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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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March: From Bad to Worse
March 2021

After spending a year in Bizarro World, I had hoped 2021 would offer at least a modicum of normalcy.

Instead, the new year has thus far proven to be an extension of 2020, only more personal.

The year started auspiciously, with professional players in the U.S. returning to action in smaller tournaments. A ray of hope.

Instead, in early February, an ill-advised middle-of-the-night live stream captured and shared and even more ill-advised confrontation between two “professional” players. The unfortunate incident during a post-tournament action match between four-time Team USA Mosconi Cup team member Billy Thorpe and veteran player Robb Saez included an inebriated Thorpe launching into an expletive-laced rant that lasted several minutes and concluded with the young Ohioan using a homophobic slur and physically accosting Saez.

Not surprisingly, the ugly incident quickly made its way through social media and went viral within the pool community. Players and fans weighed in on the seriousness and ramifications of the episode, with some brushing it off as a common occurrence in gambling sessions, some blaming the live stream and some admonishing young Thorpe for his unprofessional behavior.

Thorpe’s major sponsor, Cuetec, however, did not mince words. The popular cue brand, which also sponsors Shane Van Boening and world champion Fedor Gorst, almost immediately issued a statement saying that it was severing its relationship with the 24-year-old Thorpe. The statement was received with mixed reviews, with some suggesting that fans boycott the cue line.

After initially attempting to dismiss the episode as “not a big deal,” Thorpe eventually showed sincere remorse in an online interview with Cue It Up Network. “I’m embarrassed,” he said. “I need to look at myself in the mirror and find a way to be better.”

Billy Thorpe is a great young player with tons of talent, fire and heart. Few players go out of their way to engage with fans and encourage youth players more than Thorpe. Perhaps too much success too soon caused his vision to blur a bit. He has learned the hard way that you can’t profess to be a “professional,” and expect to be paid and treated as such, if you don’t hold yourself to a higher standard of behavior.

I think Billy Thorpe will be a better person, and perhaps a better player, because of this. He is young. He has time to rebuild his tarnished reputation. And it will take time. He should not be given an easy pass. And, hopefully, other young players with aspirations of having sponsors and being on posters will realize that you can’t have it both ways. Either you are a professional, or you aren’t.

As for Cuetec, kudos to the brand for standing up quickly and firmly against such behavior, caught on film or not. Billiard brands that invest in players put their hard-earned reputations on the line when they link their products to top pros. This isn’t philanthropy. It’s business, and it’s time the players realize that.

Of course, the Thorpe episode quickly took a back seat in the pool community’s consciousness on Feb. 17, when it was learned that Jeanette Lee, the biggest name in pool since Minnesota Fats, had been diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer.

Lee, 49, has already undergone several rounds of aggressive chemotherapy and is considering additional surgery to slow the spread of the disease, which has already metastasized.

News of the wildly popular Lee’s diagnosis quickly reached well beyond the billiard community, with news sites like The Washington Post, New York Post, Tampa Bay Times and People magazine picking up the story. Popular internet sites like Yahoo, Deadspin, TMZ and Today spread the news as well.

Of course, the pool community is well aware of all of the physical challenges Lee has battled throughout her Hall of Fame career — numerous surgeries on her back, neck and shoulder to alleviate or stabilize the havoc wreaked on her body from scoliosis. Her determination and will throughout her career have made her an inspiration to many who have never even touched a cue.

In true “Black Widow” fashion, Lee took a philosophical approach to her latest challenge. “I don’t think God is done with me yet,” she said. “This is just another way to inspire more people.”

One thing no one can deny, Lee is a ferocious fighter. Her rise as both a player and a brand can be directly attributed to her single-minded focus to succeed. Few players worked harder to reach the top than Lee, who was known to follow top players around the country, badgering them for tips and convincing them to play so that she could soak up their knowledge. She took the same approach to her brand-building, never missing an opportunity to expand the visibility of the “Black Widow.”

Jeanette Lee’s impact on the billiard world can never be overstated. If a sport like billiards is lucky, once in a generation a player comes along that transcends our world and catches the attention of the masses — the masses we so desperately want and need to make aware of the sport. Over the last 30 years, Jeanette Lee has been that player.

We should all pray that, in gratitude and as a reward, she is around for another 30.

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