his bosses at McClatchy, the overlords of the Star Tribune, to do right by his old employer, the St. Paul Pioneer Press. At first we were a little startled to hear Coleman explain that loyalty is one of several values that supersede money-making, because we recall Coleman’s surprising jump from the Pioneer Press to the Star Tribune in 2003, after seventeen years at the former paper. (At the time, it seemed odd that the Star Tribune wanted to add yet another reasonable and articulate fellow to its stable of … well, middle-aged, white-male columnists; the paper has since achieved a sort of corrective balance by hiring a shrewish neo-conservative think-tanker.) But this would be unfair. Coleman, after all, spent his first decade as a newspaperman at the Star Tribune. There is a difference between being a company man and being a community man.