September 8, 2009
This is what college sports – sports in general – has come down to: pure savagery.
First college football game between the University of Oregon and Boise State. The game started with handshakes in an attempt to inspire sportsmanship. Problem being the athlete has to choose to be a good sport and respectful of his teammates and most importantly the opponents. He has to know that sportsmanship is what sport is built on.
But sportsmanship is nonexistent. It is no longer taught or encouraged or even rewarded. It’s obvious in the way individual players get up after a tackle and prance about like Tarzan after making a play they’re on the field to make. The obscene Tyrell Owens celebration in the end zone meant not for pure celebration but to disrespect the opponents and the fans.
Then there’s the trash talking in basketball and hard fouls meant to injure. LeBron James walking off the court – ala Isiah Thomas against the Bulls – not shaking the hands of his opponents in the playoffs because he doesn’t like losing.
What can you say to someone like that?
How can you teach someone honor and respect when they have been coddled their entire career? When they are guaranteed millions no matter what they do or not do.
How can you teach someone that shaking his opponent’s hand after a game has nothing to do with not liking to lose – or apologizing for losing?
That it has to do with being a winner despite the loss. One doesn’t have to say anything or be happy about it, but it has to be done.
How can he not see that? What was he allowed to do in high school?
And when he was asked about it from the standpoint of being a role model to kids he got angry.
And his sponsors?
This is what “sports” has become and nothing is being done about it because they are not accountable to anyone.
Then there’s the baseball players who, after they hit a homerun, stand at the plate and gloat. Isn’t that what they’re getting paid to do?
They are one of nine on the field and can in no way win the game themselves. A walkoff maybe, but it took 9 innings of team play to get there.
Ryne Sandberg, a great sportsman, gave an excellent speech on respect for the game and ones opponents when he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame. And what happened last year when he went to Cooperstown for the ceremonies (and once again lobby to get Ron Santo enshrined)?
The team he was coaching had an all out brawl. The team he every day spent trying to teach respect has absolutely no respect for him. His pitcher, Julio Castillo, lost it and threw the ball into the opposing dugout…well that was his intention. Instead he hit a fan on the head, giving him a concussion. It could have been much worse – he could have lost an eye or been killed.
Who could ever have thought that he would have had to tell his player that it is not acceptable to throw a bal into the dugout?
Castillo was then arrested and charged with two felonies. The case went to court in July and Sandberg of course was there testifying on Castillo’s behalf. The judge pronounced him guilty on the lesser felony count and Castillo could spend 2-8 years in jail.
What do you think he has learned?
What are the chances he will do something similar in the future?
And the player – Delmon Young – who threw his bat at the umpire?
You decide whether he “certainly never intended for the bat to make contact with the umpire.”
He didn’t even have the integrity to admit he did it intentionally and the umpire had his mask off.
He was suspended 50 games and was required to do 50 hours of community service but he was not banned from the league or the sport.
Pure savages. And not all of it can be blamed on roid rage – a whole nother story.
Then there’s hockey where the refs allow the players to fight for the gladiator entertainment value and one player almost kills another.
What is this teaching young athletes?
Well, back to the college football game. LaGarrette Blount was the “star” running back for Oregon. He had already been suspended during the first summer practice for “behavioral issues” but was allowed back on the team. He had a terrible game even getting taken down for a safety and had no one to blame but himself.
And how did he respond?
He flat out punched his opponent in the jaw, who was not even looking at him. Granted the opposing player tapped him on the shoulder and said something but to full out punch him is beyond wrong. If it happened on the street he would have been charged with assault.
Why are sporting assaults handled only by the school/league? They should be handled as a crimes.
But his rage didn’t end there. He went after his own teammate and then needed to be physically restrained by multiple persons, including police, because he wanted to go up into the stands after fans. He was completely out of control. And after the game he showed no remorse or sense of what he did was wrong and recited some lines clearly fed to him by a coach.
No more football – but he retained his scholarship and can keep practicing with the team.
So he can be drafted into the NFL?
Why is he allowed to take up a spot when someone else who understands sportsmanship and can control himself deserves the spot?
What does it say about the college and their standard of acceptable behavior?
What are the chances he goes to classes anyway?
What if the punch hadn’t been caught on tape?
And what punishment did the taunting Boise State player, Byron Hout, receive?
He deserves to be punished for his lack of sportsmanship, as well. Without that tap and laugh – perhaps Blount wouldn’t have gone off…that game.
What I set out to talk about is the US Open and the emergence of 17 y/o American Melanie Oudin of Marietta Georgia and her outstanding run, which began at Wimbledon.
She is full of exuberance and love for the game. She plays respectfully and keeps at it, grinding away. She is a positive player, who is in control of her behavior. Yes, she fist pumps and cheers when she makes a good play, but it is not directed at her opponent in a jeering way. She does it to encourage herself. There is no loud grunting or squeaking to distract her opponent. No fake injury times outs. No long delays before she serves or making her opponent wait while she pretends to towel off. No whining about calls. No outbursts. No pouting. No refusing to shake her opponent’s or the chair umpire’s hands. And then she spends time with her fans signing autographs.
And after she wins?
No big celebration before she shakes her opponent’s hand – she does so afterward.
And then she shows pure exuberance and disbelief. She gives credit to her opponents. No arrogance or bragging – just a young player finding her confidence and enjoying the moment for the moment in a positive way. What sports should embody. And it comes across to the crowd who doesn’t often see such a player. And she sincerely thanks them instead of expecting them to adore her.
And then there’s her family who looked like they were enjoying every moment of it. No evil faces at her opponent – just happy cheering when Melanie did well. When she played Sharapova, there were a couple of kids in the box probably around 10 who jumped up with such unrestrained joy when she hit a good shot. It was great to see.
Yesterday, her twin sister was there and she began to cry after her sister won. It was quite a moment. Her 9 y/o sister was also there sometimes watching and sometimes distracted – it’s clear that tennis does not rule the family. Her parents overjoyed, watching their daughter do well.
Then there was Dick Enberg who was enchanted by Ms Oudin and Mary Carillo who was touched by the sister’s crying and Johnny Mac who was pulling for her while still being fair to her opponent.
[CNN has a good article about Oudin's friends and fellow tennis players back home.]
Her behavior is reminiscent of one of the fiercest and yet respectful rivalries in sport: Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. How they competed 100% on the court and then consoled the other in the locker room. How they always respected each other in victory and defeat – great friends even now.
I hope her run continues. She has peaked at the US Open – the perfect time for any American – and is in the quarterfinals.
It would be great to see her take on Serena Williams. If nothing else, it would be two Americans in the finals and it would give Oudin great experience. And what shame would there be losing to Serena Williams?