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Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009

‘I Win, Therefore You (Bleep)’

The Fairly Detached Observers

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Sportsmanship took a shot in the face this month when a college football player slugged an opponent for taunting him after a game. It was an extreme, but hardly isolated, example of the frenzy that can grip players and fans far out of proportion to the importance of what we call “games.” The punch, as well as other incidents in the athletic and political arenas, got the Observers wondering how much the line between respectful competition and personal contempt has blurred—if indeed the line exists.

Frank: The punch thrower, Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, was suspended for the whole season by his coach.

The punch recipient, Boise State linebacker Byron Hout, got no punishment although he initiated the incident. Fair?

Artie: No way! The tape shows it. After Boise’s 19-8 win, Hout whacked Blount on the shoulder pad and said something to him. That’s provocation.

Frank: Boise State coach Chris Petersen was nearby, and the tape shows him going to Hout, obviously annoyed, and reaching for him as Blount throws the punch.

Artie: The punch is worth a whole season, but the taunting isn’t worth even a one-game suspension?

Frank: Boise State said Petersen would “spend time” with Hout to “help him learn.” I hope he also told the whole team that if anyone taunts an opponent again there will be a suspension.

Artie: Not good enough; the provocateur got zilch. Oregon had a “zero tolerance” mind-set, which I hate because it allows for no context.

Frank: Part of the context was that the teams, at the NCAA’s urging, shook hands before the game as part of a sportsmanship campaign.

Artie: Lotta good that did.

Frank: More context—Boise State won at Oregon last year, and Blount was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying, “We owe that team an ass-whuppin’.”

Artie: So what? The usual pre-game woofing.

Frank: More context is that Oregon coach Chip Kelly was in his first game. He sure was decisive; Blount scored 17 touchdowns last year.

Artie: Decisive, yes, especially since we’re used to football and basketball coaches giving nothing but wrist-slaps to star players who misbehave.

Frank: Yeah, those solemn declarations that so-and-so is suspended for the next game or two—which happen to be against cupcakes, so the team is unaffected.

Artie: Yes, what Blount did was flagrant.

But I think Oregon caved to media and NCAA pressure, and that if the provocateur gets no punishment, Blount should have been left with part of the season.

Frank: Blount didn’t help himself by later getting into a confrontation with Boise fans and trying to go after them.

Artie: But again, why are the fans getting involved? It’s like the Ron Artest thing in the NBA a few years ago. Yeah, Artest went into the stands after Detroit fans, but who started it by throwing a beer at him?

Frank: Part of the source of the Boise incident is the media-fueled frenzy to make some games “the biggest... most important... huge showdown... defining moment... gut check... test of character.” For the players, it fuels all the chest-beating, stomping around, standing over a guy after you clocked him.

Artie: All the stuff that says, “I did something good, so you’re nothing.”

Frank: And for some fans, winning and losing get mixed up with good and evil.

Artie: That ain’t unique to America. How about international soccer, where kicking a ball around can be a matter of life and death, literally, for fans?

Frank: Absolutely. And of course these extreme feelings aren’t new. For decades I’ve felt the same way about the Boston Red Sox that you feel about the Chicago Bears— nothing they do is worthy of praise.

Artie: You got that right, bucko!

Frank: And nutso spectators are hardly new. I’m reading a book about early baseball, and it refers to “insulting epithets” toward umpires in the 1860s “not according to the merits of the questions, but solely in reference to their peculiar wishes as to the result.”

Artie: What’s “peculiar” about hating the Bears? Hmm... I wonder what some of those 19th-century epithets were?

Frank: I’ll tell you a current epithet that bothers me—the ever-increasing “You suck!”

Artie: The successor to the “You stink!” that we old-timers used in our youth.

Frank: I guess. Now, I know the current verb has lost its novelty for crudeness, but it still bothers me that at Milwaukee Admirals games, which draw a lot of kids, the opposing goalie is greeted every period, and after goals, by yelling his name three times and then, “You suck!”

Artie: Sometimes opposing outfielders get that at Miller Park, too.

Frank: To me, it just adds a crude element that’s not necessary. But it’s also not surprising; the whole culture just gets more and more coarse. Serena Williams’ F-bombs toward a lineswoman at the U.S. Open went beyond any of John McEnroe’s 1980s tirades. Two of George Carlin’s infamous “seven words” are heard regularly on the airwaves. And most “reality” TV series are just about seeing who can offend and humiliate other people the most.

Artie: While getting stinking drunk the fastest.

Frank: I see a theme in those shows and big-time sports. It’s not enough that I compete with you, or even that I defeat you. I have to show that I’m good and you’re not, I’m a real man (or real woman) and you’re not.

Artie: And if you’re not, well, of course, “You suck!”

Frank: Unless you’re giving a speech in the U.S. Capitol that I don’t agree with. Then, it’s “You lie!”

Artie: Just wait, those congressional bozos will get around to “suck” rhetoric, too.

Whole Lotta Shakin’

Frank: There was another recent incident, right here at Miller Park, that stirred debate about sportsmanship.

Artie: Prince Fielder’s “boom goes the dynamite” act after his walk-off homer to beat the Giants, ain’a?

Frank: I thought it was Prince causing an earthquake when he leaped onto the plate, which sent his teammates flopping backward. It was obviously choreographed, but was it bad sportsmanship?

Artie: Heck no. Nobody did any pointing at the Giants. It was just something to have fun with.

Frank: I agree, although I can see how some Giants might think otherwise—precisely because of what we’ve been talking about. The more players preen and posture for “SportsCenter,” the more opponents are inclined to take personal offense.

Artie: God knows the Brewers need something to smile about. But it’ll be interesting to see if the Giants give Prince a friendly plunking in an exhibition game next spring.

Opening to Good Reviews

Frank: Speaking of your “peculiar” sports preferences, how’d you like the way the Packers swatted down the pesky Bears in the season opener?

Artie: Any win against the Bears is beautiful! And coming back twice in the fourth quarter—the last minutes were the Pack’s downfall most of last year.

Frank: The new 3-4 defense befuddled the Bears much of the night, just swarming everywhere. And on offense, Aaron Rodgers got the winning drive done with almost no sweat.

Artie: For a while I didn’t think Rodgers would make it to the end. In the first half, Floyd the Barber from Mayberry could have pass-protected better than Allen Barbre. It was as if that Chicago defensive end, Ogunleye, said, “I have an appointment to knock the snot out of your quarterback,” and Barbre said, “Yes, sir, right this way.”

Frank: But things settled down in the second half.

Artie: And Rodgers kept his composure and didn’t go Favre-ish. If it had been Brett at the end, who knows what kind of wild flings into the ether we’d have seen?

Frank: Favre didn’t need to fling much in the Vikings’ opener.

Artie: Not against Cleveland, and not with Adrian Peterson running for a buckeighty. Hell, Trent Dilfer or T.J. Rubley could have done as well as Brett.

Frank: But not Floyd the Barber, probably.