A Gesture from the NFL

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss compounded his notoriety during an NFL playoff game Sunday when he conspicuously drew the attention of Green Bay Packer fans and a national television audience to a posterior section of his anatomy that some critics have suggested most resembles his character.

“That is a disgusting act by Randy Moss, and it’s unfortunate that we had that on our air live,” Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck instantly and correctly responded.

But some of Moss’s teammates, his coach, and the NFL did not respond as swiftly and surely.

“That was a great celebration, what he did,” Vikings tight end Jermaine Wiggins told the New York Daily News. Vikings Coach Mike Tice simply washed his hands of the matter. “The league will deal with that. That’s not up to me,” he said after the game, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Neither the Vikings nor the NFL could have been surprised by Moss’s misbehavior. “An assault charge had cost him time in jail and a Notre Dame scholarship,” Newsweek noted in a profile two seasons ago. “A drug offense sent him back to jail and off the Florida State team.”

During the 2002 season, as Newsweek put it, Moss “allegedly proceeded in the face of a traffic agent and propelled her half a block down the street with his car–persistently, though, if these things can ever be so termed, gently–before spilling her on the pavement.” As a result, the Associated Press reported, “Moss pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts in December 2002 and was fined for careless driving and ordered to do community service.”

The Vikings played Moss in every game after this incident for the rest of that season. They were protecting an investment. In July 2001, they had signed him to an 8-year, $75-million contract, including an $18-million signing bonus. He was the third highest paid player in the league.

Four months later, Moss repaid the game that made him rich and famous by telling the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “I play when I want to play. Do I play up to my top performance, my ability every time? Maybe not.”

Two weeks ago, Moss demonstrated his competitive philosophy when he walked off the field before the end of a contest with the Washington Redskins, abandoning his team as they attempted a last-second onside kick.

As of this writing, the NFL is expected merely to fine its prized player for his nationally televised mock mooning. That is probably exactly what Moss anticipated when he boasted after the game: “I hope I don’t get in trouble by it, but if I do I’ll take the heat.”

He knows what taking the “heat” from the NFL means: To this point in his career, he has been fined $10,000 for verbally abusing an official, $15,000 for verbally abusing corporate sponsors, $25,000 for squirting water on an official, and $30,000 for taunting opposing teams. The aggregate of $80,000 equals 0.1% of his $75-million contract.

Clearly, decency and sportsmanship are not the NFL’s bottom line.

As Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon argued this week, Moss’s act, crude as it was, was not as offensive as “erectile dysfunction ads coming into your living room about 10 times a game during NFL broadcasts.” Nor was it as offensive as the promotion FOX ran repeatedly during the Vikings-Packers game for its new prime-time soap opera about Satan’s daughter.

When NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was called into the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications last February to explain how it happened that singer Janet Jackson bared her breast on the Super Bowl halftime show, committee members of both parties echoed the sentiments of Rep. Gene Green, Texas Democrat, who told him: “It’s hard for some parents to watch broadcasts of the National Football League with children, not just because of the halftime, but because of the raunchy and violent advertisements after every touchdown or turnover.”

A seemingly penitent Tagliabue told the subcommittee in a prepared statement: “We know that millions of Americans view NFL football–and football generally–as representing traditional and important values of teamwork, achievement, sportsmanship and fair play.”

Since then, under Tagliabue’s leadership, the NFL has signed a new $8-billion television contract. But the tasteless ads remain in the Sunday broadcasts as surely as Randy Moss will play for the Vikings.

If Tagliabue wanted to demonstrate that the NFL truly respects its fans and the product those fans ought to expect from the professionals entrusted with our nation’s greatest game, he would move to permanently cancel the vulgar and violent ads and suspend Randy Moss for the rest of the playoffs.

But then, again, perhaps Moss has already presented fans with the perfect gesture of the NFL’s respect.