A cheap shot followed by a sucker punch, spitting on a rival, an arrest for assembling an arsenal without obtaining a firearm owner’s card — ESPN’s “SportsCenter” has resembled “America’s Most Wanted” over the past week.
The faux pas of professional athletes are arguably more visible than those of many celebrities. Film and television performers have the luxury of second and third takes if they err on the job; when athletes drop the ball — literally — it is televised across the nation or the world, or at least seen by the thousands of fans in the arena or stadium. But the well-publicized misdeeds of a collection of pro athletes recently far exceed anything tolerable by even the most ardent fan.
In the closing moments of a National Basketball Association game between the New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets, Knicks reserve player Mardy Collins delivered a flagrant foul to Nuggets guard J.R. Smith, which touched off a brawl in which Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, the league’s leading scorer, nailed Collins with a sucker punch, then backpedaled his way to the other end of the court. The league dished out 47 games in suspensions — Anthony’s hit-and-run effort was worth 15 games on its own — and the teams were fined $500,000 each.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens fed his unquenchable need for attention by spitting on Atlanta Falcons defensive back DeAngelo Hall. Owens admitted to the vile act immediately after the game, but the next day recanted when National Football League brass took a closer look at the incident. Owens was fined $35,000.
Last week, police served a search warrant on the home of Chicago Bears defensive lineman Tank Johnson, who subsequently was charged with failing to have a firearm owner’s identification card for the six guns in his possession. Bears management warned Johnson that he needed to clean up his somewhat thuggish personal life; Johnson’s reaction was to go out to a bar the next night, where his bodyguard was shot to death during a fight. Johnson seems to have seen the errors of his ways, issuing a rather contrite statement of apology and a written plan for straightening out his life.
Former Suns star Charles Barkley famously said he was not a role model; his message was that parents should set good examples for their children and not rely on those who can shoot basketballs or tackle running backs to provide guidance.
Still, rightly or wrongly, children and adults alike hold pro athletes in high esteem, and those players should be mindful of where their millions come from (ticket and merchandise sales, broadcast revenue based on viewership, etc.).
The Knicks’ Jared Jeffries, who was suspended four games for his role in the fight, comes out of all of this as a bit of a soothsayer: “It’s disappointing because that’s not how basketball should be played. That’s not how any of us have been brought up or taught to conduct ourselves.”
Translation: They know better, and they had better act like it.