Most of us endured the endless arguments during and after last Tuesday's bowl games over which college football team should be ranked No. 1. While there was no unanimous selection for the year's top spot, the University of Miami squad ran away with Most Obnoxious honors.
During their 46-3 Cotton Bowl thrashing of Texas, the Hurricanes amassed a record 16 penalties for 202 yards. Nine yellow flags were 15-yarders for personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct, which included one instance of a player refusing to give the ball back to the referee. He rolled the ball up his arm as if he were a Harlem Globetrotter.
So what's the fuss all about given the showboating, taunting and now-famous trademark displays of personal exultations we see at nearly every NFL game? Simply that from the Miami players there was no contrition, no apologies, no remorse by any involved. To the contrary, Darren Handy, the Miami center, said, "It might be embarrassing to the university and the coaches, but it's not to the players. We enjoy it. It's like a show."
That all nine of those penalties were assessed against black players was obvious to most viewers but never mentioned in the major dailies. With few exceptions like, say Brian Bosworth, showboating is associated with black players. It is a touchy subject for reporters and coaches. And there are too few minority sports columnists around to balance what surely would be construed by many blacks as white, male, middle class and prejudiced opinions about a group of young minority men they don't understand.
What the Miami players did was disgraceful on its merits but it was learned behavior. Somehow, somewhere when they were younger they concluded that these actions were not only condoned, but acceptable and laudatory. In black parlance, they "got over." They succeeded, they believed, partially because they were better intimidators.
Black Texas players also were the subjects of taunts. Offensive tackle Stan Thomas had earlier referred to Miami players as "arrogant . . . typical gangsters," and impugned their ability to graduate. Thomas himself was thus the object of three of the nine personal fouls.
But there is plenty of blame to go around. Collegiate basketball and football provide fertile territory for excesses that are in many ways more egregious than those in any one football game. Two weeks ago the basketball coach and president of the University of Louisville contradicted themselves on CBS's "60 Minutes" over the legitimacy of young black men seeking athletic scholarships primarily to play basketball. Similarly, both players interviewed for the show were black, but their race was never specifically mentioned. Anyone could get the subtle message.
Sometime in the 1960s sports lost their original moral bearings that frequently were violated in the past. But at least there was clarity and universal agreement in the United States as to how sports heroes should conduct themselves. In the absence of a Hippocratic oath for athletes -- amateur and professional -- we could certainly do worse than heed the words of Sir Henry John Newbolt, which should be etched in stone at every stadium and arena in this country: "To set the Cause above renown, To love the game beyond the prize, To honor while you strike him down, The foe that comes with fearless eyes; To count the life of battle good, And dear the land that gave you birth, And dearer yet the brotherhood, That binds the brave of all the earth."