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Good sports on the decline

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It seems that everyone is to blame for the decline of sportsmanship in today's athletics, according to a blue-ribbon panel of athletes, coaches and sports officials.

Coaches don't punish boorish behavior. Parents don't teach their kids to respect each other. Television sports shows always highlight game brawls. And the athletes, at times, don't mind their manners."We all share in it together - the athletes, the media, the parents," Chicago Bears linebacker Bryan Cox said during a two-hour town hall meeting on sportsmanship broadcast live Tuesday on ESPN.

Among the panelists at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex were Cleveland Indian pitcher Orel Hershiser, Olympic track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee and WNBA star Rebecca Lobo.

Cox, who has been fined $142,000 during his career, defended his history of bad behavior on the field.

"We take sports figures and put them on a pedestal when we're no different from anybody else," Cox said. "I'm a role model off the field, but on the field it's my livelihood. It's not a sport, it's my job."

Cox said he trash talks on the field to get riled up against his opponents. "I'm talking about mommas, babies, wives. The only person I won't touch is if someone is sick."

But panel member Jeff Lageman, defensive end for the Jacksonville Jaguars, said trash talking is a slippery slope.

"Trash talking can be funny, but it can also lead to bad behavior," he said.

The other panelists, on a stage draped with a banner quoting Charles Barkley's Nike ad "I am not a role model," disagreed with Cox's comments. They said athletes set examples for children.

"The athlete doesn't determine if they're a role model. The kids do it," Lobo said.

Too often players and coaches are measured by their wins and not how they behave on the field, Joyner-Kersee said. Athletes who are flamboyant and outrageous get on television, not the athletes who follow the rules, she said.

"If they're outrageous, if they're loud, if they're taunting, those are the people we see on television," she said. "Those kids out there say, `That's what I need to do to get a contract."'

The decline of sportsmanship has become such a concern that major league baseball, the NBA, the NCAA, the NFL, the NHL and the U.S. Olympic Committee have formed a Citizenship Through Sports Alliance.