November 23, 1997. It was just like any other Sunday in the NFL. Almost.
Following his team's 20-3 loss to Atlanta, New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka was the epitome of a beaten man. The coach known throughout the years as both a disciplinarian and a hard-nosed fighter said he was ready to throw in the towel.
"Maybe this game has passed me by...I thought I could touch people, but I don't reach (the players) anymore," a subdued and frustrated Ditka told reporters after the loss. "I feel like I failed this football team."
"If it doesn't mean that much to other people, why should it mean that much to me," the former Chicago Bears coach added. "I think that's what happened to me today...for the first time in my life, I can say that. It didn't mean anything."
The response from his players?
"What am I supposed to do?" replied defensive tackle Wayne Martin.
"Whatever happens, happens." added offensive lineman Joe Johnson.
With an apathetic attitude like that, is it any wonder that the Saints were a dismal 4-8 following the game, and had committed more turnovers than any other team in the NFL?
Later that same evening, the New York Giants and Washington Redskins were knotted at seven apiece in overtime. With roughly 3:00 to go in the extra period, 'Skins wideout Michael Westbrook pulled in a pass near the New York 30-yard line but was ruled out of bounds. Westbrook ripped off his helmet in protest and was flagged with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct foul. His selfish and immature tantrum essentially took Washington out of field goal range and forced them to settle for a tie in a game they should have won.
And we, as sports fans, wonder what's wrong with professional sports today?
Clearly it is self-centered acts like these that has cost the game valuable followers. To borrow an old adage, there is no "I" in "team", but Westbrook, Martin, and many like them have had little trouble finding the "m" and the "e".
Lest these individuals forget that being a professional athlete is a privilage, and with it comes responsibilities -- responsibilities to their coaches, their families, their fans, and their teammates. Once a person, regardless of profession, signs a contract, they are legally obligated to fulfill the terms of that contract. This is a concept obviously lost on some athletes, who feel they deserve an exemption to the rule as they hold out while demanding more money.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not jumping on the athlete-bashing bandwagon. But for every Grant Hill there's a Dennis Rodman. For every Barry Sanders there's a Michael Irvin. For every hard-working, dedicated player who is an upstanding citizen, there are spoiled, overpaid, undisciplined athlete who care more about shoe contracts than winning.
And it's just a damn shame.
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Chuck Bednar is a full time freelance writer and sports columnist. He currently serves as the North American Sports Editor with the Canada Post and the NCAA Football editor for Suite 101. Bednar writes a weekly column for e-sports!, where he was recently voted the June Author of the Month, as well as periodical features for InQuest, ByLine, Rockies Golf Daily, WWWiz and others. He welcomes comments and writing projects of all kinds -- email him at [email protected] or visit him online at http://users.1st.net/cbednar