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Strutters mock integrity of NFL

Two cocks fluttered their wings and strutted their stuff in the NFL this past weekend, one a familiar rooster, and one who is striving for attention and feeling left out of the coop. These particular struts left a sour taste in the mouths of sports traditionalists and caused a stir among NFL analysts and league officials.The dual pompous performances came courtesy of wide receivers Joe Horn and Chad Johnson, part of a contemporary breed of Strutters that are growing exponentially in the NFL, and studies show the highest population to be present among the wide receiver position.After scoring his second of four touchdowns in a 45-7 laugher over the New York Giants, Horn, of the New Orleans Saints, grabbed a cell phone, which was retrieved from underneath the goal post padding by teammate Michael Lewis, and pretended to talk on it as he made his way to the sidelines.Johnson, of the Cincinnati Bengals, provided the other exhibition of the day. After scoring a touchdown that put the Bengals ahead 7-0, Johnson grabbed a sign from behind a snowdrift that read: “Dear NFL, PLEASE don’t fine me AGAIN!!!!!.”In the past, Johnson has been fined repeatedly for uniform violations and touchdown celebrations by the league.Since Johnson grabbed the sign from a known location in the back of the end zone and a teammate of Horn’s knew exactly where to find the phone, it was obvious the acts were premeditated.Strutting and flaunting is obviously not new to the game, and how relevant that Johnson’s act came against the San Francisco 49ers, home of Terrell Owens, King of the Flaunting Cocks. Who could forget Owens’ charade last year when he pulled a Sharpie from his sock and signed the football following a score? Or the time he slammed the ball on the star on the home turf of the Dallas Cowboys?Horn and Johnson have opened that ordinary can of worms again: Where to draw the line when it comes to celebratory stunts.The traditionalists argue that Horn & Co. hurt the reputation of the game because sports are meant to be classy competitions played by class acts. The modern-era sports fan would argue that sports are a source of entertainment, so let the players do just that.Sorry, acting is reserved for Hollywood, for movies, for TV shows, even for off-the-field interviews, but not for the heat of the battle.Not only does Johnson’s act mock the integrity of the game, it mocks the integrity of every hard-working American. Why? The very nature of Johnson holding up such a sign is a slap in the face of NFL officials, so without question he knew he would be fined. (And notice the sarcastic capitalization of “PLEASE” and “AGAIN,” something the media has not drawn attention to.)Basically, Johnson is saying, “I don’t care NFL, fine me. It’s OK, I make enough money.” Sure enough, the league fined Johnson $10,000 on Wednesday, along with handing a $30,000 fine to Horn.Ideally, Johnson was blatantly scoffing at the idea of $10,000. A lot of Americans can only dream of seeing that kind of money after a half year of work. For a man who has been fined before, the pending dollar amount of the fine was no mystery to Johnson.According to an article from ESPN.com news services, Johnson said he is fined $5,000 a week for wearing all-orange shoes. It sounds like he is bragging, like a peacock arrogantly spreading his colorful feathers for all to see.Yes, football is a game. Sports is a game, and, in turn, it is entertainment. But it is also a job, and the players make salaries. In conjunction with the unwritten universal law of employment, attitude and demeanor is just as important as job attributes and assets.Why should this same rule not apply to professional athletes?Ever notice that the most revered athletes are the classiest athletes (assuming “classy” athletes are athletes more concerned with helping their team win than becoming a 15-second human spectacle)?Tony Gwynn, Nolan Ryan, Mike Singletary, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzke, Gordie Howe, Jack Nicklaus (you can make up your own list, but you get the point).No investigation of professional sports film archives would dig up a highlight showing any of these players holding up a sign mocking the game they played, or bringing something on the playing field to help dramatize an accomplishment.Instead, we remember a stylish and refined greatness on their part in the form of toughness, endurance and epic performances in single games or over entire seasons. This is what makes the game worth watching.You might be thinking Deion Sanders is the exception, who played for four teams over a 12-year period from 1989 to 2000. Known as “Prime Time,” through his swaggering shuffles, Sanders would let the sports world know about every great thing he ever did on the field.But a closer look at his career stats would reveal that he is not one of the greatest of all-time.Sanders had 48 interceptions in his career, an average of four per year, and finished 15 behind Ronnie Lott, who is fifth on the all-time list with 63. Sanders had only one career sack and did not finish close to the top five in kickoff or punt return average. Finally, anyone whoever watched Sanders play knows he didn’t intimidate anyone with his tackling.(Speaking of toughness, Lott, another class act known for his fierce hits and fearless play in the secondary, amputated his left pinky in order to compete in a playoff game. Sanders missed almost a full season because of turf toe).Sanders was a showman, he still is, and that’s why fans are deceived when they put him on a list of greatest players. Because they remember what he did after he scored a touchdown or picked off a pass.What makes Sanders notable and recognized in NFL lore is the sideshow he brought to the field, not his outstanding numbers. Sanders represents a new modern athlete, the Strutter, who apparently is being paid to entertain us, as well as contribute to winning, and doesn’t mind paying out of his own pocket to do so.Johnson was already a Strutter and proud of it. Horn is presently asking King Owens for admittance into an already crowded coop of egotistical roosters in the NFL.


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