- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

The phlegm was flying in the NFL on Sunday — hoo-wee! The Steelers’ Joey Porter and the Browns’ William Green swapped saliva during a pregame fight that resulted in their ejection, and reports out of Cincinnati suggest the Redskins’ Sean Taylor spit on the Bengals’ T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

(Of course, it’s possible Taylor was just trying to say, “Houshmandzadeh.”)

To get serious for a moment, though, these kinds of episodes are becoming far too common. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Earlier this week, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, “It has been something that has been escalating from certain players. Hopefully, the league will do something to cut it out.”

Something to cut it out … How ‘bout if we cut out their tongues?

Porter says it was all a “misunderstanding” — as if there’s anything to misunderstand about, as Green put it, “a glock of spit shoot[ing] in my face.” These guys are unbelievable, aren’t they? They’ve always got an alibi, always make it sound like they were just minding their business, polishing their helmet or something.

When the Redskins’ Dexter Manley gave the Saints’ Jim Dombrowski an impromptu shower way back when, he said he didn’t mean it, that he “sneezed.” After European soccer star Lorenzo Amoruso doused an opponent last year, he also claimed it was an “accident.”

“I have never spat at a player on purpose in my life,” he said. “I was clearing my throat when the player … happened to be running past.”

(The Scottish Football Association, unmoved, banned him for four games. All Amoruso proved, an observer wrote, is that “he’s far more accurate with a blob of phlegm than he ever was with a free kick.”)

My favorite all-time excuse, though, was the one given by Detroit Red Wing Martin Lapointe, who was accused of baptizing a cameraman during a game. “The truth is, I would never spit on somebody,” Lapointe said. “I would punch him first.”

Baseball umpires seem to be the most popular targets. The Orioles’ Robbie Alomar expectorating on John Hirschbeck — we all remember that incident. Then there’s the one, a short time later, between Reds manager Ray Knight and ump Jerry Layne, though that was more of a misdemeanor.

“The umpire does not claim [Knight] spit at him in a manner as if he hauled back and spit,” National League vice president Katy Feeney said in suspending Knight, “but there was spraying involved because he got so close to him.”

Is this a great country or what? Not only do we have 300-odd cable channels and 57 varieties of Heinz products, we also have two different classifications of spitting: (1) Actual Spitting; and (2) spraying.

Just this past season, the Cardinals’ Roger Cedeno was given a four-game vacation after a run-in with pitcher Rick Reed. The ump seemed to think it was a Category 1 infraction, though intent is always difficult to prove in these matters. All Reed knew was that “whatever [Cedeno] had in his mouth, the contents came on me.”

I’m not a legal expert, but it sounds like spitting in the first degree to me.

Once upon a time, sports kept spitting in its proper place — such as, in the major leagues, on the baseball. Until 1920 (and even later for a handful of veterans protected by a grandfather clause), it was perfectly legal for a pitcher to load one up, to slobber all over the horsehide. The last of these “designated spitters,” Burleigh Grimes, made the Hall of Fame.

“I used to chew slippery elm — the bark right off the tree,” he once said, “Come spring the bark would get nice and loose, and you could slice it free without any trouble. What I chewed was the fiber from inside, and that’s what I put on the ball. That’s what they called the foreign substance. That ball would break like [heck], away from right-handed hitters and in on lefties.”

How did we get from there to here, from pitchers conducting chemistry experiments on the mound to athletes spewing their spittle on one another? Why, even Liza Minelli is getting into the act, according to her former bodyguard. In a recent lawsuit, the bodyguard claims that when he told Minelli he was suing her for wrongful dismissal, she spat on him. (It will be up to a jury to determine whether her act constituted Actual Spitting or just spraying.)

When are folks going to figure out that it’s Just Not Worth It? Bill Romanowski hawked a loogie in the direction of J.J. Stokes, and look what happened: His life has been a nightmare ever since — prescription drug charges (of which he was acquitted), the BALCO mess. Charles Barkley, who once spit at a fan (and hit a little girl by mistake), says it’s the only thing in his career he regrets. And we all know the fate of Cedeno’s Cardinals — swept by the “cursed” Red Sox in the World Series.

A bit of advice for Joey Porter, William Green and all the rest: Next time, think about swallowing.

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