Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And college basketball's season-ending tournament, March Madness, kicks off this weekend. Commentator Frank Deford has hustled together some thoughts about one word you'll be hearing a lot in the coming weeks.

FRANK DEFORD: Hustle. Come on, say it with me: Hustle. No. Everybody, together now: Hustle. Now, that's more like it.

Surely, hustle is the single most beloved word associated with sport. Hustle. As color is to rainbows, as chocolate to the palate, as sweet nothings to love, hustle is to sport. Hear it now: hustle up, hustle down the line, show us more hustle. And, oh my. Oh, my. How often are you going to hear this in the weeks ahead during March Madness: they got to hustle back on defense.

That, apparently, is the only way human beings can properly get back on defense: by hustling. You can never hustle too much - well, except perhaps for Pete Rose, who hustled with such ostentation in his salad days that he was derisively tagged Charley Hustle. But soon that became a badge of honor. Famously, Rose ran to first base even when he was given a walk. Like that, hustle is defined mostly by the legs.

I don't think, for example, that people who go golfing, diving or bowling are exhorted to hustle. But yes, some athletes can hustle sitting down. Jockeys are said to hustle their horses to get to the lead. Expect to hear that when they come out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby.

No, don't mess with hustle. Recently, Nick Saban, the coach of Alabama, who has a very disciplined bunch of fat Southern boys who often win national titles, playing deliberately, tried to get a rule into college football that teams on offense should be allowed to hustle up the next play in less than 10 seconds. But the NCAA wouldn't even consider it. You can bet a chastened Nick Saban won't ever again be anti-hustle.

But then, there actually are a few athletes, even a few stars, who are hustle-averse. The strangest is Robinson Cano, late of the Yankees, now of the Mariners. He's a terrific player - hits, slugs, fields. He's incredibly dependable, plays when he's hurt. But Cano just won't hustle. He hits the ball and stands there. He lollygags his way to first base. The Yankees were exasperated. You people in Seattle will see. It will confound you. But Robinson Cano is that rare hustle-deaf player.

It's weird, too. Because outside of sport, hustle has a negative connotation. "American Hustle" ain't Charley Hustle. A hustle is a scam, a hustler, a flim-flam man. A gentleman who takes advantage of a lady's heart or other segments of her, is not a gentleman. He's hustled her.

But there is no bad hustling in sport. Teach your children to hustle. Especially, teach them to hustle back on defense. They may not be very good but they will be celebrated.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford can be heard here every Wednesday.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

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Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford