- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

This doesn’t seem like a very good time for admiring athletes. Marcus Vick, Sean Taylor and Ron Artest have reminded us very effectively just how unpleasant some so-called “superstars” can be. Let’s call it a case of beef jerky.

As you must know by now, Vick stomped, Taylor spat and Artest … well, let’s just say he was true to form in saying he should have been picked for the U.S. Olympic basketball team because “I may not be a class act, but I’m an American.”

Ron, baby, you’re a riot.

We also were treated, if that’s the word, to the sight of the Washington Wizards and Maryland Terrapins apparently giving something less than their all in losses last weekend. Wizards star Gilbert Arenas told reporters “we need to play harder” after a 21-point pasting by the usually pathetic New York Knicks. And Maryland coach Gary Williams lambasted his troops for 25 minutes following a 14-point defeat by Miami, because, among other things, “they were tougher than us in every way.”

All of which begs the question: How in the name of Pete Rose — whose famous intensity on ballfields earned him the nickname “Charlie Hustle” long before it changed to “Charlie Hustler” — can any self-respecting athlete at any level perform the requisite duties of jockdom at less than 100 percent?

Don’t these guys realize how lucky they are to be playing children’s games and getting enormous salaries or free college educations? No, I suppose not, because in many cases star athletes are spoiled brats who think the world owes them a living or at least an education, even if they don’t take advantage of it.

Frequently, we see athletes pointing to the sky after they score touchdowns, hit home runs or whatever. It would be nice to think they’re thanking Somebody Up There for their God-given talent, but I suspect that in some cases the gesture has become merely another way of calling attention to themselves — sort of like falling backward in the end zone or standing at the plate in admiration of how far you managed to smite a helpless horsehide

Virginia Tech was entirely right and deserves enormous credit for drop-kicking Vick out of school and off the team for trying to mash a prone opponent. And did you catch his comment before the school issued a PR-polished “apology?” It went something like this: “No big deal — I’ll just move on to the next level.”

Well, maybe not. A couple of days later, he purportedly pulled a gun on three teenagers in Suffolk, Va. — the latest but likely not the last time he has run afoul of the law. If big brother Mike isn’t ashamed of Marcus, he ought to be.

Then there was the case of Taylor demonstrating how to discharge saliva with impressive velocity through an opponent’s face mask. The NFL declined to suspend him for tomorrow’s playoff game in Seattle, opting to tap his wrist with a meaningless $17,000 fine, but he should have been sat down by the Redskins.

I know, I know — Taylor is an incredibly talented safety whose loss could leave the Redskins’ secondary highly susceptible to the slings of outrageous fate, not to mention of Matt Hasselbeck. But so what?

Taylor has demonstrated repeatedly that the rules and mores governing most of us do not apply to him, because he can run, tackle and knock down footballs with reckless abandon. After all, this is the player who refused to answer messages from Joe Gibbs during the offseason and has been in trouble during his two seasons more often than a Cowboys fan at FedEx Field. Who needs him?

By sitting him down this weekend, Gibbs could have further burnished his reputation as a man of singular integrity. And if the Redskins lose to the Seahawks as a result, so be it. It’s only a football game, not the end of Western civilization as we know it.

The fact of an athlete loafing or laughing at society should be enough to make us sadder and madder than any mere loss by a favorite team. There’s no reason to boo when a jock makes a mistake — after all, we all do — but any indication that somebody isn’t trying, or doesn’t care how he behaves, deserves a few crates of overripe raspberries.

It isn’t easy to live by the rules and put out effort every moment on the field or court, but you simply have to try, try and try again, because that’s what being a decent athlete — or a worthwhile person — is all about.

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