SO, WHO KILLED SPORTSMANSHIP IN THIS COUNTRY? Was it the Atlanta Falcons' Deion Sanders, who thinks it's great fun to high-step the final 20 yards of a touchdown run just to embarrass the poor players chasing him? Or was it his teammate Andre Rison, who loves to perform his Highlight Zone strut after every touchdown, no matter what the score?
Was it the Kansas City Chiefs' Neil Smith, who after nearly every sack, springs to his feet and takes a baseball swing as if he had just hit a grand slam? Or was it the Pittsburgh Steelers' Greg Lloyd, who upon seeing that New York Jet wide receiver Al Toon had been knocked cold in a game three years ago, rolled on top of Toon and counted him out like a wrestling referee?
Was it the things Oklahoma basketball coach Billy Tubbs did and said? Like taking the courtside microphone to quell uproarious Sooner fans and saying, "Regardless of how terrible the officiating is, please don't throw things on the floor." Or was it just the things Tubbs said? Like the time he was asked about running up the score against a weaker opponent and replied, "Humiliating somebody—I guess when you get down to it, that's your job."
Was it furniture-heaving coaches like Indiana's Bob Knight, who says you have to "work the referees"? Or was it coaches like Miami's Dennis Erickson. who insisted that his team captains shake hands with Florida A&M's captains before a 38-0 rout this season and then didn't punish the Hurricanes when they didn't obey him. "We didn't mean any disrespect for Coach Erickson," said Miami defensive end Darren Krein, "but the bond of the team is stronger."
Was it that there were too few coaches like Rockdale County (Ga.) High's Cleveland Stroud, who gave up his team's 1987 state title on a technicality and then said, "You've got to do what's honest and right. People forget the scores of basketball games; they don't ever forget what you're made of." Or was it that there were too many like Colorado's Bill McCartney, who refused to forfeit his team's ill-gotten, fifth-down win against Missouri two seasons ago?
Was it too many athletes like San Diego Charger tailback Eric Bieniemy who think there's nothing to be gained in a loss? Bieniemy tells reporters, "You know me. I don't talk after losses." Or was it too few like runner Andy Herr of Bloomington, Ind., who chose to hold up and finish second in a 10K race in Toledo recently because the leader had accidentally taken a wrong turn?
Was it superstars like Michael Jordan who talked more trash on the court than prison hard-timers? Or was it pro sports front offices that marketed their teams as Bad Boys (Detroit Pistons) and Nasty Boys (Cincinnati Reds), and put slogans on billboards like WE'LL BE ON OUR WORST SUNDAY BEHAVIOR (the Falcons)?
Was it college football players like Nebraska tailback Calvin Jones, who after scoring a touchdown this season ripped off his helmet, held his arms up and out, like Jackie Gleason after a big show, and ran from one side of the end zone to the other—obviously, a man in love with his mirror? Or was it greedheads like cornerback Albert Lewis of the Chiefs, who said, "The days of scoring a touchdown and throwing the ball to the official are over. When a guy scores now, he is promoting something for TV, a new dance. It's for marketing."
Was it schools like Miami, birthplace of the finger in your face, the coin-toss brawl and the rain dance over a two-yard sack? Or was it just Miami alumni like the Dallas Cowboys' Michael Irvin, who announced before a recent game that he was going to try to reinjure Washington Redskin cornerback Darrell Green's broken right forearm?
Was it too many tennis players like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, who always seemed to time their temper tantrums to the moments their opponents began to gain some momentum? Or was it too few golfers like Greg Norman, who disqualified himself for a minuscule rule violation while leading the 1990 Palm Meadows Cup in Brisbane?
Was it fans like Nebraska's, who chanted "Where's Sal?" during a basketball game with Colorado in 1990, six months after the death of Buffalo quarterback Sal Aunese? Or was it fans like Arizona State's, who in 1988 taunted Arizona's Steve Kerr with chants of "P-L-O!" after Kerr's father had been assassinated by terrorists in Beirut?
Was it too many fathers who held their kids back a year in junior high school so that they would be bigger and meaner than their classmates in high school? Or was it too few fathers like the one who saw his 14-year-old son sniping and arguing in a big tennis tournament, walked on the court, took the racket out of the boy's hand and told him to go home? "Dad, I can win this match." the boy pleaded. To which his father replied. "I don't see how. You don't have a racket."
Was it too many mothers like the one in Texas, who put out a contract on the mother of her daughter's rival for the cheerleading squad? Or was it too many high school football coaches who taught their boys that picking up their opponents, dusting them off and saying "Good play" was the equivalent of wearing heels and a skirt?
Was it too many of us just in it for ourselves? Or was it too few of us remembering why we loved sports in the first place?