Whiny world of sports could use the sound of silence

November 20, 2006|By Steve Chapman

CHICAGO -- Kids' soccer games have grown so raucous that some leagues enforce a "silent Saturday," when parents are banned from cheering, yelling, booing or swearing. It's a great idea that ought to be extended to professional sports - not to shut up fans but to shut up players.

The National Basketball Association is moving in the direction of greater quiet. This season, it declared a new policy against excessive complaining. The happy result is more technical fouls being called and more players being ejected.

Commissioner David Stern explained, with admirable understatement, "We have the best athletes in the world, playing a spectacular game as well as it has ever been played. In my view, it detracts from it when a small handful of players spend their time negotiating and slowing the game down ... by engaging in an enterprise which is not productive."

And how have the offending parties responded to the new policy? By vehemently disagreeing.

Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett said the rule is "almost like communism." Rasheed Wallace of the Detroit Pistons, who led the league last year in technical fouls, said it was obviously aimed at punishing him. He set out to prove his point by getting tossed from the season opener. Players union director Billy Hunter is so aghast at this suffocating repression that he threatened to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the league.

To which any sports fan can only sigh and say: "Boo-hoo." If professional athletes want to spend their time debating, they should run for office. Nobody goes to a game to see athletes run their mouths.

They do this even though, as Mr. Stern noted, their incessant griping serves no functional purpose.

How many times have you seen a referee slap himself on the forehead, exclaim to the disputant, "By golly, you're right!" and reverse the call? All the grousing does is interfere with the game and make the complainers look like toddlers who missed naptime.

The NBA is hardly alone in the problem. In recent years, you would think a lot of Major League Baseball players had just graduated from law school and were looking for opportunities to practice objecting, pleading and hair-splitting. The National Football League has its quota of professional whiners, particularly receivers who demand an interference call anytime a cornerback says, "Good afternoon." But many of the worst displays come from coaches who insist they can see things from 60 yards away that an official with a close-up view has inexplicably missed.

It was not always thus. In the old days, the Dallas Cowboys had a coach named Tom Landry, whose expression and demeanor couldn't have varied less, win or lose, if he had been embalmed. One observer marveled that he contemplated the game as though he were admiring the paintings in a museum.

Somewhere along the line, Mr. Landry must have gotten the idea that he couldn't accomplish anything by throwing tantrums. Or maybe that the referees were doing their best and, like players and coaches, were burdened by human fallibility. This weird maturity didn't keep him from taking the Cowboys to five Super Bowls.

Professional athletes and coaches wouldn't be where they are if they didn't have the capacity for extraordinary feats.

So here's one some of them should try: Tie your tongue in a knot. Then go do your job.

Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Mondays and Wednesdays. His e-mail is schapman@tribune.com.

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