Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Leagues Crack Down on Players' Misbehavior

Just reading the headlines you'll learn that there's no shortage of bad behavior among professional athletes. But sports leagues like the National Basketball Association and National Football League are taking action, and the message seems to be getting through.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

While we wait on the judgment of Landis, commentator Frank Deford marvels at the many ways that athletes manage to behave badly.

FRANK DEFORD: There are, generally speaking, three categories of sports malfeasance. The first is unsportsmanlike activity during the game itself, what commonly falls under the rubric of dirty play. We've witnessed the classic form of this in the NBA playoffs.

Second is off-the-field misconduct, which either goes under the heading of boys will be boys or, more succinctly, crime. The NFL is indisputably the ongoing leader in this category.

Finally, we have the athletic version of white-collar crime, premeditated cheating. And, of course, drug accusations here most continue to roil baseball. Now, it's important to understand that athletes have always been naughty boys. None of this stuff is original sin.

Athletes are young men on the road attracted to bright lights, intoxicating beverages and friendly women. Nowadays, they also possess more money than they know what to do with. Moreover, football players are engaged in recreational mayhem at work and so have inevitably seemed predisposed to continue to exhibit such savage behavior in their downtime.

But as none of this anti-social activity is new with members of the vocation, yes, there does seem to be more extreme violent behavior. Too many players appear to find themselves late at night where somebody packing heat gets upset and start shooting. And there just seem to be more and more incidents involving athletes perpetrating brutality against women.

To their credit, the commissioners are on alert. Roger Goodell of the NFL has taken it upon himself to suspend players for their off-the-field behavior. That's not usual. And before the recent draft, many teams foreswore that they were not merely looking for physicality in their choices, but for character. Of course, character has always been a word people in sports love to attribute to sports. Generally, be on guard when you hear it tossed about.

But Goodell's message seems to be getting through. David Stern of the NBA played the real hanging judge after an egregiously ugly incident in a playoff game between San Antonio and Phoenix. In fact, he horribly overreacted.

But then, while dirty play does not intrinsically measure up to more serious off-the-field brutality, what we are able to see is so much more influential. Especially this is true with children. If players are the modern heroes that their admirers make them out to be, then visible on-the-field transgressions must be taken more seriously in the old expression: to whom much is given, much is expected. Likewise in modern times, to whom much is on television, much is inexcusable. Sorry, but that's the devil's bargain with celebrity.

(Soundbite of "Bad Boys")

INNER CIRCLE (Musical Group):(Singing) Bad boys, whatcha want, whatcha want, whatcha gonna do...

INSKEEP: That's our bad boy commentator Frank Deford. His new novel is "The Entitled." It happens to be a story of baseball and celebrity and scandal. Frank joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut, and you hear him on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford