By Mark Vasto
The Casey Anthony trial was only the latest courtroom drama that our nation has been captivated by. There was round-the-clock coverage by the major news networks (a CBS anchor wept openly after the verdict. Dude ... there's no crying in journalism!). This added a Hollywood-like vibe to the case, mostly because the entrants out of Tinseltown didn't matter much. Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton are, like, so yesterday. Even the gossip columnists are bored with that stuff.
I was thinking about this on a visit to The Raymond Burr Vineyard in Sonoma County, Calif., last week. Driving to a friend's house through the Dry Creek Valley, where if you threw a shoe you'd end up in another winemaker's tasting room, I had to pull in and grab a little of this grape, even if we were running late.
"Who's Raymond Burr?" my loving wife asked.
"Who's Raymond Burr? He's the greatest TV lawyer of all time! Perry Mason!" I exclaimed.
The wine was fine, but it further reminded me of the voyeuristic nature of a judicial trial. "Perry Mason" ran for decades, half of every episode in a "Law & Order" show is in court. "The People's Court," "Judge Judy," "Judge Mathis" ... heck, even "The Biggest Loser" ... they're all courtroom spectacles.
But when it really comes to this particular niche, nobody does it better than the sports world.
In 1918, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson is acquitted in court for gambling on baseball games. A child says, "Say it ain't so, Joe!" as he walks out of the court. The heartstrings of readers in every morning and afternoon paper are tugged by every bold-faced headline. Commissioner Judge Landis kicks him out of baseball anyway. Shoeless Joe went on to bag groceries and died penniless.
Fast forward to 1967. Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight champion of the world just off the greatest display of boxing that one man has ever put fourth in the squared circle in a demolition of Cleveland Williams, refuses to be drafted into the military. He'd fight Joe Frazier in Manilla, but he wasn't going to fight a people "he had no quarrel" with. He was arrested for dodging the draft, but he took his appeal to the Supreme Court and won -- but, with the exception of a few, he was found guilty by the sports media.
Mike Tyson was a frequent star of courtroom dramas in the '90s, and so was linebacker Ray Lewis. And of course, we watched the O.J. Simpson trial -- complete with Patty Hearst lawyer F. Lee Bailey to round out the cast and crew -- reach the highest television ratings of all-time a scant decade ago.
This year we'll get to watch Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds in court, important to be sure, but probably lacking in the drama most journalists would like to see. Rubbing flax seed oil on your arms and lying about to Congress just isn't sexy enough for some people it seems.
But who's judging, right?
Mark Vasto is a veteran sportswriter and publisher of The Kansas City Luminary.
(c) 2011 King Features Synd., Inc.