No matter how badly things go between me and my business competitors, it has never occurred to me to spit in their faces. Even after losing a contract to another company that employed questionable tactics, I have managed to keep all bodily fluids on the inside and away from my opposition.
Similarly, I have been able to avoid grabbing four of my coworkers and engaging in a brawl with any rival companies. I've even been with people from my office on job sites with my competitors only a small distance away, yet I've managed to not throw a single punch.
I own cleats, but have never stomped on anyone's head with them. I'm very clever and could probably come up with some excellent trash talk, but I've never sat opposite a board room table from a business rival and insulted his mama, his children or his personal hygiene.
Call it self restraint, an amazing force of will or perhaps simple human decency, but even in the most trying of times I'm somehow able to not punch, choke, spit on or attack anyone, no matter how badly they disrespect me. Sadly, too many professional athletes lack my not-so-amazing self control, and shameless displays of behavior happen all too often.
Nobody should expect a professional athlete to act as a role model. It's too much for anyone to expect that sports stars would lead admirable off-the-field lives and actually consider that how the way they carry themselves after the game might influence their fans.
It's not too much, however, to expect some level of professionalism during the actual games. While it might be unreasonable to look to a basketball player to set an example of how to be parent, it's perfectly reasonable to look to him to set an example of how to be a basketball player. I'd also avoid looking to a star NFL receiver for marital advice, but I'd like to think he could show me how to handle myself on a football field.
Unfortunately, good sportsmanship, losing gracefully and respecting your opponent have became as antiquated as leather helmets, wooden backboards and those creepily short shorts that Larry Bird used to wear. Whereas winning the right way used to matter, now a player can act any way he wants, no matter how deplorable, as long as he puts up numbers and his team wins.
We tolerate and even celebrate bad behavior in our athletes. Terrell Owens, Allen Iverson, Ron Artest and countless others who lack basic respect for the game and their opponents will always have a lucrative contract and a place to play as long as they can produce.
I'm not asking for every player to be Tim Duncan or Peyton Manning. Athletes can set a lousy example in their personal lives - that's not the area in which anyone would look for them to be leaders. But on the court, the field, the ice or at the ballpark, fans deserve to be able to root for athletes who can obey the standards of sportsmanship and decency we'd expect out a group of five-year-olds playing T-ball.
Daniel B. Kline's book, "50 Things Every Guy Should Know How to Do," is available in bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.