Men Behaving Badly

Normally the big newsmakers in sports do their work on the field, on the court, in the ring, or on the course. Now they do it in automobiles, in the locker room, in the bedroom, or with their mouths.

These days the sports news is not about athletic achievement; it’s about underachievement. It’s not about won-loss records; it’s about prison records. It’s not about winning titles…It’s about entitlement.

Don’t tell me about the exploits of Chris Johnson on his way to a 2000-yard rushing season. I want to hear about the sexploits of Tiger Woods.

Don’t tell me about the exquisite play of Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dewayne Wade and Kevin Durant. I want to hear about the gunplay of Wild Gil Arenas.

Don’t tell me about Nick Saban’s attempt to become the first coach to win an NCAA football title at two colleges. I want to hear about Mike Leach’s “imprisonment” of Craig James’ son or Urban Meyer’s meltdown.

And don’t tell me about the undefeated records of Kansas, Texas, Kentucky and Purdue when I can read about the arrests of four University of Tennessee basketball players for gun and drug possession, or USC’s self-imposed probation for recruiting violations.

Certainly the Internet and the consuming presence of the media have contributed to this onslaught of negativity. Arenas accelerated his downfall, and made certain his suspension, by his senseless tweets following the disclosure by the New York Post that he kept guns in his locker room. And once the lid popped off Tiger Woods’ bottle, the smutsters couldn’t wait to disseminate word of his conquests throughout cyber space.

But you can’t explain the proliferation of negative news solely by the Internet. The problem runs much deeper than that. You cannot blame the indiscretions, misdeeds and arrogance of Woods, Arenas, Tim Donaghy, Plaxico Burress, Mike Vick, Stephon Marbury, Dan Snyder, Tim Floyd (USC), and every gun-toting and girl friend-beating player in the NBA and NFL strictly on the fact that bad news travels fast.

The root cause of these men behaving badly may be beyond the scope of this column but it certainly has something to do with athletes of limited education, and less common sense, being thrust prematurely into positions of great wealth and power. And it may have a lot to do with players associations (and player agents) which are more concerned with expanding their share of the revenue pie than educating their members and clients on what to do and say.

Arenas, for one, should have been advised to shut up, or to express remorse, when his gun possession was revealed. Instead, he shot himself in the foot, no less than Burress did in that nightclub incident in November, 2008, by making flippant comments about his gun possession and dismissing it as “no big deal.”

Then, on Tuesday night during a timeout in Philadelphia, he laughingly arranged his fingers in a gun-shooting pose which was caught by the cameras. This worked for Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino,” but Gil’s finger pointing sealed his fate with NBA commish David Stern who promptly suspended him “indefinitely.”

If the estimate of some NBA players that more than fifty percent of the league owns guns is even close to accurate, the NBA players association is doing a horrible job of counseling its members. Arenas is one of the few players without an agent, but someone from the players association should have stepped in immediately.

I see a concurrent deterioration in civility and common sense in major league front offices and in the athletic administrations of some of our great universities, which pursue top-level programs without regard to the rules of the recruiting game.

Is there a more despicable owner than Dan Snyder, who treats his fan base with contempt and his employees with disdain? Snyder has implemented draconian rules for parking, has banned critical signage from the game premises, and filed lawsuits against ticket holders who canceled their subscriptions.

Snyder undermined Jim Zorn’s authority by allowing head case superstars Portis and Haynesworth to communicate directly with him rather than through Zorn. Then he hung Zorn out to dry for three months, first by stripping him of his play-calling duties mid-season and then by interviewing assistant Jerry Grey for the head coaching job while he was still working for Zorn. Snyder’s hiring of Bruce Allen as head of operations may change things; but the first ten years of the Little General’s reign have been a professional and public relations disaster.

I also take issue with Bill Pollian, the revered head of operations for the Indianapolis Colts, who summarily deprived his team and its fan base of the chance for an undefeated season by yanking Peyton Manning and other regulars during the second half of their game with the Jets December 27th.

When one weighs the likelihood of Manning being injured (perfect field conditions, no Jets pass rush, Manning never hurt in twelve years) against the possibility of a perfect season and the importance to the fans and the league of preserving the integrity of the NFL regular season, the folly of Pollian’s decision becomes clear.

What of the USC athletic department, which has been embroiled in a three-year NCAA investigation of payments to Reggie Bush and a one-year investigation of the recruitment of OJ Mayo? Ex-coach Tim Floyd admitted making a $1,000.00 payment to a Mayo enabler, but it is suspected that Mayo or his conduit received tens of thousands more to secure the star’s attendance at USC for one year.

To stop the bleeding, USC last week announced that it would prohibit its team from post-season play this year. This high and mighty ploy drew criticism from announcer Jay Bilas, who suggested that long-time Trojan athletic director Mike Garrett be fired. I do not disagree.

And no discussion of NCAA excesses would be complete without mention of the State of Kentucky’s basketball programs. In the past year, Kentucky’s Billy Gillespie was bounced for public drunkenness and cavorting with coeds (as well as a mediocre record); Louisville’s Rick Pitino revealed that he had bedded (or more appropriately,”tabled”) the girl friend of his assistant in the back room of a restaurant; and new Kentucky coach John Calipari left Memphis with a trail of recruiting violations and a depleted roster.

When the rule-bending and unsavory practices are rampant at the top, is it any wonder that the star athlete perceives that he can operate without limitations on his behavior and in defiance of gun laws?

The gun culture among professional athletes threatens the NBA more than the NFL. Already reeling from the Donaghy revelations about corruption among referees and the big brawl in Detroit four years ago, the NBA suffers from a reputation for thuggery and is experiencing sharp declines in attendance and television ratings. Football players are in full uniform, but the tattooed arms and legs of many NBA players are open to view, which contributes to their unsavory image.

With NBA individual game prices among the highest in sports, the fan has a right to expect committed play and tough defense all the time. As any fan of the Wizards knows, tough defense is not the norm with the ‘Zards. Flip Saunders struck a welcome tone last week when he declared that the Wizards “couldn’t guard him..” Mike D’Antoni of the Knicks has also lashed out at his tardy players, often sitting them down.

After the Arenas suspension, one 20-year Wizard partial season ticket holder lamented: “ I spend $550.00/game and go to eleven games a year. I’ve spent over $100,000.00 following this team. I won’t renew next year.”

If Abe Pollin were alive today to witness the suspension of his star player for gun possession, the news would kill him.

As things stand now, he’ll be joined in that mortal state by Gilbert Arenas’ career.

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