When sport is sullied by vulgarity, we all lose

Commentary

Super Bowl

February 03, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

JANET JACKSON, Justin Timberlake and MTV used the Super Bowl to push the pop culture envelope further than Britney Spears and Madonna did with that "shocking" kiss.

A loud minority of Terrapins fans used a Duke-Maryland game to allow their inner potty-mouth to emerge.

Surprised? Ha! We're all a little out of control. OK, a lot. That doesn't mean we should accept vulgarity as it increasingly insinuates itself into our sporting theater. Just because ours is a market economy and free speech reigns doesn't grant us the right to do what we want or say what we want, does it? Not unless you're Shaq - a good daddy to his five young children - profanely ripping NBA officials or the president of the international soccer federation announcing that women's national teams should wear shorter shorts to promote sex appeal.

We need a reality check, not more Reality TV. Is this the inner Republican in me talking? Better check my voter registration card.

The Constitution does not guarantee Timberlake's right to expose Jackson's pasty-adorned breast on national TV.

(And the Grammy Award for Best Lie by a Male Vocalist goes to Justin Timberlake for "Wardrobe Malfunction.") The Bill of Rights does not guarantee your right to chant the F-word at a team and player, also on national TV, as Terrapins fans did against J.J. Redick and Duke on Jan. 21.

The heat is on. After the Super Bowl Pasty-Gate episode, backlash was so strong that CBS apologized to 95 million Super Bowl viewers for what they weren't supposed to see: Another member of the Jackson clan shed in distasteful and unflattering light.

MTV denied it knew the pop stars were going to flash skin on network TV. The NFL is not exactly thrilled, of course. Good thing Jackson's bustier wasn't made out of do-rags.

Maybe there's a reason the No Fun League goes to Big Brother lengths to quash spontaneous celebrations. The Dirty Bird dance once perpetrated by the Atlanta Falcons isn't as dirty as it can get. Thanks to Janet and Justin, we know that now.

Maybe there's a reason the league refuses to allow the Jim McMahons of the world to write whatever they want on their headbands. How low will someone go? All NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has to do is ask Timberlake.

Outrage goes higher than that found in the No Fun League. Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell said the halftime incident will be investigated.

"Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation's children, parents and citizens deserve better," Powell said.

Are battle lines against unacceptable behavior being drawn more quickly and fervently these days? Not quickly or rabidly enough for many sports fans sickened and/or angered by R-rated antics.

Bad behavior is hardly a new phenomenon at sports arenas, but there's increasing willingness on the part of leagues and college presidents to stamp out crude, rude or antisocial behavior.

The Seattle Mariners two years ago attempted to ban T-shirts from Safeco Field if they contained any variation of the word "suck." With the New York Yankees in town, team officials angered free speakers and the ACLU by vigilantly enforcing the team's "family friendly" code of conduct.

This is tricky for teams or colleges to do, especially when their stadiums or arenas are public institutions paid for by tax dollars. That's the hurdle the University of Maryland faces in its renewed exploration of legal means of defining and restricting offensive speech and behavior at Comcast Center. The university called on the state attorney general last week to look into the matter. Maryland alums and school officials were embarrassed during the Maryland-Duke game, when some Terps fans spewed profanity.

The more they cursed, the more space and separation Redick created, the more three-pointers he swished. So much for intimidation.

School spirit is one thing. Unmitigated vulgarity is something else - and not very creative, as Maryland coach Gary Williams pointed out in addressing Terrapins fans at Sunday's game against N.C. State. Williams is right, although maybe he should rethink some of his artery-busting sideline rants - all constructive criticisms of his players and/or officials.

The greatest thing about sports is that they don't need the increasingly crass "real world" intruding on its white lines for it to be what it is, or what it can be, at its best: spontaneous, unpredictable, thrilling, inspiring, amazing, graceful, jarring, joyous, agonizing.

Think of any showdown between longtime rivals. Think Maryland-Duke.

These games are fast, furious. These games are representative of two great coaches having prepared two teams of top-notch players so well that the game becomes a clinic on spacing, passing, shot selection, execution, passion.

It seems to me that Williams and Mike Krzyzewski both preach how you can respect an opponent but still attempt to crush them for a win.

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