No Excuse for Such Behavior

Eddie Anderson of the Raiders put one of those hits on Nate Lewis of the San Diego Chargers that puts a football player down and makes one wonder if he is ever going to get back up.

Lewis ended up lying there, flat on his back, looking as though he had accidentally bumped into a blimp.

"I knew it was a good hit," Anderson said afterward. "I wanted to do something to pump up the team. There was still enough time left for us to get back into the game. I wanted to wake us up."

So, what the Raider defensive back did was kneel next to the fallen Lewis, raise his right arm and proceed to count him out--One! Two! Three!--with the palm of his hand pounding the ground, the way a referee would count out some professional wrestler.

The football referee promptly penalized Anderson and the Raiders 15 yards for "taunting."

It happened Sunday at the Coliseum, on a day that San Diego had dominated from, oh, about sunrise.

The Raiders ended up losing, 36-14, in a game that as easily could have turned out 56-14, and Anderson's taunt came near the end of another long, hard day at the office.

And what Anderson did could not have been in poorer taste.

As Dennis Byrd of the New York Jets lies paralyzed and Mike Utley of the Detroit Lions occupies a wheelchair, this is no time for football players--and this goes for you college bowl-playing guys, too--to be woofing and laughing over the prone form of a brother athlete.

Say, here's a novel idea:

Help him up.

Or, if your coaches or teammates have drummed it into your head all week that your opponent is your enemy and must be treated as such, then leave the poor slob alone and go give hugs and high-fives to your teammates. Don't stand there howling and drooling like a vampire who just finished nuzzling a delicious neck.

Football thrives on emotion, and players frequently work themselves--or are worked into--a frenzy. Yet a rush of adrenaline is no excuse for a demonstration of savagery. You are not some lion who just killed an antelope. That's a person lying there.

It could someday be you. It could someday be a friend of yours. How would you like for your family in the stands to watch someone hunched over your body, having fun, while a few yards away there are two paramedics unfolding a stretcher?

The NFL has tried to do something about "celebrating" over the years, and on principle I have been opposed to it. These guys cannot turn on and turn off the spigots of their emotions.

I never thought there was anything wrong with players from Elmo Wright to Ickey Woods doing a little cha-cha after a touchdown, or with five Washington Redskins in formation leaping high for a five-on-five high-five.

Trouble is, a defensive player does not rate the same privilege as an offensive player. When a defensive player celebrates something, it is not necessarily something positive. It only seems that way.

Mark Gastineau was one of the first who popularized the "sack dance" after a successful rush against a quarterback. At the time, it didn't seem such a crime.

But when the quarterback minutes later is carried off like a slab of meat, screaming in pain, suddenly that "sack dance" seems unfunny and inappropriate.

What's the NFL to do, rule that an offensive player can celebrate but a defensive player can't?

Suppose Nate Lewis had stuck the business end of his helmet into the gut of Eddie Anderson, who promptly hit the dirt, feeling something right down to his spleen? Suppose Nate did a little 1-2-3 of his own while Eddie was writhing in pain.

With the shoe on the opposite foot, would a football player continue to consider such a thing simple gamesmanship? Would the Raiders watch one of their defensive backs being carried away and then say to Nate Lewis: "Don't worry. We know you were only trying to pump up your team."

When you watch the eyes of, say, Mike Singletary, you realize that your average football player is out there functioning on make-believe hatred. Singletary actually happens to be a gentle soul who, away from the field, resembles someone who should be conducting an English-lit lecture in a cardigan sweater.

On the field, though, he has been a madman--an all-pro madman.

I know injury in football is an occupational hazard. But football players have to quit grieving over paralyzed peers one day and then salivating over stricken opponents a day later.

Next time you poke a finger at a fallen opponent, remember Dennis Byrd. Remember, that could be you.

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