If the country engaged in any soul-searching, post-Tucson shootings, about how we behave and speak to one another, the message was clearly lost on many in professional football.
Sure, it’s a physical game and tensions run high. But that’s an argument for self-control in speech and post-play behavior. The fact that athletes can get away with knocking someone to the ground and slamming them, face-mask first, into the snow to gain some yardage means they already have a socially-accepted outlet for their rage or joy. And the New York Jets, who scored a stunning, surprise victory over the New England Patriots over the weekend, had much reason for joy.
So why ruin it by acting like jerks?
Even before the game, the not-remotely-favored Jets were in combat mode. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie unleashed a profane insult against Patriot quarterback Tom Brady and dared the Super Bowl ring-clad star to make him a target in Sunday’s game. Brady, despite the accolades that have been heaped on him during his career, has been impressively humble—at least by professional athletic standards, responding:
Belichick [the Patriots’ coach] has called me that, our offensive coordinator has called me that. I know that they [the coaches] like me, so maybe he [Cromartie] really likes me.
You’d think the Jets would have gotten the message and focused on scoring an upset. That, they accomplished. But they ruined it with some celebratory behavior that made them look less like a triumphant, Bad News Bears-like team and more like a bunch of ill-behaved children who would be thrown out of a Little League game for being so unsportsmanlike. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
Waving goodnight to an angry and shocked Massachusetts crowd? Laying the football on the ground and pretending to use it as a pillow to sleep on? What is wrong with these men?
It was an extraordinary win, and a deserved one. The Jets are not the better team, but they played much better than the Patriots on Sunday and proved the old adage that keeps all of us fans of lower-performing teams watching the contests each week: Any team can beat any other team on any given day. The chance to move on to the AFC championship game, not to mention their inflated salaries, is enough. If they won’t listen to the NFL brass (which issued a stern warning last week to tamp down the trash talk), perhaps they could heed the words of another sportsman, New York Yankees legend Reggie Jackson:
"Shut up and play football."