Remember when Cal Ripken Jr. punched an ump's lights out? Or when Magic Johnson threw a hissy fit, stamped his feet and refused to play center in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals? These are golden memories—Arthur Ashe kicking the Duchess of Kent, Jack Nicklaus mooning Arnie's Army, Mark Spitz taking an Olympic-sized leak in the pool, Lou Gehrig saying, "Today I consider myself the biggest victim on the face of the earth."
If you don't recall those tantrums and 'tude coppings, it's because Ashe and Gehrig; and the rest weren't the type to suffer meltdowns. They were grown-ups, or at least they acted like it in public. Lately, though, athletes have been going Chernobyl with scary regularity.
The Knicks' Larry Johnson freaked when a league p.r. woman asked him to talk to reporters at the Finals, as NBA contracts oblige players to do. After skipping 20 minutes of the half-hour session, Johnson went off on NBA officials who "don't like me. Like I give a s—-.... They don't pay my f—-ing rent." The league fined him $25,000, and Johnson, who has an $84 million contract, portrayed himself and several other Knicks as "rebellious slaves."
While losing the French Open final Martina Hingis smashed her racket in anger, briefly refused to play and then tried to show up Steffi Graf by serving underhand. When WTA official Raquel Martin reached for her after the match, Hingis slapped Martin's arm. "It's probably too hard to understand me," said Hingis, who then crossed the English Channel and won all of two games in a first-round loss to 129th-ranked Jelena Dokic.
John Daly smacked a still-moving ball at the U.S. Open and blamed the U.S. Golf Association for making the course too hard. Dodgers pitcher Carlos Perez grabbed a bat and went berserk, clubbing two Gatorade coolers that had somehow caused him to walk three Pirates in a row. Chilean tennis star Marcelo Rios broke down in tears and blamed a magazine for ruining his life after his fianc�e saw its photos of him dancing with another woman at that most secret of spots—a Paris disco.
What to do? Fines don't work because they haven't kept pace with the money in sports. A $25,000 fine for a $10-million-a-year man like Johnson is the same as a $125 fine for a guy making $50,000. Solution: bigger fines. Let's hit Johnson with a fine mat would flip his grandmama's wig—$250,000.
Hingis? She's 18, so she gets off with a $100,000 fine. Daly? A quarter million, with $50,000 off for apologizing. Perez can send $100,000 to the same address: the Sports Trauma Onus Pool, a new fund to benefit causes selected by fans. Once we get STOP started, we can sit back and enjoy watching jocks do their worst.