Sport just isn’t the way it used to be.
Albeit I’m only two years removed from being a quarter-of-a-century in existence, but if my sports almanacs hold any relevance, then they state that Bill Russell never cursed a courtside fan, Joe Montana never had a scintillating naked woman jump him in the locker-room, and Wayne Gretzky never leapt into the stands to pummel a spectator.
Navy and Army never “rumbled” during one of their classic football matches, and the only performance-enhancing substance Babe Ruth ever took was a rib eye steak with mashed potatoes.
But today’s athletes do—and how. Take the above mentioned shameful incidents which occurred only in the past month.
There was Latrell Sprewell, who yelled sexual vulgarities to a female spectator and did it on live television no less. There was Terrell Owens, who was part of a Monday Night Football skit that saw actress Nicollette Sheridan of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” drop her towel in the locker-room to convince Owens to skip the game for her.
There was Ron Artest, who after having a beverage thrown at him, raced into the stands to take on any on-comers.
There was the South Carolina and Clemson skirmish, which was the final game for legendary college football coach Lou Holtz.
And last but not least, there was Jason Giambi, who admitted to taking steroids after Victor Conte, of the infamous BALKO laboratories, divulged how he supplied Giambi and many other stud athletes with enhancers.
So what’s happened to sport? Or more importantly (to paraphrase the lyrics of Pete Seeger), “Where has all the sportsmanship gone?” And who killed it?
Was it players like Frank Francisco of the Texas Rangers who, this past September, threw a chair into the stands that broke a woman’s nose?
Was it the Baltimore Ravens’ Deion Sanders, who popularized the notion that it’s a great thing to high-step the final 20 yards of a touchdown run just to embarrass the poor players chasing him?
Was it the New Orleans Saints’ Joe Horn, who pulled out a cell phone from the padding used to protect the goal post and made a call from the end zone?
Was it superstars like Michael Jordan, who talked more trash on the court than construction workers on a lunch break? Or was it pro sports front offices that marketed their teams as Bad Boys (Detroit Pistons) and Nasty Boys (Cincinnati Reds), and put slogans on billboards like DAMNYANKEES (Boston Red Sox)?
Was is that there were too few coaches like Rockdale County (Ga.) High’s Cleveland Stroud, who gave up his team’s ’87 state title on a technicality and then said, “You’ve got to do what’s honest and right. People forget the scores of basketball games, they don’t ever forget what you’re made of.”
Was it the Edmonton Eskimos’ Henry “Gizmo” Williams, who would perform a flip in the end zone after scoring a touchdown because he wanted to “give the people a good show”?
Was it furniture-heaving coaches like Texas Tech’s Bob Knight, who says you have to “work the referees”? Or was it greedheads like former long-time Kansas City Chief Albert Lewis, who said, “The days of scoring a touchdown and throwing the ball to the official are over.
“When a guy scores now, he is promoting something for TV, a new dance. It’s marketing.”
Or was it too few of guys like Marvin Harrison, who does throw the ball to the official right after scoring a touchdown?
Was it too many tennis players like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, who always seemed to time their temper tantrums to the moments their opposition began to gain some momentum?
Or was it too few golfers like Greg Norman, who disqualified himself for a minuscule rule violation while leading the ’90 Palm Meadows Cup in Brisbane?
Was it players like Owens who, after scoring a touchdown in Dallas, ran to the Cowboys’ logo at centre field and spread his arms? Was it players like Owens, who pulled out a Sharpie from his sock and signed the football after he scored a touchdown?
And was it players like Owens who said, “I carry a Sharpie with me at all times now. In my car, in warm-ups. Got to flip the script. I’m brainstorming for my next one.
“They thought the Dallas things was hard to top, but I topped it. Took me two years, but I topped it.”
Was it too many fathers who held their kids back a year in junior high school so that they would be bigger and meaner than their classmates in high school? Or was it too few fathers like the one who saw his 14-year-old son sniping and arguing in a big tennis tournament, walked on the court, took the racket out of the boy’s hand, and told him to go home?
“Dad, I can win this match,” the boy pleaded. To which his father replied, “I don’t see how. You don’t have a racket.”
Was it too many high school football coaches who taught their boys that picking up their opponents, dusting them off, and saying “Good play” was the equivalent of wearing heels and a skirt?
Was is that there were too few coaches like Bob Swing of the Muskies, who refused to put his starting quarterback back in a crucial game after he suffered a concussion?
Was it too many players just in it for themselves? Was it too many fans who tune in just for the theatrics? Was it not enough parents giving their kids lectures after seeing their child taunt opposing players?
Or was it too few of us remembering why we loved sports in the first place?
Sport just isn’t the way it used to be.