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83-Steelers-43
11-29-2006, 07:05 AM
Collier: NFL players flip any given Sunday
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Michael Vick's invoice was expected at any moment, with the Atlanta Falcons quarterback probably too busy issuing multiple acts of contrition to even guess at the size of the fine NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would adjudicate.

Even though Goodell, in his first autumn as commissioner, has flashed a less than terrible but swift sword regarding punishment for violating the league's conduct code, the fee schedule for boorishness in the Park Avenue files is at least partially left over from the reign of Tagliabue the Taciturn.

Vick flipped the bird to the home fans, then doubled down on his way off stage Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Two birds from the main bird himself -- I'm guessing $10,000, nowhere near enough to prevent it from happening again.

(Apologists may point out that Jacksonville's Fred Taylor never made the throat-slashing motion again after being fined $10,000, but that was his second offense and I'd submit he either just hasn't thought of it since then or considers it passe. But yes, $10,000 also was the fine for Randy Moss' depantsification pantomime at Green Bay, also unattempted since.)

If you look at the NFL discipline as routinely dispensed, it's apparent you pretty much have to attempt to stomp someone's head like a cantaloupe -- right, you've gotta Haynesworth somebody -- to bring the kind of justice that stings anymore. Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth, who went riverdance on the head of Dallas center Andre Gurode last month, got himself suspended for five games without pay (about $190,000). Short of that, NFL penalties are essentially a poke in the ribs and a wink from your friendly commish.

Denver's Jake Plummer got $5,000 for the flipped bird against Miami a few years ago, which is why I'm guessing $10,000 for Vick's two middles. Either way, it's pointless. Five thousand for flipping the fans the finger? You can get $2,500 for flipping them a football. Plaxico Burress recently did. You wonder if he considered his options. Without a football handy on the way to the Saints' locker room in the Superdome in '99, head coach Mike Ditka flipped the bird.

Jeremy Stevens of the Seahawks got a $15,000 fine this year for attempting to kick Oakland defensive end Tyler Brayton in the testes, but Washington defensive back Sean Taylor got $17,000 last year for spitting at the face of Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman. More dough for less ohhh! That was a few weeks after Washington's Clinton Portis got slapped with a $20,000 ticket for wearing the wrong socks.

Kick, spit, humiliate at will boys, just don't assault our fashion sense.

At your $25,000 level, well, this is where you find your notable bad boys, like Brayton, who kneed Stevens in apparent retaliation, not to mention the scrotum, Denver's Tom Nalen, who drew a citation for chop blocking, and the fearsome Dan Rooney, who mentioned after a Steelers game that the officials "ought to be ashamed," which is what the nuns used to say if you showed up with a button missing from your white shirt.

All of this is why you can make the case that fans of a certain age might enjoy the NFL more on radio than on television, and certainly more than seeing it live, where you can get flipped off by your own coach or quarterback for the trouble of spending a couple of hundred dollars on any given Sunday. On the radio, for example, when I'm listening to the Cowboys and Bears, I envision a hard-fought game in which the opposing players help each other up after a jarring tackle rather than stand over them, gloat, and/or taunt, all for doing merely what they're expected to do.

Try this little TV experiment. Turn on an NFL game and watch it only until you see someone strut, thump their chest, dance, gesture, pose, or, as the NFL statute prohibits, engage in "other actions construed as being in poor taste." What you do for the next three hours is completely up to you.

Before it was a successful TV show, NFL football was pretty interesting game played by people who respected themselves, the fans and each other. Now that it's strictly a TV show (only nine days until the 4-8 Steelers take on the 3-9 Browns on weeknight prime time!), bad behavior has a new name: great theatre.

Former Dolphins and Bears linebacker Bryan Cox once drew eight league fines in a six-year period, totaling about $125,500, one for walking out of the tunnel with both middle digits up. But with the broad television-driven coarsening of the culture, what might have once made Cox a pariah instead got him multiple gigs, including studio analyst at Fox.

"I'm sorry and I apologize to all the young kids and to whoever saw me make that gesture," Vick said one day after the double bird. "I just let my emotions get the best of me in that situation and it won't happen again."

That's the right thing to say, but it's long since become the wrong venue. Vick might not do that again, but something equally coarse by someone even more outrageous is headed for a high-def screen very near you very soon. The league and the networks can practically guarantee it.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06333/741983-150.stm