When I was growing up and became self aware about sports the one thing I noticed was the sheer joy athletes experienced when they accomplished something significant. What I also saw was that most athletes were very matter of fact about their performances under normal circumstances. A touchdown scored usually resulted in the football being tossed to the referee, a basket made was accompanied by a non-chalant saunter down the court. These guys acted like they had been there before.
I got a crash course in this from my own basketball coach when I was in high school. I picked up the game relatively late in life. I played three games in seventh grade before quitting the team because of a disagreement with my coach, I played eighth grade ball as a back up, and my ninth grade year I transferred to new school and was ineligible. But during that time I worked hard at becoming better. I played everyday and I kept growing. As a tenth grader I was a more proficient player and had sprouted to a healthy six feet and two inches.
Our first scrimmage was against a rival high school and I was put in the game in the second quarter. I then proceeded to have one of those moments that athletes dream of. I was literally in the zone. On defense I was stealing the ball, blocking shots, and getting rebounds. On offense I was flying down the court, raining in jump shots or slashing to the basket. As I became caught up in my success I became giddy and soon after every shot, steal, or block I was roaring down the floor fist pumping. Then all of a sudden I was pulled out of the game. I sprinted to the bench expecting to hear words of praise from my coach. What I got was an icy stare. He then said in a clear and firm voice the following. ” We don’t act like that here.”
At first I was shocked but then it dawned on me. I had behaved like an ass clown. It was a scrimmage against a mediocre team and I was jumping around out there like we had won a championship. I had disrespected my opponent but also had embarrassed myself and my teammates.
I see athletes today do the most arrogant things and the most glaring are the pros. I remember in the early seventies Green Bay running back Dave Hampton was on his way to a touchdown and he spiked the ball on the one yard line. There was Leon Lett of the Dallas Cowboys showboating on his way to an apparent touchdown against the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl only to be stripped from behind by Don Beebe. Just last week Leon Washington was returning a punt for atouchdown when he felt the irresistable urge to raise his index finger in the air, thus slowing down enough so the punter could trip him up from behind. Basketball players hanging on the rim after dunks and earning technical fouls in the process. Bill Gramatica of the Cardinals jumping in the air after making a field goal only to land awkwardly and injure his leg and Gus Frerotte of the Redskins celebrating a touchdown by head butting a wall and hurting his neck.
It seems like everything requires an over the top gesture. Every Tony Romo touchdown pass requires that he leap in the air and be caught by one of his offensive linemen. Brett Favre apparently has to carry a player off the field on his shoulders. The butt wiggling, leg shaking, hand gesturing, it is all getting out of hand. I feel like sports has become a parody of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Seven quarterbacks a jumping, eight basketball players a leaping, nine hockey players group hugging, etc.
I yearn for the days when athletes acted professional and mature. That they saved celebrating for a meaningful accomplishment. That they worked hard, played hard, and were as professional as any other person would be in a different occupation earning the kind of money that they do. For now I will have to suffer and watch as these self absorbed fops preen and posture themselves to garner attention.
I feel better now. I think I will go out and celebrate.