Sports Word of the Day: Petulance

Class, the sports word of the day is "petulance.'' But you don't need to look it up in the dictionary. It is nicely framed and defined by scanning the sports page. And you can keep your fingers crossed that it won't be framed or defined by anything that happens in this year's Cowboys locker room.

I'm a guy with football leanings, so maybe acts of petulance in other sports attack my sensibilities the way Kenny Rogers attacks defenseless cameras. (A 20-game suspension? Not bad, but I'd recommend a 20-day prison sentence, the cooler being an electronics-laden Best Buy store, all the equipment flipped to "on,'' and the doors locked from the outside.)

In baseball, stars like Rogers and Gary Sheffield are viewed as ambassadors, spokesmen, for the sport. And that status speaks volumes: Rangers pitcher Rogers, who gets paid to be watched, reacts violently when he is. … watched. Yankees outfielder Sheffield, an underachiever on an underachieving team, speaks venomously when vetoing a trade by promising to make trouble for his prospective new employer.

I've always believed that baseball players are notably moronic. America's Pastime of the Past is flooded with dolts lacking high-school educations, and even the commissioner's greatest credential is his success as a Milwaukee used-car salesman and his apparent skill in cutting his own hair from the friendly confines of his own porch, rusty scissors in his hand and trusty cereal bowl atop his head.

Hockey, however, may not be far behind in its lack of MENSA candidates. Unimpressed by the collective intellect of a sport's leadership that would allow an almost-afterthought sport to fade away for a year? Befuddled when players finally settle the labor disputes by accepting a deal some believe is inferior to the one on the table a year ago? Then you must be shocked by the opinion of Jeremy Roenick, who essentially ordered fans harboring negative thoughts about NHL players to stay away from HIS rinks. And then, when he claimed ESPN's coverage of his incendiary remarks qualified as "misquoting'' him, he appeared live on Sportscenter. … and reiterated his incendiary remarks.

I'm not going to pretend that the NFL is without its petulance poison. Eagle Terrell Owens wants to play pro basketball? (Terrific, because what former backup guard from Tennessee-Chattanooga doesn't have ‘The Next Jordan' stamped all over him?) Patriot Richard Seymour wants to re-do his deal? (Terrific. Seymour is a stud, and at least he's going about this quietly, but this is Exhibit A for why dynasties usually rot from the inside out.) Redskin Sean Taylor wants to play gangsta? (Terrific, but between millions of dollars in salary and XBox, can't the kids nowadays simply SIMULATE gangsta-ness?)

I'm also not going to pretend that your Dallas Cowboys are completely immune to petulance. One team leader whispered to me recently that last year's club was on the verge of being a house divided – but this player adds that Bill Parcells was acutely aware of the issue, and has successfully worked to amputate the problem for 2005.

Say this about the Cowboys infrastructure, on paper, anyway: Jerry Jones and Parcells have in operation one of sport's greatest "good-cop/bad-cop'' systems.

If things are right (a big "if,'' given the way sports works today), a Cowboy cannot be petulant because:

a) Jerry, powered by his enthusiasm, generosity and will to win, doesn't give a player a reason to pout, and

b) Bill, powered by his authority, ferocity and will to win, doesn't give a player permission to pout.

Want me to push to your psychological backburner the names Rogers and Sheffield, Roenick and Owens, Seymour and Taylor? I'll do so by introducing to the front burner the names Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson and Lance Armstrong and Ted Williams and Jim Brown and Joe Louis and Joe DiMaggio and James J. Braddock and Jack Kemp and Pat Tillman and Jesse Owens.

Like the list? It's the off-the-top-of-my-head grouping of great athletes who might be considered great Americans. Feel free to argue about or add to the names on the discussion boards – have some fun debating the social, political and ethical positions and contributions of my short list of great athletes who are great Americans -- but at least admit this:

As we shovel through this seeming Period of Petulance while at the same time celebrating America's birthday, doesn't it feel good and timely to scan an assemblage of jock names that replaces "Owens, Terrell'' with "Owens, Jesse''?

Mike Fisher is the editor of and hosts a daily sports-talk show, "Fish For Lunch,'' noon-to-3 on 990 Texas Talk Radio (990am in North Texas, and on the web.) Contact him at

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