‘Dissing’ Excuse Makes Jocks Look Like Jerks

By Drew Sharp
Updated: December 19, 2006

Tank Johnson

Tank Johnson

DETROIT — I’m really getting tired of the “dissing” defense.

Terrell Owens spat on Atlanta defensive back DeAngelo Hall during a game Saturday because Hall “was bugging” him.

That was his motive for spitting in a man’s face.

Madness erupted on the floor of Madison Square Garden that same evening when a melee marred the closing moments of an NBA game between Denver and New York. It was the league’s most repulsive night since that evening at the Palace two years ago.

And what potentially ignited the fuse was Knicks coach Isiah Thomas’ anger over the Nuggets’ “disrespecting” his wretched squad by keeping their starters on the floor late in the game with a nearly 20-point lead.

Meanwhile, Chicago police are investigating a murder near the doorstep of a trendy downtown nightclub in the wee hours of that same Saturday. The self-proclaimed bodyguard of Chicago Bears’ defensive lineman Tank Johnson was shot and killed, the tragic by-product of guns, rather than reason, settling a conflict.

According to witnesses at the nightclub, an altercation occurred between Johnson and some unidentified men.

Let me guess. Somebody thought he was getting “dissed.”

The sad progression of these developments underscores a reality of today’s sports. Athletes too easily possess a misguided grasp of what respect truly means. Anything remotely negative is conveniently broken down as a challenge to their manhood, demanding swift and often violent retribution.

Do they think they’re absolved from the rules of common civility? Does every stupid action require an equally stupid reaction?

At least 35 NFL players have been arrested this year on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to felony burglary — and, surprisingly, not all of them played in Cincinnati.

NBA commissioner David Stern found himself again Monday in the uncomfortable position of answering questions regarding his league’s perceived negative image after the Denver-New York brawl.

He suspended seven players a total of 47 games for their actions, including a 15-game punishment for Carmelo Anthony’s open-handed girlie slap to Mardy Collins’ face after bystanders restored order.

“If you ask the question, then we have an image issue,” said Stern during a teleconference in which he explained his rationale in determining the sanctions.

Denver’s J.R. Smith and New York’s Nate Robinson each received a 10-game suspension.

“While we have worked diligently to eliminate fighting from our game,” Stern said in a statement Monday, “there are failures such as Saturday night at Madison Square Garden that demonstrate there is still more to be done.

“It is our obligation to take the strongest possible steps to avoid such failures in the future and to make a statement to all who follow the game of basketball that we understand our obligations and take them seriously.”

Anthony is fortunate Stern stopped at 15 games because his antics were as gutless as any exhibition ever witnessed in a professional sports venue. Anthony couldn’t backpedal fast enough.

If “street cred” were currency, Anthony would be penniless today.

Isiah isn’t above censure in this matter. He wants the Knicks to be more menacing than meek, reminiscent of his Bad Boys days with the Pistons. But he’s forgotten that those teams intimidated as much through their talent as their tenacity.

There wasn’t anybody tougher on the floor than Isiah. He wouldn’t back down to anybody. All of 6-feet-1, he leveled a punch atop seven-footer Bill Cartwright’s head. And he didn’t run away afterward.

But the definition of toughness has changed in sports today. The size of your entourage or the vastness of your firearm arsenal is more of a reflection of one’s manliness in athletes’ minds than any strength of character or force of conviction.

The climate won’t improve until athletes understand that the disrespect they’re showing basic civility is far worse than any disrespect they think they’re getting.