Friday, November 26, 2004

Mixed in with all the beatdowns and battles that dominated sports this past week was this little action by the NFL - Indianapolis Colts tight ends Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark were each fined $5,000 for the “jump-and-bump” routine the two had taken to performing after scoring a touchdown.

The league warned both players earlier in the season that continuing the choreographed celebration could result in a fine.

What they should have warned them about is that celebrations like that could end up in a gang war among NFL players, maybe in the parking lot after the game.

Farfetched? How do you explain the fracas last year after a preseason game between Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter in the Heinz Field parking lot as a result of Lewis’ mocking Porter’s celebration after big plays? Or the fight between Porter and Cleveland running back William Green before their Nov.[ThSp]14 game that got both players ejected before the coin toss?

There is no such thing as farfetched anymore in sports when it comes to player violence after the Ron Artest-incited riot in Detroit last week. Players are capable of the most impulsive and violent acts you can imagine - Ray Lewis, as we know from what you don’t read in his video game biography - is certainly proof of that.

The NFL has been criticized for being the “No Fun League” for coming down on end-zone celebrations and other forms of unsportsmanlike conduct that symbolize an “in-your-face” attitude. Those who enjoy Joe Horn’s cell phone performance and Terrell Owens’ touchdown celebrations say, “Hey, lighten up, we’re talking entertainment here.”

But we are not just talking entertainment. It is not that simple. We ask for far more emotion from fans and players alike in this form of entertainment. It is not like going to a movie, or a concert, or a play. The emotions invested by both fans and players often cannot simply be switched on and off by the voice of reason. Those emotions often snowball into something beyond control, and that is the danger of the so-called harmless “entertainment” of these athletic celebrations.

How about this scenario: a player on the opposing team personally decides that a celebration by, let’s say Owens, was a little too personal for him to let go - “disrespected” him a little too much (you know, these players have the “dis” part down pat, but they have no clue what the “respect” part means). So later in the game, this player targets Owens and goes after him with a shot to the back of the knee, and one of the NFL’s biggest stars is now out for the season - or worse.

Now that’s entertainment.

Consider this possibility: a player and his friends feel that someone like, let’s say Cincinnati moron Chad Johnson, took a little too much of their pride away in one of his post-game celebrations. Let’s say the two groups of friends, with players in tow, meet up later in a nightclub, and, after a few hours of drinking, have some words, then some actions, followed by a dozen police cars showing up and a lead story on “SportsCenter” a few hours later.

These are the dangers awaiting the encouragement of such personal celebration expressions if they are not curtailed by the league.

And don’t tell me it is simply a matter of a cultural divide of some sorts. Just because certain actions are part of a particular culture doesn’t make it right. Black and white toilets were part of the Southern “culture” 50 years ago. You can go on and on, all over the world, to find cultural acts that are unacceptable to everyone except those who participate in them. I am not equating end-zone celebrations to racism. It is just to point out that the sweeping answer of a cultural difference doesn’t simply absolve the actions.

What happened in the NBA last week could be worse if the emotions of players are not kept in check, and the way to do that is to keep the game from becoming so personal that it goes beyond controlled entertainment and creates uncontrolled enmity.

Quite simply, the NFL needs to keep the hammer down, or else risk a player getting killed.

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