By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Well, okay, Joe. Does that include punching out the goalpost padding every time you catch a TD pass? Or styling sideways into the end zone with your finger pointed up the cornerback's nostril, accompanied by selected observations on his family heritage? Does that mean firing your 100-mile-an-hour heater at an opposing batter's head even when payback isn't called for?
Does that mean parking your wrecked stock car next to the pit wall and slugging a fellow driver who's still strapped into his?
What are fans--especially young fans--to think when an NBA superstar shoves the ball into the face of an official? Or when ESPN keeps repeating the San Francisco 49ers' sideline taunts of a badly beaten St. Louis club: "Same old sorry-ass Rams!" What are kids--scarier yet, 40-year-old kids wearing bulldog masks or three shades of face paint--to think when the sports magazines pump up those inside-the-game videos with interior linemen foaming at the mouth? What do fans think when the stuffed-crust pizza hucksters hire John McEnroe to show even-tempered Pete Sampras how to throw his racquet and curse out linesmen? What do fans think when, in another ad spot, NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman yanks Santa Claus right off his feet and starts yelling in his face? Funny stuff.
It's become obvious the fans think this zillionaire barbarian shuck--satirical or not--is just fine, thank you. That's why Dodgers fans pelted the L.A. outfield with souvenir baseballs one night last summer and forced forfeit of the game. That's why a high school kid in Ohio punched out a football referee last month after a questionable call. That's why the drunks in the South Stands at Denver shower abuse on coaches and players. And why noses get busted in sports bars. In Baltimore last year, two company bowling teams got into a free-for-all over a scoring dispute. The night convicted rapist Mike Tyson staged his alleged comeback fight, the most popular bout of the evening was an extracurricular melee among assorted corner men and managers following one of the preliminaries. Go to a kids' soccer game in any city park and you can hear nine-year-olds taunting each other, while their Little League parents urge them on. Overstimulated by TV sports and and set free by their parents' tacit approval, thousands and thousands of American kids have turned into little Ty Cobbs, sliding into second with their spikes high and hot to sign with Nike.
That's why frenzied soccer crowds in South America commit actual murder from time to time. And why schoolchildren shoot one another for the possession of football logo jackets.
The media--newspapers included--have become ever-more-willing conspirators in the sanctification of sport and the exaltation of graceless behavior. Dial in any sports talk show--if you can stomach that kind of thing--at any hour of the day and the wannabes are spewing out their venom and their spare testosterone. Catch the ESPN or CNN or local sports news and the hairdos are snickering over the latest hockey brawl or replaying the afternoon's best punchup-- whether it's from Caesars Palace or Comiskey Park. At the commercial break, Michael Jordan pops onto the screen, selling cereal or cars or condoms or whatever he's selling that hour.
This is an uncivil age. Sportsmanship has vanished. Our games have crawled back into their origins--actual blood war. When they're not showing up on the police blotters, sports heroes are busy showing up fellow athletes, knowing full well they'll make the evening's highlight segment and fatten their contracts in the bargain. In the land of sports worship, the rules have evaporated.
Of course, Jeff Tarango's wife can tell you that. As soon as she's done beating up the ref.