Celebrations: Youthful Exuberance or Bad Sportsmanship?

Aaron MeyerCorrespondent IJuly 26, 2008

This is a question that has plagued the sporting world ever since Magic Johnson leaped onto the back of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the end of his first victory as a pro:

Are athletes too exuberant in their displays of victorious joy? Or are they merely capturing the inner child in all of us by throwing themselves into fits of ecstasy after even the most minor wins?

I just watched K-Rod (an annoying nickname if there ever was one) notch his 42nd save of the season. After sending three of the worst hitters in the AL East (they were playing the Orioles) down, he turns around and shoots his arms to the sky, mouthing that he loves someone up there (God? Dead relative? Who knows?).

I can't help but wonder, why he was so excited? It looked like he just won the World Series, for Pete's sake—not a meaningless, non-division game against the worst team in the AL East. I found that just a little perplexing.

Then I started thinking about other athletes and their reactions to various stimuli.

Brett Favre tackling his own teammates in the end zone after a touchdown. Jose Valverde swearing and jawing, pumping his fist after saving games for a team with no shot at the playoffs.

Manny Ramirez posing after each home run he swats, never mind that he's done it over 500 times in his pro career. TO doing a dance after catching a meaningless touchdown. Vince Carter popping his jersey after yet another highlight reel dunk in a loss.

All this seems a little self-aggrandizing, don't you think? I'm willing to give Favre a pass; making it into the end zone is very hard to do when you've got 11 big-ass dudes trying to stop you, and Manny, well, he's just Manny. But these are just a few examples of an alarming growth of exhibitionism that should probably be stopped.

Certain athletes seem to be more prone to this type of self-promotion than others. Most of the people I've seen do this kind of thing are closers in baseball, wideouts in football, and shallow, nothing but dunkers in basketball. But it's spreading like a wildfire.

How long until we start seeing Little Leaguers staring down opposing batters like Jonathan Papelbon (who looks absolutely ridiculous every time I see him)? Or Junior Basketballers popping their jerseys after sinking three-pointers? When are we going to see a Pop Warner kid doing an end-zone celebration involving putting a football with a pylon?

I hope the kids look at what Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter do every night: go out a play their hardest, and celebrating only when they do something truly magnificent. Mo Rivera closes nearly every game he gets into, and he does it all like he's done it a million times before (which he has).

Torry Holt not only has a ton of touchdowns and yards to his name, but comes to the game with more film study under his belt than TO has every dreamed of watching. How about Tim Duncan, who has dominated the Western Conference big men for a decade now, and done so with the demeanor of a steel worker every night?

I'm not saying that you shouldn't celebrate in victory, just the opposite. Give a little fist pump, thank your Maker in a quiet voice, then line up and shake your teammates' hands like you've done it before.

Let out that exuberance at appropriate times. Win a big game to get into the playoffs, or winning a playoff games in general. That's an appropriate time to throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don't care.

It cheapens it a little if you jump for joy after meaningless stuff. Trust me. Now every time I see Francisco Rodriguez on SportsCenter, he makes me want to puke with his over-the-top escapades.

Or maybe I'm just getting old and crotchety.