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Daniel Downey

Pots & pans: We don’t want to see fallen stars

When they do the unexpected, we say, ‘Say it ain’t so’

It might be an apocryphal story, but it endures and defines American sports fans.

After the heavily favored Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series, a little boy went up to Joseph Jefferson Jackson, known as “Shoeless Joe,” imploring the White Sox star outfielder to, “Say it ain’t so.”

According to the story, Jackson had no comforting answer for the boy, his innocence shattered. Jackson said the story about the boy was just a story a long-forgotten Chicago newspaperman made up. Further, and more importantly, Jackson maintained he wasn’t guilty of conspiring to lose the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds and so did a jury.

Still, Jackson, who hit .375 in that World Series, was later banned for life by baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the same man who worked for more than a generation to keep Major League Baseball lily-white.

Now Jackson, one of the great hitters of his time, is forgotten by all but the stalwarts who argue that he should be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Still, that little boy’s words to Shoeless Joe, apocryphal or not, echo each time one of our sports stars or entertainers tumbles from the pedestal we’d placed them upon with our love, admiration and expectations: “Say it ain’t so.”

Indeed, comedian Bill Cosby’s defenders implored him to deny the accusations of dozens of women who accused him of sexual misconduct, including rape, as if his denials could make the women and their staggering accusations go away.

Sometimes, fans utter, “Say it ain’t so,” to the sports and entertainment gods and not to the miscreants. When fans speak those words to the sports and entertainment gods, they are said with fear and anguish: Please, don’t let people we love throw their talent away with rash and stupid actions.

“Say it ain’t so.”

Over the past several months, Draymond Green, an NBA All-Star and a Summer Olympian, has done everything from getting himself suspended from Game 5 of NBA Finals, possibly costing his Golden State Warriors the championship against the Cleveland Cavaliers, to inadvertently posting a picture of his penis on Snapchat.

Perhaps Green’s actions, including getting involved in a dustup in a bar, are no more than a series of unrelated snapshots in the life of a 26-year-old man, rich and famous, growing up in front of the world. On the other hand, those snapshots might be windows into Green’s real character, a harbinger of worse things to come.

The crusty old curmudgeon in us would like to pull Green by the ear, sit the 6-foot-7 man in a schoolboy’s chair and remind him that being a man goes far beyond doing everything he’s big enough to do. Remind the Saginaw, Michigan, native of what he’s called his long journey of success, including the obstacles and the doubters. Remind him of his $85 million contract and all the good he can continue to do with his money. And then thunder a line from the hip-hop prophet Ice Cube: “Check yo self, before you wreck yo self.”

But the 10-year-old in us, those enchanted by the joy and spirit he exudes on the basketball court, won’t be content to scold Green: Some will send him encouraging letters and tweets. Others will pull for him extra hard during the Olympics and the upcoming NBA season. Still others will pray for him, in one way or another.

After all, Green’s biggest fans don’t want to stop believing that he’ll be able to behave well enough on and off the court to win games and at life.

Say it ain’t so.

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.