by David Sisler

Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal used vulgar language on a post-game interview Sunday (there was a lot of vulgarity going around on that particular Lord’s Day) and before being fined and suspended, issued a real apology.

He said, “My comments were made out of frustration in the heat of the moment. But I realize that my choice of words was inappropriate, and I would like to apologize.”

I did it. It was wrong. I am sorry.

Unless an apology accepts personal responsibility it is not an apology. It is only an attempted face-saving spin (and “spin” is another word for “lie”).

Shaquille O’Neal apologized.

Shaq’s coach, Phil Jackson, called the punishment, “rather severe and childish.” He said the fans in Indianapolis would be penalized because they would not get to see O’Neal play on the Lakers lone trip to the Pacers home court.

Jackson seems to have missed the whole point of his star’s $295,000 fine and one game suspension.

Jackson’s attitude (what is it with these Jacksons) is one of the things that is wrong in professional sports today, and symptomatic of a general sickness in society. Yes, certain behavior is wrong, but if it deprives someone else of enjoyment, then it should not be curtailed.

There are laws against using certain language on public television. As long as it is the law, the law must be upheld. And God help us if it is eliminated – almost anything goes now!

When sports celebrities make more money than 100 average American families combined, the only way to get their attention is to get into their pocket books. One immediate way is a fine. Another way is something that affects their long-term salary. If Shaquille O’Neal missing a game means his team may lose that contest, and if losing that contest means that they may lose a championship (admittedly, unlikely in a sport that allows almost everyone into the playoffs except next year’s expansion team), then maybe the next guy who starts to use bathroom language on live TV may think twice.

If the fans who pay O’Neal’s outrageous salary are deprived of seeing his skills demonstrated because of his earlier boorish behavior, maybe they will start evaluating where they will put their disposable income. If athletes think only of themselves, then why should we support them?

Note: Shaq is not being singled out here – most of them are overpaid – an indication that professional sports owners can’t control themselves, either.

Many states have “Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws. Felons know that if they are caught and convicted they will forfeit their freedom for the rest of their lives. Misbehaving sports stars are not felons (usually), but if bad behavior is never punished, if they are never held personally accountable, then why will they ever change those improper behaviors? And what happens to those – especially the young – who look up to athletes as idols and icons? Shaq said it, so I can, too. Shaq said it, so I should say it, too.

Shaquille O’Neal’s fine and suspension were a good start. If the next offender’s punishment was double – and double after that – maybe there would be no third offense.


Copyright 2004 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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