Four weeks ago, I decided to do what every Harvard student, confused with a world in which Rush Limbaugh's book is a New York Times bestseller, does at one time or another: I shopped Justice.
During the lecture, the professor told a story about a man who conducted a popular survey in order to assign a unitary value to different types of pain. The survey listed four or five supposedly painful experiences--from having a tooth pulled, to having a little toe cut off, to living in Kansas for eternity--and asked the respondent to put down how much money he/she would have to be paid to experience each.
Before revealing the survey's results, the professor asked all 500 of us shopping the class which experience we thought was the popular choice for most painful. The student response was immediate and correct, at least according to the survey's results: the cavernous hall erupted with shouts of "Kansas."
The incident was haunting. Like one of those "Little House on the Prairie" episodes when Laura gets pissed-off at Nellie, that Justice lecture revealed a dark and pernicious side to what I believe to be basically good people. Face it, for all our endearing qualities--our love of large black shoes and coffee, among them--we Harvard students secretly have something against the Wheat State.
As one known to have traveled through that beautiful, friendly part of the country, my first reaction to the Justice experience was to seek understanding. I thought about the state's exciting topography, its large gray squirrel population, its status as Ike Eisenhower's home state and its rank as one of the top birding sites in North America. I was baffled.
Finally, after weeks of flipping through the Globe's sports pages, my search came to an end. I realized that enmity towards Wyatt Earp's home state stems from an evil, deep-seated jealousy over Kansas' recent athletic successes. For, to nail the hard truth to the door, folks, Kansas' athletes have been grabbing all the headlines these days. Here are just six of the hundreds of potential examples.
1. George Brett brought his hallowed career as third baseman/first baseman/designated hitter for the Kansas City Royals to a classy close by kissing home plate after his last game. "Lou," as he is known to Kansas City faithful (long story), a resident of Mission Hill, Kans., had a .308 career batting average over 19 seasons, batted a whopping .390 in 1980 (where were you, Cal Ripken?), led the Royals to a World Series Championship in 1985, finished fifth in the state in the 1980 Presidential General Election, was said to have had the best pickup lines in the city before getting married a year ago, and will go down in history as probably the best baseball player who ever lived. Not bad.
2. The University of Kansas established itself as the top all-around men's athletic university in American history. During the 1992-1993 school year, the Jayhawks reached the final four in basketball, the College World Series in baseball, and a bowl game in football, the first university to do so since people began figuring out random, useless statistics. Congrats to the men from Lawrence.
3. Joe Carter hit the game-winning home run for Toronto in the World Series. Carter is more famous in the Midwest for leading the Wichita State Shockers to a number of trips to the College World Series in the early 80's under the stewardship of Coach Gene Stephenson. Although not a current resident of Kansas, Carter probably wishes he were one.
4. Barry Sanders is leading the NFC in rushing for the third consecutive season. Sanders, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma State, hails originally from Wichita, and, more specifically, Wichita North High School. His last high school game was played, incidentally, against Manhattan. Sanders resides in Wichita during the off-season.
5. Joe Montana has led the Kansas City Chiefs to the top of the AFC West division for the first time in years. The new resident of Mission Hill, KS, has been true to the standard he set for himself in San Francisco by resurrecting a Kansas City offense that was 23rd in the league last season. Here's to deciding to settle down in the heartland.
6. Finally, as everybody has been aware, the Kansas State Wildcats are mounting their best football season since the 1920's. The Wildcats, considered during the middle of the 80's to be the worst Division I-A football team in the country, are currently 6-1-1 and probably bowl bound. They narrowly lost to Nebraska, tied Colorado, and, last week, beat Oklahoma 21-7 for the first time in 23 years. They are currently ranked 16th in the nation.
Sean D. Wissman is not from Manhattan, Kansas. He has never even spent much time in the state and has no biases towards the Wheat State whatsoever.