Thursday, September 10, 2009

Outrageousness And Outrage

TigerBlog watched parts of the last two Philadelphia Eagles' preseason games, the one at home where Michael Vick was cheered like a returning hero and the one on the road where the Jets' fans booed him like he was a villain.

Then TB saw the whole Terrelle Pryor episode unfold, from the writing of the name "Vick" on an eye-black strip during Ohio State's game against Navy last week to the rather odd comments he made after the game to the way that OSU coach Jim Tressel defended his star quarterback.

TB also saw the videotape, like everyone else, where Oregon running back Legarrette Blount punched out a Boise State player (who seconds earlier had been taunting Blount from a few inches away, as an aside).

TB also read Mark Whicker's column and apology he wrote talking about what Jaycee Dugard (the girl kidnapped at age 11 and held in a backyard for 18 years in California) missed in the world of sports during all that time.

What is there to make of all this? Easy. Society today rewards the outrageous. Society today is about fame, regardless of what it takes to achieve it. And this is the most true in two areas - sports and entertainment.

And then, when "the line" is crossed, outrageousness is replaced with just outrage.

Whicker's column was so obviously tasteless that it never should have made it to the newspaper. Of course, keep in mind that Whicker is one of the most respected columnists in American sportswriting history and has built up a great deal of credibility. That someone of his stature would write something like that shows where the world is right now. It's not about good taste; it's about topping whatever outrageous thing the last guy did.

As for Blount, Oregon moved quickly to punish him but also did something a little different. The Ducks didn't totally cut him loose and instead said they would have him practice and remain on scholarship, just not play in games. In other words, it's one of the first times that TB can remember an organization not simply washing its hands of someone who had crossed the line.

The whole Vick matter, and Pryor and Tressel's part in it, is difficult. Yes, what Vick did was horrible, but he also paid a huge price in loss of freedom and loss of wealth. He seems sincere about his remorse, at least from a distance.

Should he be allowed to play in the NFL? That's another matter. TB thinks he should, since there are people in the NFL who have done way worse than what Vick did who suit up every Sunday.

But that doesn't mean Vick needs to be held up as a hero or a role model or someone to be made to feel sorry for.

And Pryor? Whether you're the star quarterback at Ohio State or the backup quarterback at a Division III school, you can say what you want. For the most part, you can express yourself the way you want. When you're the star quarterback at Ohio State, though, you can get away with the outrageousness a little easier.

Today is Princeton athletic's preseason welcome back staff meeting. It's a time for Director of Athletics Gary Walters' "State of the Union" speech, as it were. It's a time for him to talk about current department issues, welcome new staff and basically lay the framework for the coming year.

It's also a time for him to reaffirm the values that he and the department believe in. TB can sum it up this way: Athletics should be an extension of the athletes' education, but that shouldn't be used as an excuse to accept less than the very best athletic performance Princeton is capable of.

Athletic society has evolved from a celebration of the athletic ideal (Joe DiMaggio) to the athletic star (Michael Jordan) to today's celebration of the athlete-as-star (Terrell Owens). Chad Ochocinco? He's an above average player who learned how to make today's athletic world work for him.

It'd be naive and pompous of Princeton to think that we're above all this. We're not. What we are is tuned in to it. We do thinks as a department to try to prevent our athletes from embarrassing the University, their coaches, their teammates and themselves.

In the heat of the action, there's not much anyone can do to stop any individual from doing something that they'll regret almost immediately. The best you can do is your best effort at hoping that those under your watch understand the ramifications for their behavior as they represent you.

Whatever success Princeton has had in this respect, it's an ongoing challenge. A daily one. The goal? To prevent the outrageousness - and then the outrage.

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