HAVE SPORTS gotten too important? Reading yesterday's...

HAVE SPORTS gotten too important? Reading yesterday's paper, I tried to remember when I'd seen a story receive so much coverage.

The last story to get that treatment was -- the retirement of Michael Jordan, the basketball player. We didn't give nearly that much space to the retirement of Thurgood Marshall, and he was from here. We didn't give that much coverage to Justice Marshall's death. We probably wouldn't give that much coverage if he came back to life. (We probably wouldn't give that much coverage if Jesus came back.)


You can't blame the press for this overboard fascination with sports. Governor Schaefer and Mayor Schmoke and the head of the Rouse Co., et al. weren't in Illinois Tuesday offering to pay any price, bear any burden for an NFL franchise because they got hyped up reading The Sun. They were there because they believe having a National Football League team is vital to the city's and region's prosperity.

But Charlotte has an NFL franchise, and we don't, at least for now and probably forever. So we're envious. My colleague Dan Berger says what we really ought to be envious of in Charlotte is the headquarters of NationsBank.


He's right that having a huge bank headquartered here would add more to the city's prosperity and livability than a pro football team would. But what I'm envious of is Charlotte's murder rate. Charlotte's population is about 55 percent of Baltimore's, but it has only about 30 percent as many murders.

My theory is that that's why the NFL chose Charlotte over us. If my theory is correct, then in round two we should easily defeat St. Louis. It has a much higher murder rate than Baltimore. That's the good news. The bad news is that Memphis and Jacksonville have lower murder rates. (I hate myself for bringing this up, but Indianapolis' murder rate is about half ours.)

Just kidding about my theory. Crime probably was not an element in the decision-making of the NFL (except maybe subliminally, raising fears about future growth and economic health). But crime definitely is an element in the decision-making of many other businesses and individuals when it comes to choosing a place to live and/or work. Cities like Baltimore are bleeding literally and figuratively from street gunfights. Our population has dropped 20 percent since the urban crime explosion began in the mid-1960s. Anyone who thinks the two are not related is kidding herself.

Everybody talks about crime, but nobody does anything about it. It is becoming like the weather. You just live with it. Or die with it.

I think that's wrong -- even unacceptable. I think that if the mayor and governor and business establishment and, yes, the press, devoted as much attention, energy, passion and money to doing something about crime in Baltimore as they have devoted to getting an NFL franchise, the day would come when the NFL cities would envy us.