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Sack Dance Sacked? Good!

I’m going to hate myself in the morning. I know this is not the popular stand, but I have to weigh in with the minority report on a major controversy confronting the Republic.

The question of the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics? Saddam Hussein? New rounds of taxes?

No. Sack dances.

It seems those eminent killjoys, the competition committeemen of the National Football League, have banned end-zone celebrations, on-field gloats and other demonstrations of unseemly jubilation over fallen foes.

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Well now, the media have descended on these old mossbacks, the owners and general managers of pro football, in full fury. My friend, Curry Kirkpatrick, writing in the current issue of Sports Illustrated, dismisses them as “ancient, Geritol-guzzling, fuddy-duddy relics, rooted in the 1950s and ‘60s.”

Well, leave out the Geritol and Curry could put me in there.

My problem is, I could never abide bullies or bullying behavior. Sack dances are anathema to me. I used to find it painful to watch Mark Gastineau prance with glee after he had just cold-cocked a quarterback who weighed a hundred pounds less than he did and never saw him coming. I was never so happy watching TV as the day the Rams’ Jackie Slater cameacross the scrimmage line and gave Gastineau a dose of his own medicine in the middle of his sack dance.

Who says you have to crow and strut over a vanquished opponent? What kind of message is that to send out to kids? You wonder why we have street gangs emulating this unseemly behavior? These guys are role models, for crying out loud! No matter how you cut it, this is glorifying kicking a man when he’s down.

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We admire anti-heroes. I’ll never forget the shock I felt at a movie in New York one night when the “hero,” in a fit of temper, sweeps a table in a diner clear of ketchup bottles, sugar, glasses of beer, coffee cups and plates of hamburger, and smashes it at the feet of a tired, 60-year-old waitress to clean up--and the audience stood up and cheered!

Curry Kirkpatrick thinks there’s a generation gap at work here, and maybe he’s right. “We have players who were brought up on glitz and MTV,” he writes. To say nothing of “Saturday Night Live” and movies in which we have good guys as well as bad guys kicking people in the face.

Well, we were brought up on John Wayne and Frank Merriwell and Joe Louis, guys who spotted the villain the first draw, guys who never taunted opponents, never gloated when they won or threatened when they lost. Joe Louis always made it a point to leave a fallen contender a modicum of pride. “Another lucky night,” he would breathe into the microphone just after he had obliterated some contender. The only thing lucky about it was that Joe hadn’t killed the guy.

I guess it was Muhammad Ali who brought the art of the braggadocio into the sport of boxing, but with Ali it was a prefight hype designed to sell tickets and borrowed from the on-camera arsenal of wrestling. In wrestling, it’s pure hokum because the “bouts” are as pre-fabbed as a military barracks and as choreographed as a Busby Berkeley movie.

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In “Sunset Boulevard,” playing a fading silent movie star, Gloria Swanson, scorning the modern talking pictures, says: “We had faces in my day!” Well, we had heroes in mine.

Picture John Wayne doing a sack dance after he has killed Geronimo or saved the fort, can you? Expect Joe Louis would go on the air to say. “I should have killed the sucker,” would you? Figure Frank Merriwell would point a finger at an end he just slickered for a touchdown? No way.

Let me lay a bit of history on you. Hitler did a sack dance at Compiegne after the fall of France. Look it up. But General Grant returned General Lee’s sword to him. Then, there was the admiral in the Spanish-American War who said as the enemy ship went down: “Don’t laugh, boys. The poor fellows are dying.”

Whatever happened to our notions of sportsmanship and chivalry? Have we become a nation of toadies, glorifying taunting, gloating tantrums in tennis, mockers of valiant effort just because it loses? Has this attitude slopped over into the stands, where minority rooters get assaulted into a coma?

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When did it become fashionable to be a loudmouth, a bully? The Bible tells us the meek shall inherit the earth. If so, they’re having a terrible first half. Did Burt L. Standish have it all wrong? Are pluck, perseverance, diligence and graciousness in victory poor substitutes today for cockiness, arrogance, insolence and disrespect? Outlined against a blue-gray October sky today are the new Four Horsemen--Greed, Avarice, Cupidity, Malice.

But if you like sack dances, end-zone shuffles, finger-pointing, boasting, don’t worry. The “punishment” voted by the league office is--are you ready?--a five-yard penalty.

Well, that should be a big deterrent. But it figures. We give ax murderers three-to-five these days.


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