What’s Wrong with Having Fun?

By Jason Menard

Sure looks like the NFL is doing nothing to shake that No Fun League moniker, especially in light of the latest decision to restrict the scope of allowable celebrations in the end zone following a touch down. But what they’re forgetting is that what makes sports so appealing to us all is the fact that it’s a game – and we, as fans, love those who know how to play it.

In its typically convoluted way, the National Football League okayed celebrations as long as the participant remains on their feet, but doesn’t use anything as a prop. Spiking, spinning, and dunking the ball over the goal posts are still good. However, Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver Chad Johnson’s cheerleader proposal? Gone. Getting down on one knee and removing one’s helmet is now a no-no.

Call it the fallout from Sharpiegate. In recent years noted pigskin choreographers like Johnson and malcontent wideout Terrell Owens have made the end-zone their personal stage for animated celebrations of their scoring prowess.

Interestingly enough, part of the rationale behind restricting these demonstrative celebrations is the feeling that they focus on the player, not the team. San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer went so far as to say, “The game is about the team, not the player.”

Oh, how quickly we forget… Why, was it not just a couple of seasons ago that the Indianapolis Colts’ kickoff team were threatened with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties should they engage in their pre-kick sway. That was an example of a team coming together in a show of unity. The fact that it came from special teams – often the most underappreciated third of the game – made it even more special.

What’s forgotten by these leagues that want to legislate the fun out of sports is that most fans appreciate these gestures. Looking back historically, we remember those players who stood out for their celebrations. Whether it’s Tiger Williams riding the stick after scoring a goal, Barry Bonds admiring his own home runs before slowly trotting off, or Michael Jordan’s wayward tongue hanging out on his way to the rim, these images stick in our mind long after the memory of the game or the event has faded into the past.

Many reading this won’t remember the game, the score, or the event, but the image of Theoren Fleury bulging the twine and racing across the ice in a fit of youthful exhuberance, arms raised, before falling to the ice, spinning out and crashing into the far boards is indelibly etched in our minds.

Many more don’t give a wet slap about rugby. Yet how many of us are familiar with the New Zealand All-Blacks Maori-inspired Haka? Is there any harm in engaging in a pre-game ritual designed to pump up the team? No. These displays can even make an otherwise-to-be-forgotten player a lasting touchstone for a generation. Ickey Woods anyone?

Football’s got it backwards. The CFL frowns on obviously choreographed routines featuring more than one player, yet the fans love the image of six players falling in unison around a ball that’s symbolically transformed into a bomb.

Sports are supposed to be about fun. They’re also about diversity and personal expression. We admire these athletes because they can express their bodies and talents in ways that we can only dream. For every person who is offended by Steve Smith’s diaper-changing football routine, there’s another fan who was bored to tears by retired Detroit Lions’ running back Barry Sanders’ handing the ball back to the ref. In many cases, Sanders is deified for his display of class, while modern players are pilloried for their excesses.

The thing that people forget about sports is that the players themselves find a way to establish accepted limits. They don’t need outside help. If a football player is hamming it up too much, someone on the sidelines will make it abundantly clear that the behaviour shouldn’t happen. In hockey, an over-the-top celebration that has the effect of belittling an opponent will be dealt with in a future shirt – either with a stiff check or something more nefarious.

But is there anything wrong with having fun? Was not what made the 1985 Chicago Bears so appealing at least, in part, inspired by their Super Bowl Shuffle video? But as fast as Jim McMahon’s ego was inflated, was it not just as rapidly deflated by fan backlash? And that’s the great equalizer in sports – the fans will determine what they want to see and what they don’t. If Joe Horn jersey sales spiked after his cell-phone touchdown celebration, would that not indicate that fans enjoyed the spectacle. When fans tired of the Dennis Rodman sideshow, is it any wonder that he slipped into obscurity?

These games are played out in the field – not the boardroom. If the fans wanted to watch stuffed suits, they would. In the meantime, let the players play. After all, it’s only a game, so what’s wrong with having fun?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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