Leading by Example

The Dallas Cowboys were playing the Bills and defensive linemen Leon Lett makes a great pick and heads down field looking to make an easy 40 yard return for a touchdown, everything is looking great until Lett celebrates a little too soon by waving the ball around with one hand inches from the end zone when it gets smacked away and Dallas ends up sacrificing an easy touchdown. Celebration on the field is something that we have grown used to seeing in practically all-sporting events since you smacked your first ball off a tee at the age of ten. As players make their way to the professional level the celebration on the field becomes more and more noticed, due to the spotlights always being on them, on and off the field, and depending on their popularity. These professionals who have constructed significant fans bases are now presenting themselves for the world to see. Rules have been implemented such as the no-spiking rule and the excessive celebration rule in the NFL but there still presents the problem of what this kind of behavior is doing to fan bases.

In the 2015-2016 NFL season we have all been closely following the rise of Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Despite Cam’s generous gestures of giving away game balls to young children in the audience we have also seen his trademark “dab” celebration become extremely popular to the point of apparel being made. Or the Kirk Cousins trademark “you like that” made popular after an impressive comeback against Tampa Bay early in the Redskins season. Some of these celebrations are all well and good and actually attract more viewers and gain support to the team. But when is it too much? Players are being paid more than we could imagine to play the game, and their behavior reflects that commitment to the sport. Celebration for achievement is all well in good, but when it interferes with the game play, or the balance of the game at hand, we have to draw the line.

We have seen numerous examples of when showboating or excessive celebration has gone too far. For example, Terrell Owens the infamous wide receiver from Dallas was one of the most known show-boaters of all time to the point of jumping in the stands and eating a fan’s popcorn after a touchdown down catch. Most would consider this to point of being unacceptable due to the fact that interrupts the play of the game, violates fans and the fact that it hurts the image of the player but also due to the fact that hurts the entire image of the team. Terrell Owens is now notoriously known as one of the biggest excessive celebrators of all time, and that’s a permanent mark on his image. Over the years we have seen showboating transform from harmless celebration to violence between players and fans. For example, the Ron Artest and Bill Wallace fight that escalated from taunting to fighting, to players fighting fans in the stands. This question is, when is it too much? And what role does it play in the professional sporting world or today and tomorrow.

On December 20th we saw Carolina face off against the Giants in one of the most heated games of football this season. The Giants were trying to clinch their spot in the NFC East while Carolina was continuing to try to prove to the world why they are the best team in the country (15-1). The controversy stirred down field in once of the most violent matchups this season. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. of the Giants and cornerback Josh Norman match up was anticipated highly and proved to be one of the most entertaining matchups of the year. Both players are renowned as some of the best players at their positions, but right of the gate the match up turned violent. From the first quarter we could see obvious trash talking going on between the two players. Words then became actions as the game progressed hands started to fly after plays as well as shoving, hands to the face, and even targeting. Towards the end of game we see Beckham catch a 50 yard reception from Eli Manning to tie the game with little over an minute left to play, this sparks Beckham to take off his helmet run over to the sidelines climb up on a table and start dancing in front of the crowd.

When does this all become too much? During this game in particular we watched two of the NFL’s best, one of which will be participating in Super Bowl 50 on February 7th, behave like total child all day to the point of violence in an immature death match out of anger and spite, this kind of violence escalated from excessive celebration and taunting on the field. What kind of image does this show? Odell Beckham has been called the greatest receiver in the league right now and arose to popularity with his remarkable one-handed touchdown catch against Dallas last year. Beckham was awarded the cover on Madden NFL 16 over tight-end Rob Gronkowski this year, a huge honor in the sporting world. Most would think Beckham would wear this title with pride and try to build a positive image for himself. Such a young player with so much talent and time left in the league should be concerning himself with his image throughout his career. It surely did not seem that way on Sunday December 20th in New York. Beckham and Norman made fools of themselves. It surely changed the way I viewed some of the league’s best. Beckham in particular has tarnished his image during that game, from the taunting, fighting, and excessive celebration it surely does not seem like Madden cover worthy athlete’s behavior.

Showboating and excessive celebration change the way we perceive the game the players who play it. It takes away from what we pay to see. Beckham for example lost a fan that day, myself. When I tune in on Sunday to watch the best do what they do I don’t want to see the behavior on undisciplined high school freshman. It takes away from the entire experience. I think of it this way, professional sporting teams are a business, and businesses need good marketing and image in order to succeed and flourish, when someone representing that business acts unprofessionally while still representing that business it looks poorly on the team as a whole. Then we look back on Cam Newton and how over the past year he has been giving away footballs to young children, we can only imagine how much this has impacted these kids. While on the other hand Cam has received tons of criticism on his “dabbing” due to the fact that it sets bad example because of its meaning. We tend to forget how much of a young viewer base professional sports has. These young kids will see the actions of their favorite athlete hero’s on TV and then want to reciprocate the behavior. We do not want these kids looking at these athletes and viewing some of their behavior as acceptable, we don’t want them to think that jumping on table, or leaping in the stands and eating popcorn, or even full on hitting other players is acceptable in professional sports.

Personally I believe that these actions are taking away from the game, and they are actually corrupting future athletes. These professionals have some of the highest salaries on all time and yet they still cant simply do their jobs on the field without flaunting their ego. It takes away from the image of these players and their teams, which isn’t fait to their teammates or coaching staffs. Week after week we see the touchdown dances getting more and more elaborate and we see the children in the stands reciprocating the behavior on their own home fields from little league to college. These athletes need to start leading by example because not only are they affecting their own images but they’re affecting their entire fan base, and their teams. Although the OBJ situation was a result of an on-field rivalry it still follows the theme of setting a good example and being out there to play the game for more than yourself. Personally, I am no longer an Odell Beckham Jr. fan due to his actions in the Carolina game, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. The showboating culture has grown since the old days of simple ball spiking and it’s going to a grizzly place well past the barriers of good sportsmanship and I believe it’s going to get worse as this arrogance will spread to our younger future athletes.

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.39.14 PM
By Jack Matteo

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