Thursday, November 02, 2006

Game Over for Pacman

Talented but troubled Titans cornerback Pacman Jones was suspended for a game and docked an undisclosed, but apparently "significant" amount of money according to Coach Jeff Fisher for spitting in the face of a woman at a nightclub last week. If you ask me, that's the only move that Fisher could make. Besides it being a deplorable action - I mean, even Radiers fans wouldn't accept that kind of behavior - do you really want to piss off the sizable portion of your fanbase that is female? Or for that matter, has a wife, sister, or even a girlfriend? Or thinks that's just plain nasty?

Tonight on Fox Sports Radio, host Andrew Siciliano asked Derrick Brooks of the Buccaneers, one of the most highly respected players in the NFL, if he thought that teams should penalize players for off-the-field incidents. Brooks said yes, as I expected him to, but I don't think that this is something that should be an issue, especially at this point in the evolution of the sports world and fans' expectations of players.

From a purely pragmatic standpoint, you have to hold your players to a higher standard than limiting discipline to the workplace. These players represent the team and the city, and if they go off into your friendly neighborhood nightclub and launch a big wet one right in your eye, the fans are going to turn on them. Look what happened to the Portland TrailBlazers a few years ago. They historically had one of the most loyal fanbases in all of sports
- with no other professional sports team to compete with in the
state of Oregon, the Blazers had it made. But then came the rise of the infamous Jail Blazers, of the JR Rider, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire era. Always getting into scrapes with the law for one reason or another. And guess what - the fans left, and I can't say I blame them. If you're a fan of your hometown team, it's likely because you have a lot of civic pride. So if your professional sports team goes and disgraces the name of the city they wear on their jerseys, why should you as a fan, endorse that? And the Blazers still haven't recovered from that rough patch - I'm sure some fans will never return.

From a business standpoint it makes all the sense in the world to take a stand and discipline players more severely. Also however, it allows the coach to exercise more control over his team on the field. If you are a professional sports coach, you are obsessed with winning. It's all you care about. So if the players know that the coach will not accept misbehavior off the field, then what are the chances he'll be leniant on the field? Having a disciplined team is essential to winning games, no matter the sport - a lot of times, that's the difference between the successful coaches and the unsuccessful ones. Bill Parcells is one of the best football coaches of all time because he's a very smart man, but I think more importantly, because he knows how to drop the hammer on his players when it becomes necessary.

A positive sign in all this is that the arbiters across all the sports are now tending to err on the side of being too severe with punishments than too light, whether it be on or off-field incidents . Some people were shocked that Albert Haynesworth (another Titan) got 5 games for stomping on the Cowboys' Andre Gurode, but that's the way it works nowadays. Even Bud Selig, who's perceived as the least intimidating of the pro sports commissioners, handed down 20 games to Kenny Rogers when he shoved that cameraman last year.

Way to go, Jeff Fisher, for setting a standard that should be the norm across the board.

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