Wednesday, January 2, 2008

On Sportsmanship

So what's with all the taunting and woofing that has infested college football?

I watched a few bowl games and came away with a bad taste that I'm pretty sure has nothing to do with New Year's Eve revelry.

Before we go any farther, I want to make it clear I'm not against youthful exuberance. I even enjoyed USC speedster Desmond Reed's forward flip into the Rose Bowl end zone, although the refs nailed him with a 15-yarder, coach Pete Carroll gave him an earful, and purists will note he failed to stick the landing.

I'm OK with what Reed did because it wasn't designed to mock or taunt the opposition. A guy who jumps up with an interception and explodes with joy is fine. A guy who makes a point of seeking out the opponent he just beat for a touchdown so he can mock him is not fine.

I was mightily put off by the Georgia Bulldogs' comportment in their Sugar Bowl shellacking of Hawaii. It might have started with coach Mark Richt's arm-waving in the first minute of the game, trying to "get the crowd involved". Uh, Coach, don't you have better things to worry about? Tailback Thomas Brown picked up a first down on the Dawgs' first possession, then jumped up and made like a referee signaling "first down". Uh,'ve gained over 2500 yards rushing at UGa. This is new to you? And the sorry spectacle included a few Georgia players mocking the Hawaii sideline with the traditional "hang loose, bruddah" Hawaii hand signal.

Completely unnecessary. Football's a fast-paced game, best played with a high level of emotion. There's nothing wrong with celebrating a big play. There's plenty wrong with a "celebration" that's really a taunt.

Georgia's behavior is particularly galling because the Bulldogs were so obviously the better team. They should have won this game, so why were they so busy mocking the team they were beating?

There's way too much of this going on in college sports. I'd like to see the refs nail it early and hard. And I'd like to see more coaches step up and do their jobs. It's pretty easy: if a player disrespects an opponent, he disrespects the game and loses his right to play it.

A player is not diminished when he respects his opponent. Ask Cal safety Thomas DeCoud, who plays the game as hard as anyone. Yet DeCoud made a point of patting the back of tireless Air Force receiver Chad Hall after yet another Hall foray into the Cal defense during the Armed Forces Bowl. The game was still in the balance at the time. DeCoud's gesture showed he understood something important about competition: without an opponent, you don't have a game.

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