I sat back and watched Super Bowl 50 on Sunday night – as did approximately 112 million other people – and, to be painfully honest, the game was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, I did pick the Panthers to win (more on that at the end of this essay), but it was more than that factor that caused the boredom. The game itself was more of a defensive struggle than most thought it would be. There were only two offensive touchdowns on the night (one by each team and both rushing TDs, surprisingly) and the defenses for both teams were the dominant forces. It was well deserved that the MVP for Super Bowl 50 went to Broncos LB Von Miller, who was a terror in sacking Panthers QB Cam Newton two and a half times and forcing two fumbles.
It was after the game that my appreciation for sportsmanship in athletics – at least here in the 21st century – took a further hit. In his post-game press conference, the Most Valuable Player for the National Football League, Newton, stepped to the podium to take questions regarding the game. Wait…perhaps it is better to say what he actually did. In every other game of the postseason prior to the Super Bowl, Newton had taken the time to dress splendidly following his wins, put a big smile on his face and entertain the reporters who peppered him with questions, of which he answered each with long answers that gave them and football fans additional insight into the game.
Fast forward to Sunday night and it was like looking at another person – at least the NFL better hope so. Newton, clad in a black hoodie pulled up closely around his head instead of the splendid suits that he had worn, wasn’t standing proudly at the podium when he came to address the media following the Super Bowl loss. Slumped in a chair, gone was the glowing smile that Newton wore throughout the postseason, as were the lengthy answers for the reporters’ questions. Newton basically acted as a petulant child who, when not given what he thought he deserved, decided to pout his way through a requirement that he really didn’t want to do…and, in fact, he didn’t; Newton didn’t finish the post-game press conference, he got up and walked away while reporters continued to ask questions.
This is just the latest demonstration of the degradation of sportsmanship in athletics in the 21st century, and it also seems to be dipping down further into the amateur and even recreational ranks. Earlier this month, tennis champion Serena Williams – a living legend in a sport if there ever is one – acted as if there were about 1000 other places she would have rather been after losing the Australian Open to Angelique Kerber, where a victory for Williams would have tied her with Steffi Graf for second on the all-time list (and only two Grand Slam titles behind Margaret Court). She answered questions from journalists rather abruptly, only lengthening out her answers when it served her purposes, such as when she wanted to complain. “Everyone expects me to win every single match…as much as I would like to be a robot, I’m not,” Williams complained in the post-match news conference.
She was even worse at last year’s U. S. Open where, after being defeated by upstart Roberta Vinci and prevented from becoming the first woman to win the Grand Slam – winning all of tennis’ major titles in one season – since Graf in 1988, Williams basically slumped at the table during the post-match interview, scowling the entire time and actually said, “I don’t want to talk about how disappointing it is for me. If you have any other questions…” before storming out of the press conference early (perhaps we should call what Newton did “pulling a Serena”).
The general degradation of sportsmanship doesn’t stop there, however. Before the National Hockey League went on its All-Star break, defenseman Dennis Wideman of the Calgary Flames was knocked into the boards by a hit from a member of the Nashville Predators on January 27. As he arose and headed to the bench, he cross-checked (held his stick between his hands across his chest) linesman Don Henderson from behind in protest for a penalty not being called. Wideman attempted to say that he was “disoriented” and “never saw” the official until the last minute, but the video of him pulling back his hands and putting a little extra pop on the hit was hard to ignore. The NHL suspended Wideman for 20 games, which is currently under appeal.
This lack of sportsmanship isn’t just in the professional arena either. In September 2015 at the start of high school football season, two Texas high schoolers targeted an official – one knocking him to the ground while the other speared him in the kidneys with his helmet – for his supposed poor officiating and alleged racial remarks during the game. Investigation revealed that one of the coaches for the team ORDERED the players to go after the official; that coach resigned before any action could be taken and the players were suspended for the remainder of the season.
According to the Associated Press’ Paul Newberry, it can get worse. In 2013, a soccer referee in Utah was killed when a 17-year-old player didn’t like one of his calls and hit him with a punch; that player was sentenced to juvenile detention. Another player in an adult soccer game in Michigan killed a 44-year-old referee after receiving a red card in another altercation. That player now is serving 15 years in prison for manslaughter.
Sportsmanship is something that is critical to the conduct of sporting events and it extends to the requirements off the field, no matter how much you don’t like them or that the questions become repetitive. For interviews and dealing with fans, athletes have to be able to treat the press and their fans responsibly and with respect. To sit and act as if it is a burden to answer questions about your chosen profession – the job YOU chose to do, the one that has given you millions of dollars – or to be a complete bitch or bastard about having to be there, perhaps you should try to live among the “common people” for a bit and see how it is to live there.
An outstanding example of how to handle people and the media is tennis player Novak Djokovic. The video of him at the French Open during a rain delay with a ball boy has become famous and there are several other occurrences where “The Joker” has endeared himself to fans and the media alike. Other athletes such as Derek Jeter, Stephen Curry and others also treat the fans like gold, the media well and, win or lose, always try to respect the game.
And perhaps that is the problem with some of the athletes nowadays. They don’t respect the game that they play, they just came for the millions of dollars that it graces them with and screw any responsibility for having to actually do something you might not want to do. For some, they’re set in their ways and aren’t going to change. For Newton, he’s only 26…there’s perhaps time for him to have a change of attitude and become more of a sportsman than he showed on Sunday night.
WRAPPING UP THE NFL SEASON
Hey, at least I got the 24 points for the Broncos right! (To remind you, the prediction was Panthers 28, Broncos 24.)
There were three picks that I made for the actual game on Sunday night. The Broncos came through for me on the spread by winning outright, but the two teams didn’t even come close to going over the 44 O/U line. Add in that “straight up” pick of the Panthers and I went 1-2 to finish the season 56-39-5.
When it comes to the prop bets, I was pretty sharp there! I said to pass on the bet of whether there would be a missed extra point (there was a missed field goal but not an extra point); that the first touchdown would be something other than a passing TD (it was), the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (-4.5) would score more points on Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder than the Panthers would against the Broncos (he did, 26 points versus the Panthers’ 10); that Lady Gaga would go UNDER 2:20 for the National Anthem (this was a cause of some argument…some sites say it is when she ends the note on “brave” and, the first time, it was under, when she did it the SECOND time, it did go over…as always, the House makes the rules); the Golden Gate Bridge WAS shown, Mike Carey missed a replay call and the Broncos dumped ORANGE Gatorade on head coach Gary Kubiak.
That means I got six prop bets versus one on the Super Bowl itself…perhaps next year I’ll just do prop bets!