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Bird Watching
February 05, 2007
Through the years with the crudest finger in sports
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February 05, 2007

Bird Watching

Through the years with the crudest finger in sports

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THE NEWS THAT Hawks forward Josh Smith was recently fined $25,000 for making an obscene gesture at fans in Charlotte makes you want to say, "Athletes today," right? But Smith was merely carrying on a tradition of vulgarity that dates to at least 1886, when Old Hoss Radbourn livened up the Boston Beaneaters' team photo by flashing the ol' one-finger salute. (Old Hoss also let a bird fly the next year on a baseball card.) In the interim there's been more flipping than you'll find at your local IHOP.

? 2005 Reds pitcher Danny Graves broke out the double-barrel bird on a heckler in Cincinnati. "Obviously, I overreacted," Graves said. The fallout: He soon became ex--Reds pitcher Danny Graves. The club released Graves—who saved 41 games in 2004—10 days later.

? 2000 After losing a doubles match, Natasha Zvereva gave the strawberries-and-cream set a bit more than they bargained for when she raised both middle fingers at a rowdy group of Wimbledon fans. The fallout: The ump missed the gesture, but thousands of fans who saw it on TV—and on the back page of the paper—alerted officials, who fined Zvereva $1,000.

? 1995 As he was leaving the mound to boos at Yankee Stadium, Jack McDowell (right) raised a digit at the fans. The fallout: Black Jack was fined $5,000 and was pilloried by the media (YANKEE FLIPPER, cried the Post) and the mayor: "There are better ways to communicate frustration," said Rudy Giuliani.

? 1993 After hearing what he said was racial abuse, Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox let fans at Buffalo's Rich Stadium have it. The fallout: The NFL fined Cox $10,000—and Cox sued the league, claiming its failure to control fans led to a hostile work environment. The NFL agreed to crack down on offensive fans, and Cox's fine was lowered to $3,000.

? 1972 A banner year for the finger: It started in the spring, when Topps released a Billy Martin baseball card on which the Tigers manager was slyly extending his middle finger (below). In August, Dolphins running back Larry Csonka did the same on the cover of SI (above). Then, at the Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, Alan Eagleson—who helped organize the hockey tournament—did his part to slow d�tente by flipping off the Soviet crowd, which was dotted with Red Army members. (Some claim that one of Eagleson's assistants was the actual shooter.)

Even the fans got into the act. During a Monday Night Football broadcast in Houston, cameras caught an Oilers fan napping during a blowout. As the camera zoomed in, he awoke and unfurled his middle finger, prompting commentator Don Meredith to offer one of the few plausible excuses for such indelicate behavior: "That's his way of saying, We're No. 1."

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