A surprise in the name of good sportsmanship

Posted: Tuesday, September 26, 2000

There is not much that takes us by surprise anymore. We used to be awed by space flight; computers; the discovery of the Titanic; and the endurance of the house of cards known as the Soviet Union.

Now, space flight has become so common that shuttle missions are confined to news briefs; we grow impatient if our Net connection is less than lightning fast; Titanic artifacts have been recovered; and the U.S.S.R. has collapsed under the weight of its lies.

President Clinton survived an Oval Office fling; Oprah regained the weight she had lost; the Chicago Cubs underachieved; and residents of Juneau failed to agree on a couple of things. No, nothing much surprises us.

But something unexpectedly has grabbed our attention. Something so unusual it merits mention, even though it happened thousands of miles away amid the billion-dollar hype of the National Football League.

On Sunday, San Francisco's Terrell Owens caught a touchdown pass against Dallas. No surprise the Cowboys are miserably inept and Owens is the 49ers' leading receiver.

Owens then sprinted half the length of the field to strike a pose in the middle of the big, blue star painted on the artificial turf of Texas Stadium. Showboating has become an entitlement in the NFL but these midfield antics took taunting to a new level.

Later, Owens caught another touchdown pass the Cowboys' secondary is lousy and sprinted toward the home team's famous star to strike another king-of-the-world pose. Upon arrival, he was clobbered by a Dallas player, which is incidental to the story. The game ended and the 49ers flew home.

And then it happened.

On Monday, Steve Mariucci, the coach of the 1-3 49ers, a man whose job is less than secure, suspended Owens without pay for a week. The coach forbade his star receiver from practicing or meeting with his teammates. He took the action without any prompting from the NFL. Mariucci and his bosses also called the owner of the Cowboys to apologize apologize! for Owens' behavior.

Mariucci did not take the action because Owens made a fool of himself. Owens proved he does not know the meaning of embarrassment, telling reporters immediately after the game that he could not let his coach "take away from my game." Mariucci suspended his star because Owens embarrassed his teammates and his City by the Bay.

"I can't compromise our rules and values," Mariucci said.

A league that tolerates in-your-face taunting after every tackle and touchdown should have known and cared that these "I'm-bigger-than-the-game" shows eventually would turn midfield into a midway.

But an NFL coach voluntarily taking action serious action in the name of sportsmanship?

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