DECENCY TOWARD EACH other, which should never be allowed to go out of style, has been thrown for a loss in the arena of sports. Is it a lack of civility, consideration or ignorance?
Maybe we expected too much from Bernard Williams and James Carter at the Olympics, Terrell Owens in a football game and Ravens coach Brian Billick on the sideline. But they acted regrettably, none of them suggesting a modicum of class or personal dignity. Hurried-up explanations and alibis, even apologies, came later.
In trying to show up their rivals, they revealed how shallow they are in the qualities that constitute gentlemen. Too bad. They were in perfect positions to use sports as vehicles they could ride to respectful positions of acclaim.
Once, in another time frame, a code of respect existed between athletes. All were in the same situation and vying for the same prize. Now that fraternalism seems to have vanished and sports have become the loser.
Carter, a Baltimorean who won his semifinal in the 400 hurdles in the Olympics, mocked his trailing competition as he approached the finish line. He reached back and gestured that the other competitors should hurry up and accelerate or the race was going to be over. It was. Carter won with ease, but that was no reason to denigrate the rest of the field.
An explanation and apology was offered by Carter when he realized what he had done to himself and to the country he was representing. He simply lacked the grace of a champion.
As the Olympics rolled on, another Baltimore entrant, sprinter Bernard Williams, joined in a victory demonstration with teammates.
It was a scene they orchestrated, wrapping themselves in the American flag and going on and on and on in a celebration that wasn't necessary after winning a gold medal in the 400-meter relay.
They were interested in drawing attention to themselves instead of accepting their honors with humility. Williams said he decided to imitate his professional wrestling idol. It turned into bad theater.
Why use the most imposing setting in sports, the Olympic stage, to try to bring back vaudeville? Ah, the class of champions, gold-medal winners, acting the part of exhibitionists. Advertising a version of American sportsmanship to the world at large.
Can it all be attributed to youthful exuberance? Maybe. But there were even younger Olympic winners for the United States who accepted their hard-earned awards without excessive displays.
Again, an apology, but after the fact. There should be some concern for learning acceptable conduct to go with athletic ability.
The Olympic Games are the summit of international competition. It doesn't get any higher than putting on a gold medal and listening to the anthem of your country being played before more than 100,000 spectators.
Now switch from track and field to professional football. Terrell Owens, a receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, scored two touchdowns in a game two Sundays ago and each time ran to the center of the field to stomp on the lone star of Texas that the Cowboys use as their logo.
To the credit of 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, Owens was fined and suspended for the next game. It was about time a coach showed some character instead of caving in to the players.
In fact, if the silly post-play demonstrations are to end, the coaches can do it by merely telling their teams it is unacceptable - we don't do that.
Coaches, as well as NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, have the authority to control such actions, but it's as if they are reluctant to take a position in cleaning up what has become a mess to observe.
Now to a man and coach who should know better. Billick, leader of the Ravens, previously coached at the University of Redlands, Brigham Young, Utah State, San Diego State, Stanford and for the Minnesota Vikings.
It was Billick, 46 and seemingly mature, who showed no mercy to a beaten, listless foe, the Cincinnati Bengals, and its later deposed coach, Bruce Coslet. The Ravens had the disorganized Bengals beaten 34-0 with two minutes to play.
Instead of letting the clock run out, Billick called for the review of a play, prolonging the agony, as if the Ravens needed another field goal or touchdown to win. Coslet, the losing coach, left without going through the congratulatory ritual with Billick.
It was a bush-league move by Billick. He's in the big leagues, the NFL, a head coach, and should want to act with a decorum that accompanies the position.
No one is casting aspersions on his coaching ability - only a lack of consideration for an adversary that didn't need more humiliation.