Good behavior on the court is secondary to producing wins

Last week, women’s college soccer made national headlines, but not for a championship, an outstanding player, or even a long goal. Instead, it was a five-minute montage of University of New Mexico junior defender Elizabeth Lambert kicking a ball at a defenseless opponent on the ground, punching an opposing player in the back, and — for the knockout blow — pulling an opponent to the ground by her ponytail. That video of her ferociousness even made its way past ESPN to the likes of CNN and other news networks. Of course, the University of New Mexico suspended Lambert indefinitely for her actions.

The day after that announcement, the University of Oregon reinstated their running back LeGarrotte Blount for his incident after a loss at Boise State. During the post-game handshakes, Blount landed a punch to the face of a Boise State player. A few seconds later, while being escorted out of the stadium, he proceeded to start yelling at the home fans, threatening to charge into the stands. And here’s the punch line: This was during college football’s Sportsmanship Week.

Unsportsmanlike behavior is even worse in the professional ranks. In a game played in polo shirts and khakis, its greatest player Tiger Woods can be heard dropping F-bombs after a tee shot landing in the rough. Bill Belichick, the coach with the highest winning record of the New England Patriots, cannot even properly congratulate or shake hands with the opposing coach after a loss.
And yet Blount still gets to play football for Oregon, Woods gets to win his majors, and Belichick is still regarded as one of the greatest coaches. With that, it’s only a matter of time before Lambert is reinstated to her team.

All these stories have the same timeline. ESPN will play the clip at least 30 times during SportsCenter and its sports talk shows. It’ll be discussed by the sports writers and pundits the next day. Then, a public apology is issued by the offender or, for the inarticulate or unapologetic, through an agent. Then some governing body issues a fine or suspension. A month or so later, when everything has quieted down, the offender gets to return to his or her glory.

If anything, that timeline reflects today’s simple philosophy in sports: If you can play, you are going to play. Those tasteless gestures mean little to the coach or the fan. They reflect you as a person, but if you can shoot three pointers or drive a ball 700 yards, you can keep that sailor’s mouth. There are consequences, but they are not nearly severe enough because the fans just do not care.

Are the students going to boycott football games because their starting running back decided to start a post-game boxing match? Are fans going to stop paying ridiculous prices for tickets to the next game? The answer to both is a resounding no.

Speaking of fans, they are guilty as well. Sporting events have transformed from a day for the entire family to a guy’s day out at the bar. Try rooting for the Bengals at Heinz Field; if you do not attract racial slurs, swear words directed at your poor mother, or an invitation to a fight, you probably took the wrong exit on the expressway. The best part is, the fans still pay top dollar for a ticket.
In the huge business of sports, money drives everything, and if there is anything Hollywood can teach us, it’s that bad feelings equals more ratings. That only explains why the highlights of Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Pedro Martinez’s performances at Yankee Stadium are his plunking of Derek Jeter and his infamous takedown of then-Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer. Fans barely recognize the 11 wins and 3.20 ERA against the Yankees, of all teams.

Let’s face it — indecency in sports is here to stay, whether the parents, motivational speakers, and old traditionalists like it or not. Embracing the idea would set sports back to the Russell Crowe [ITAL]Gladiator[ITAL] days. Scoffing at every unnecessary touchdown dance gives you a seat at Bingo Night in the senior center. So for now, tolerance would be the best solution. This trend may die out like those attractive short-shorts of the NBA of yesteryear. Or it could be the future of sports, where every player’s career can be chronicled in outrageous autobiographies and movies.

Whatever the result may be, this new age of indecency and bad sportsmanship has done some good for sports. There is no bigger motivation in sports than a kick in the face or a challenge to a player’s manhood. Sports fans would have missed out on the likes of basketball great Michael Jordan. Fortunately, Jordan returned the favor by criticizing and belittling all his opponents and even some of his coaches and teammates in his Hall of Fame induction speech.

If Michael Jordan can teach us one thing other than his basketball skills, it’s that the jury is still out on this new book of sports etiquette. The future of sports will be the only determinant of the success or the failure of this era in sports. If successful, sports will continue to gain in popularity and they may replace other entertainment industries, such as movies. Failure of this era will turn sports into an obscure part of our culture followed by societal outcasts.

However, for now, it’s going to be the same repetitive argument every time a sucker punch is thrown, a ponytail is pulled, or a bleeped out tirade is played on SportsCenter. Hopefully, this is start of what basketball enthusiast President Obama would call change we can believe in.