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WEEKLY WHINE

No winners

Let's talk about three controversies in sport this week. One in American football, one in football, and one in basketball.

TERRELL OWENS: DESPERATE WIDE RECEIVER

Event: In the opening sequence to this week's Monday Night Football broadcast of Philadelphia at Dallas, Philadelphia wide receiver Terrell Owens did a sketch with Desperate Housewives star Nicollette Sheridan. The sketch, apparently, began with two of them in an otherwise empty Eagles locker room. Sheridan, dressed only in a towel, requested that Owens, in full game uniform excluding helmet, skip the game. She then removed her towel and jumped into his arms.

Controversy: Numerous threads of controversy came from this event. First, of course, the nudity thing. Which is completely stupid. There wasn't any nudity. The American Music Awards took place only one night before and were broadcast on the very same network. And how many female entertainers were wearing halter dresses that exposed exactly the same part of the back that Sheridan did?

Second, the idea of "reflecting poorly on the NFL" or something. Not applicable. As far as we can tell, this sketch was not subject to the league's advance approval. So ABC and Owens himself are the only individuals responsible. And it did reflect poorly on Owens, since he reportedly said, "The team's just going to have to win without me." Owens may be known as a hopeless attention seeker, but he's also known as a fierce competitor. It also reflected poorly on ABC, since they intended it to be funny, and not a lot of people thought it was.

Third, the racial issue. This aspect of the event wasn't really talked about until a couple of days later, when Tony Dungy said that the stereotype of an African-American athlete as a sexual predator was particularly offensive. Almost certainly, that's not the way the piece was intended. But that is how many saw it, and not meaning to offend anyone is not a valid excuse for offending someone.

Consequences: There should be few. The Fascist Communications Commission - I mean the Federal Communications Commission - is reportedly reviewing the complaints to decide whether to begin an investigation. ABC may be fined, but it is difficult to locate any specific violation that could be fined.

MADRID FANS: DELAYED REACTION

Event: During a friendly match between Spain and England on WED 17 NOV 2004 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, two of England's black players, Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips, were subjected to monkey noises and chanted taunts from large numbers of fans during the course of the match. Rather than an isolated incident, this occurred only 24 hours after similar events took place at the Under-21 match involving the same nations.

Controversy: Much of the outrage from the event was as a result of Spaniards' responses. A spokesperson for the Real Federación Española de Fútbol, for instance, said to English reporters, "This hasn't happened in the Spanish league and Spain for many years. So you should ask yourselves what you have done to contribute to all this."

Say what?!

In fact, there was institutional denial at all levels. A spokesperson for the Spanish foreign ministry said the next day, "If there were racist chants, then it is deplorable and lamentable, and it is not suitable behaviour of football fans." What the hell do you mean if? We at GoobNet didn't see this match, but news reports - and comments from the players themselves - are unanimous that there were racist chants. If that was an attempt at a coverup, it was the clumsiest since Watergate.

Even Spanish reporters and commentators had little to say about it at first. The morning after the match, many Spanish newspapers made scant mention of the racist behaviour from possibly several thousand of the 55,000 spectators in attendance. Most were primarily concerned with the bizarre behaviour of England forward Wayne Rooney, who embarrassed himself with several reckless tackles.

England, UEFA, and FIFA spent the entire next day lambasting the fans involved and the responsible authorities, and it wasn't until then that some more appropriate responses came from Spain. Marca, a Madrid-based sport daily, ran a clever image, one in which Samuel Eto'o was depicted with light skin and Zinédine Zidane with dark. The headline read: "Nothing would change if Samuel Eto'o were white and Zidane were black".

Consequences: The first thing to be done is to add a rule that bans any fan who exhibits racist behaviour from any football stadium in Europe for life. Such penalties can already be applied to people who throw objects onto the pitch. Next, when they observe any form of racial abuse, referees should be able to tell match organisers to make an announcement warning the fans to stop. If the abuse continues, the referee should be empowered to abandon the match.

