Whatever happened to sportsmanship? When I was young—admittedly a long time ago—if you won, you restrained yourself. You didn’t rub your opponents nose in his/her defeat. The goal was to be a winner, but a graceful winner.
Thus, a few years ago, when Joe Torre was managing the New York Yankees, he had to explain the facts of life to a player new to the team. This young man had just hit a home run and then danced around the bases in a victory lap. All joy and very little self-discipline, he did not realize that he had committed a faux pas.
But then Torre quietly, and privately, explained that this was the Yankees. This was a team that was used to winning. Its players did not have to indulge in victory celebrations for such minor achievements as hitting a home run. They were to take this in stride because it was merely what was expected of them.
Today we see something entirely different on the football field. Nowadays when players achieve success—either major or minor—they feel compelled to engage in a victory dance. Not for them the understated nonchalance of a Jim Brown. No, they compete with one another to see who can be the most original—and vulgar.
This is not only in bad taste; it demonstrates a dangerous decline in social civility. Even in sports, people ought to be treating their opponents as worthy of respect. Instead, the crassness of the urban street has emerged as the new norm. Today’s football players are not only bad sports; they are unruly children who have never learned to control their impulses.
Nonetheless, sports heroes should be role models. Whether they like it or not, their achievements are so admired that they provide a template for how others are allowed to behave. Thus, if they are boorishly childish, they certify that such childishness is socially appropriate.
Well, I may be old-fashioned, but I do not believe this is appropriate. I believe that a society that indulges in such gratuitous acts of rudeness is tearing itself apart. It is, in essence, telling people that they do not deserve to be treated with decency and that it is all right if they reciprocate this discourtesy in kind.
And so I offer a small remedy. If officials in the NFL start penalizing the offenders more rigorously, they may get this epidemic of bad manners under control. I am talking about draconian measures. Offenders should be suspended from play for several games and/or their teams penalized a minimum of twenty-five yards.
This may sound harsh, but only if teams suffer serious loses will they find it in their interest to stop these shenanigans. Only then will otherwise valuable players be deemed too much of a liability to be kept on the team. And then maybe all involved will decide that civilized comportment is in order.