High-step some sportsmanship back into the games

October 04, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

Now that those conscientious folks in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission have all but straightened out those alleged problems we had with too much violence on TV, not to mention the fact we no longer have R-rated movies on cable in prime time and Howard Stern has taken to cooing like Liberace, let's give them a real tough assignment: reconstructing sportsmanship.

It's a task that should have been undertaken, what, a couple of decades ago when pro sports became so popular, all inclusive, intrusive and scandalously influential as a result of rampant exposure on television.

Sportsmanship, you remember, don't you? It's what is practiced by a true sportsperson, someone who can take loss or defeat without complaint, or victory without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity, respect, etc. Thank you, Mr. Webster.

Worst fight I ever saw wasn't in a makeshift boxing stadium in the parking lot behind Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, it was at a high school football game and the schools haven't resumed relations on the gridiron in 30 years.

Actually, the pros, no matter the sport, come nowhere near providing the most intense and emotional brawls. It's the semipros (the collegians) and the school kids who often become slightly deranged and caught up in the do-or-die-for-dear-old-Siwash business.

Remember one of the early weeks of last year's football season when there were no fewer than four ugly, bench-clearing incidents, three usually staid ACC teams being involved. Naturally, Miami was included.

It wasn't too long ago that the Marine Corps went around looking for tape of Big East basketbrawl games so it could use them as a training aid during hand-to-hand combat instruction. And this doesn't even touch upon hockey where, it seems, half the participants see nothing wrong with assaulting an opponent with a large, sharp stick.

Television comes in, of course, almost as soon as a kid no longer has to be propped up on a couch between two pillows. And he is treated to:

Some batter taking umbrage to a pitcher either hitting him or coming close (even when the guy has a perfect game going late) and charging the mound . . . to be joined in five minutes of milling around by all members of both teams, including men who have to wake up in the bullpen, then jog 125 yards to the center of attention.

A "highlight" segment of the week's biggest hits or, better yet, a free hour-long video of the best NFL hits of a whole year, free with your paid subscription to Sports Illustrated. Forgotten is the last time hockey made the 11 o'clock sportscast in any other form than a couple of men trading nosebleeds.

And, worst, the crude and unnecessary taunting, together with sickening displays of showboating, being peddled as completely unrehearsed moments of joy being practiced by conquering heroes. Right, a guy scores a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining and his team trailing by four touchdowns and he proceeds to throw a fit of exultation as his mates cheer him on.

Taunting is much worse than the almost-revered end zone spike, because it all but dictates revenge must follow, not to mention the bad feeling that continues smoldering throughout a contest.

Time was when this stuff went on during games involving contact. Nowadays, however, about the only games where contact hasn't become part of the show are golf, tennis and croquet.

And to the player who gets the rebound, the late goal, the blocked shot too often comes the temptation to taunt.

Think the problem is being overstated? Listen: A couple of years ago, the folks who run high school soccer in Massachusetts noted that suspensions for violent play, profanity, taunting and other misdeeds equaled those of all other sports combined. Soccer, for crying out loud!

Season-long suspensions are now in place for repeat offenders, and if a team piles up too many red cards, it's zapped out of postseason play. The tougher penalties have had the desired effect, but trash talking has increased as a result of some young toughs cleaning up their "physical" style of play.

A national high school rule currently reads that a kid is gone from the game if he's red-carded but can be substituted for. It should be no sub and the player is out of the next game, too. Same should apply for everyone else right up to the people making $5 million per annum. Or let's just stop glorifying this junk on TV.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.