More specifically, Aragonés should be fired with immediate effect. This is not his first transgression. During a training session last month, he reportedly used a racial epithet referring to Thierry Henry and subsequently failed to apologise.

Spain also needs to come to terms with the fact that, even though the racist chanting was by a small minority, it is still a large problem. In many nations, fans who hear racial abuse will tell the offender to stop. Conversely, by many accounts, when a small group of people started the chants, many others nearby joined in. That is often the problem in crowd trouble of this sort: many people do something they wouldn't ordinarily do just because somebody next to them did it too.

In short, Spanish authorities did not react with sufficient haste or severity. As such, a hefty fine, and possibly a ground closure, is in order.

DETROIT FANS: MOTOR CITY EMBARRASSMENT

Event: With 45.9 seconds left in the Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons game on FRI 19 NOV 2004, Detroit's Ben Wallace pushed Indiana's Ron Artest in response to a hard foul by the latter. A shoving match, from which Artest retreated, soon followed. Just as tempers seemed to be dying down, a spectator threw a plastic cup filled with some sort of drink that bounced off Artest's chest. He jumped into the stands and threw the person he thought was responsible to the ground. Several other players followed him, with fans and players alike exchanging blows. A chair was even thrown at one point.

Meanwhile, a few other fans made their way onto the court. After the fracas in the stands came to an end, fans on the floor encountered Artest and teammate Jermaine O'Neal, both of whom punched the intruders. The teams were sent to the locker rooms, and fans continued to throw bottles, cups, and even popcorn at the Pacers as they entered the tunnel. The game was then called.

Controversy: The one thing that we can all agree on is that this was utterly shameful. Beyond that, who is to blame? In this case, the easy answer - everyone - is also the correct one.

Just as no fan should ever enter the playing area in any sport, no player should ever enter the stands. Regardless of what the fans may say or do, no positive outcome is possible in any confrontation between players and fans.

Artest should not have fouled Wallace in the manner he did. With Indiana leading by fifteen, the outcome had already been decided. Just ease up and take the win.

Wallace should not have reacted to the foul in the manner he did. Detroit needed to allow the game to come to completion and address their problems before their next game today.

One of the few wise decisions was made by Artest, who backed away when challenged by Wallace. While other players pushed one another, he retreated to the scorer's table and spread himself out. He deserves credit for staying out of the initial altercation.

But he also deserves blame for allowing the situation to spill into the crowd. It doesn't matter if you think you know who threw the cup. If you know, tell the security staff. Point him out. But don't take matters into your hands; it's not your job. Artest later claimed that he lashed out at the fan in self defence. It is hard to see how a single fan throwing a single plastic cup could threaten his safety.

Indiana's Stephen Jackson jumped in after Artest and exchanged blows with several fans. Again, let security handle it. It's not your job to defend your teammate against fans. The same applies to all the other players who entered the stands trying to pull the other players back.

Consequences: They have already begun. Wallace, Artest, Jackson, and O'Neal have been suspended indefinitely while the league investigates. Indiana's next game, at home against Orlando, was due to tip off shortly after the time of writing, and with injuries on top of the suspensions, the Pacers will have only seven players able to play.

Detroit's next game is at home today against Charlotte, and security at the Palace of Auburn Hills will be tighter.

Fans who were involved should be handed lifetime bans from NBA games. David Stern should hold a press conference and say, "We have identified every person who threw objects at players on Friday, every person who threw punches, and every person who trespassed on the court. These people are all disgraces to the National Basketball Association and to all basketball fans worldwide. As such, they are not welcome at any future NBA game. We expect all players, coaches, staff members, and fans of all NBA clubs to adhere to the highest standards of behaviour. If you cannot reach our expectations, we do not want to see you involved with our sport."

The one thing that ties together these three events: When a game ends and people are talking about anything except the game itself, there can be no winners.

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