Ravens24x7.com discusses Ricky Williams' dreads, endzone antics and the current state of sportsmanship in the NFL.

"> Ravens24x7.com discusses Ricky Williams' dreads, endzone antics and the current state of sportsmanship in the NFL.

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A Good Sport Is Good Sports

Guest writer Tony Lombardi of <A HREF="http://www.ravens24x7.com">Ravens24x7.com</A> discusses Ricky Williams' dreads, endzone antics and the current state of sportsmanship in the NFL.<br><br>

During the 2003 season while reading the newspaper, I had to laugh when I read a piece in Ken Murray's "Around the League" in The Sun. Murray reported that the NFL Officiating Director Mike Pereira determined that it is within the rules to tackle Ricky Williams by his long dreadlocks. Pereira said that, "You've got the hair being pulled and the locks are like the shirt, I guess. If you pull the locks, it's OK. If you're going to wear your locks out like that, you're the one that's at risk." And I thought, "What would some of the legends of the game that are now gone, think of this ruling? How shocked would they be that this is even an issue, much less having to rule on a seemingly ridiculous subject?" My how times have changed.

Dreads are becoming a bigger part of the NFL. Remember the style sported by Edgerrin James? If Edgerrin didn't sport that mustache, he'd look like Tracy Chapman. Plaxico Burress looks like one half of Milli Vanilli after they were busted; and in Green Bay, I'm beginning to wonder if dreads are part of the Packers' uniform. What would Vince Lombardi think? In Miami, there's David Boston. Now granted, Boston doesn't sport those stylish dreads but he does have pierced nipples. As a result, Boston in the past has asked DB's not to hit him in the chest to avoid having his nipples pinched. What's next, players can't perspire because their mascara might run? Receivers can't do pitching machine drills because they might break a nail?

And then there's the issue of sportsmanship or lack thereof. The poor sportsmanship starts early these days. It is nurtured by video games that glamorize athletes that taunt, show off and act like dogs. While some say that it's only a video game, the fact of the matter is, it carries over to real life. Like Pavlov's dog, taunting or dogging it becomes a conditioned response not just after scoring touchdowns, but also after every decent play that a player makes. Much of it stems from video games and what youngsters see on TV. And in the grand scheme of competition, there's always that one-upsmanship going on with the end zone celebrations and taunting. One must out do the next and on the field celebrations are no exception.

Does Jerome Bettis have to act like he just busted open a 60 yard touchdown run after a 4 yard gain? Do we always need to see a defensive lineman flex his biceps after sacking a quarterback? Don't you just love it when players on your own home town team taunt the opponent even when the scoreboard reads 24-7 in favor of the enemy? When will the madness stop? When it begins to look like the XFL?

My son who is 11 years old once asked me, "Dad, why do people like Warren Sapp?" Good question. I used to think that Sapp was football's version of Charles Barkley -- a high caliber athlete who likes to talk and one who speaks his mind freely. Barkley is brutally honest in an amusing way. Sure he has plenty of detractors because his style offends some but if you really listen in, he generally shares his opinions in a colorfully articulate way. Sapp was once like that. Now he's just an obnoxious horse's [butt] who acts like a rebellious child in search of the teacher's (then Gruden) and the principal's (Tagliabue) attention. He'll get their attention alright -- when they pick his wallet. 

So, I told my son that just because Warren Sapp is well known and receives the attention of the media, he is by no means well-liked outside of Tampa. I reinforced that Sapp is anything but a good sport or a professional. His behavior on the field and his outright disrespect of authority should not be tolerated no matter how superior his athletic skills. If you want to earn respect for the ages, do your best, expect the best and do it with integrity. 

My son sat and listened. And then he sat in silence. Neither of us said a word for a few hanging moments. But I know my son gets it. This is the same boy who knew not to steal second on a passed ball in his little league game when the score was 12-0. His teammates were screaming for Ty to go but he stayed on first base. Somewhere along the line, I told him about sportsmanship and it warmed my heart to hear him tell his teammates later on why he didn't go. They say success is making a difference in the life of a child. I suppose that was a successful day.

This lesson wasn't anything special or original. It's just the right thing to teach. Our parents taught us and we pass on the lesson. It makes you wonder why some of today's athletes feel such entitlement. Didn't they learn the same lessons? Or have they just ignored them because they've been coddled throughout their athletic careers? It makes you really appreciate those athletes with superior skills and class. For every Michael Pittman there's a Warrick Dunn. For every Jeremy Shockey, there's a Todd Heap.

When we interviewed Sage Steele last season, one of the things Sage said was, "Without going into detail, just know that despite the bad rap so many athletes get for their off-field escapades, there are even more athletes who are wonderful people -- family men who have their priorities straight. Unfortunately, we hear too much about the bad guys when the good ones outnumber the bad ones tenfold!"

I shared this with my son too and he wanted to know why the bad guys get all the press. Of course we all know that bad news sells newspapers and it attracts viewers on TV. But still the question, why? And you know what? I had no good answer for him. Why don't we want to hear how Warrick Dunn buys a house every year for an underprivileged family? Why don't we want to know more about Priest Holmes' community involvement in Kansas City? Why is Ray Lewis so often vilified and not commended for his involvement with the youth in our city?

At the end of the Ravens game against the Bengals in Cincinnati last year, for some reason I paid more attention to the way the Ravens players and Bengals players interacted with one another. Maybe it was the conversation I had with my son. I watched Ray and Marvin Lewis embrace. I watched the players from each team share a prayer. Just moments before, they were on the field of battle trying to destroy each other and now after the game, they collectively paid homage to their God. And I thought back to Sage Steele's comments.

I've gotta tell you, it made me feel good. Giving it all you've got to emerge victorious while adhering to the principles of sportsmanship and respect for the game and your opponent is what sport is all about. It's how the game's legend intended for the game to be played.

We started this column laughing over the topic of dreadlocks in the NFL. I'm laughing again. I'm now laughing at my son. As I'm finishing this article, I hear Ty downstairs talking and barking at the TV while he watches the Orioles. My girlfriend calls it Sports Tourette's. Unfortunately, I taught him that too. But it's all good….just ask the neighbors. They're good sports too!!!
Tony Lombardi is a diehard Ravens fan and also a writer and manager of Ravens24x7.com and host of GAMETIME, a Ravens talk show which airs every Sunday morning from 8-10 on Ravens Radio, AM 1300 The Jock.


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