Oops! Looks Like Someone Just Leveled the Playing Field

If there's still time this morning before they start the ESPN Paraplegics of the Future Games in your time zone, check out Sportscenter at around 34 minutes after the hour.

There's a fascinating interview with David Beckham, apparently wearing Ringo Starr's suit from the Shea Stadium concert in 1965.

I say "fascinating" not because of anything he says - he says just about nothing whatsoever of interest to anyone, although the part about his kids looking at one of his underwear-ad posters and laughing at his package is cute, no question about it.

Rather, it's partly because he has nothing to say that makes it so interesting. Sending you out to perch uncomfortably on a stool while some guy you never heard of asks inane questions is what your handlers do when your brand is as damaged as Beckham's is at the moment.

Partly too, it's interesting because of his responses to questions which they knew he'd be asked and yet, surprisingly, they haven't provided him with snappy, sound-bite, quote-ready lines he can deliver with a twinkle of the famous Beckham eye and that well-practiced boyish grin.

For example, when he's asked how he and Landon (who, in case you haven't noticed, is close to joining the Elvis/Madonna/Marilyn "one name is all you need" club) are getting on in the wake of the latter's public broadsides, he seems to be scrambling for the right words.

He says they get along "great", then he says they're "pretty good" friends, and then he gives us 20 seconds on how he's always gotten along splendidly with every teammate he's ever had, but on the other hand you can't be friends with everyone on your team.

Fortunately, the interviewer is holding a script which doesn't include the line: "Excuse me, but was that supposed to be an answer?" and so there's no followup.

The only notable item to me was the revelation (which may already be known, I spent all of yesterday on my back in a parking lot in the pouring rain re-wiring a trailer) that he has "spoken to Tim Leiweke" (who is otherwise unidentified) and asked him to lift the "life ban" imposed on the LARS member who went over the rail.

I would think that Leiweke, who by now is probably very sensitive about appearing to be taking his orders from Beckham Inc., would rather he wouldn't say things like that but 19 Entertainment has such a shockingly tin ear that it's hardly surprising. In any case, their primary concern is the rehabilitation of Beckham's image as a swell fella, not whether Tim Leiweke is the laughing stock of his Luncheon Club.

But the thing I found most intriguing was Beckham's body language and his demeanor.

His smiles were forced, he seemed very uncomfortable and at the end, when the on-air talent is wrapping up and he thinks the camera is off of him he slumps over like a kid in the vice-principal's anteroom, wearing what is perilously close to a scowl on his face. After a couple of seconds he looks up, realizes the camera is indeed on him and he hits the "charming boyish grin " button as the segment ends.

This isn't the slick pro with the prepackaged personality who has waltzed through 10,000 interviews. He looks miserable, slightly on edge and, most surprisingly, just plain tired.

Back when this whole "Wahl/Donovan/Beckham" kerfuffle began, the obvious question was "Why did Landon do this?" (I've been waiting for the chance to ask Bruce McGuire this very thing because he always knows everything, but we've both been busy, me with connecting the red wire with the green one and him with embarking on a career as a game announcer with the Minnesota Thunder)

Landon is a professional on and off the field. While he has, from time to time, shown some flashes of petulance (which have become much less frequent as he's matured) he is, at base, the consummate pro.

He's been interviewed, by actual count, 57 gajillion times, starting at around age 6. His brain doesn't freeze up when someone sticks a cheap voice recorder in his face. (Although, to be fair, I'm certain Grant Wahl carries a particularly nice one, like maybe a Patek Philippe or a Tag Heuer or something).

So in this particular case, where Donovan knew full well that every word he said would end up on a display shelf in every Barnes and Noble in America, we're left with a very short list of possibilities:

1) Wahl and Donovan were on the 9th day of a two week long ether-and-grain-alcohol bender and had that conversation while taking turns snorting horse off the stomach of a 12 year old Thai hooker

2) Wahl slipped him a Roofie, then made it all up and Landon doesn't want to admit that he can't remember anything for fear that Grant has some extremely embarrassing photos involving farm animals.

3) Donovan wanted the world - and David Beckham - to know exactly what he thought.

Personally, until I hear from Bruce, I'm going with the third option.

Quite obviously, Landon was fed up with watching some bunch of ignorant Limeys stroll over here without the first damn clue and airily assume control of one of the league's marquee clubs without so much as a by-your-leave. Sure, the whole captain thing was a smack in the face but I think the larger issue was the level of arrogance the Beckham Brigade arrived with, and the assumption that even someone like professional towel holder Terry Byrne could show poor, lowly, pathetic little MLS how to manage things.

In short, Landon was just like us.

And the end result has been that Landon Donovan has become our guy. He's the one person, other than Crazy Alexi, who stood up to these snobby English clowns and said what was on his mind; indeed, what was on ALL of our minds:

That the Emperor has no clothes.

When MLS screws up I, like a lot of other people, am not shy about saying so. So when they get something right, I like to mention that as well.

And with the All Star Game, they got it right. It must have been a huge temptation to include Beckham, which Donny the G could have easily done as a "commissioner's pick" and no one much would have argued. He's the league's most famous player, his presence would have been good for TV ratings and the grumbling would have been largely limited to the BigSoccer "MLS General" forum where various crochets and curmudgeons would have worked themselves into a schizophrenic coma.

As it was, the league sent a message: David Beckham is not what we're about. David Beckham is a player, but we've got lots of players and, frankly, the guys in the AT&T shirts are what MLS is all about, not some British show pony and his lovely clotheshorse bride.

In a very real sense, MLS took itself back from 19 Entertainment. And the leader of the movement:

Landon Donovan.

All of us - go ahead and admit it - sat up a little straighter on the sofa when Landon entered the game. And of course, Landon - unlike some grinning marketing icon wearing Miami Vice face stubble and tight underpants - delivered.

Now lots of guys still think that Donovan should make a move overseas. Personally, I think it's a remarkable testament to Eurosnobbery and/or incompetence that teams over there aren't engaged in a bidding war over the guy even as we speak. I know a lot of people will disagree, and I'm fine with that, but if you can't see the quality, the instincts and the creativity then you're just plain blind.

But you know what? To hell with all of them. I think MLS should make the point that this is our league by paying Landon Donovan DP money, on a par with the best paid players in the league.

If nothing else, it's only fair: I like Ljungberg, I like Angel, I even like Cootiemac (and I doubt if even his mother isn't at least a little ambivelent on that one). But if you were starting an MLS team tomorrow, would you take any one of them - or David Beckham himself - over Landon Donovan? If so then go away, you're an idiot.

Let's give LA another exemption and let AEG pay the guy to stay. (Or maybe "force" is a better word. They're the ones who've made all the money on this thing). Let's make the statement that if foreign teams aren't going to pay the money a first rate American player deserves then America will.

Superstar athletes in other major American sports are famous for justifying their demand to be paid on a par with Middle Eastern Oil Shiekhs by saying "It's not about the money (as if); it's about the respect.

And it says here that MLS should give Donovan the respect.

If nothing else, we owe it to him for putting David Beckham on that Sportscenter stool, begging the US to love him again. Worth every penny.