| ADMIT, I find the "AND 1 Mix Tape Tour" and other such street ball competitions quite entertaining. But as I was watching the show on ESPN2 one night, a player bounced the ball off his defender's forehead and drove past him for a dunk to the delight of the crowd.|
I've since seen that move used a number of times, and it's a reminder of what sports is lacking these days: respect. Some athletes have forgotten how to make themselves look good without embarrassing or insulting their opponents.
It's a phenomenon not limited to the playground. NASCAR seems to have a growing problem with disrespect. It's always been a sport where quick, decisive retribution is expected when drivers feud, and if that's all that was going on these days, I'd have no complaint. But there is a disturbing number of incidents that indicates a rise in the Lone Ranger mentality. While not a team sport like football or baseball, auto racing requires of its drivers a perspective that reaches beyond that day's race, and beyond the heat of a moment when tension thickens and tempers rise.
The incident that comes immediately to mind is the first race of the year, the Daytona 500, when Tony Stewart intentionally spun out Matt Kenseth, sending him skidding down the track and across the infield.
It's amazing it didn't set off a multi-car pileup and get somebody hurt. Whatever Stewart's reason, the overriding message he sent was that he didn't respect Kenseth (or any of the drivers he could've taken out).
Disrespect has become an art form. Terrell Owens dancing on the Dallas star, Zinedine Zidane head-butting Marco Matterazzi (I don't care what he said about his mother), George Mason's Tony Skinn punching Hofstra's Loren Stokes in the groin -- all are inexcusable forms of disrespect toward an opponent.
Some athletes might excuse it by saying it's part of the psychological battle they must win to have that edge. I think those battles can be won without resorting to low-down tactics. Respect is essential to the integrity of sports, and to the integrity of those involved. You can dislike your foes while giving them respect, too.
Disrespect is a major issue in society these days. Rare is the debate on politics or religion that isn't marred by personal attacks and name-calling. Logic and reason, if not abandoned, are at least overshadowed by vitriol.
Most of the e-mails I receive from those who disagree with me are respectful, but too many aren't. A condescending tone and insults like "redneck" or "hick" -- real original -- mark this type of missive. I've learned that a like response accomplishes nothing, in fact it only exacerbates the situation (and makes for a poor witness). Even if my "enemies" are disrespectful to me, I still should be respectful to them.
The Lord commands us to be kind to our enemy no matter what he does to us, and by doing so we will "heap burning coals on his head," as Proverbs 25:22 says.
Better to heap coals on his head than to bounce a basketball off it.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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