Tom Ross: NBA fines should have included trip to Baghdad

Can you picture Michaels and Madden in hot tub with Chiefs' cheerleaders?

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If there's anything I resent more than a TV network using inappropriate portrayals of sexuality during the buildup to Monday Night Football, it's the sight of grown men who are paid millions to play catch, brawling in the stands while frightened children cower nearby. I hope you guys are in the mood for a good rant, because that's where I'm headed. By now, you're well aware that the promotional stunt pulled by ABC last Monday night involving Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens and actress Nicolette Sheridan has caused more than a little outrage. And before that hullabaloo was even close to dying down, members of the Detroit Pistons and Indianapolis Pacers NBA basketball teams engaged in a brawl on the court that carried into the stands in Detroit. The events of the past week are enough to make anyone long for family values on television. I guess we should all be thankful that the Eagles, Pistons and the Pacers decided to get all of this mischief out of their systems before Thanksgiving week.

One might think that after the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction of last February's Super Bowl, TV sports moguls would have learned their lesson. And that's what has me scared.

Maybe, just maybe, they have paid very close attention and learned their lesson all too well. Perhaps, when the final tally was in on the Super Bowl debacle, all of the media coverage that resulted was well worth the mega fine from the Federal Communications Commission. And how far fetched is it to think that the ratings for tonight's broadcast of Monday Night Football will be off the charts?

After all, you don't know what you might miss if you aren't tuned in and preparing to eat your dinner at the coffee table when Hank Williams asks the proverbial question, "Are you ready for some football?" Who knows? Maybe tonight is the night John Madden and Al Michaels titillate us by doing their opening standup from a hot tub shared with the Kansas City Chiefs cheerleaders.

Or maybe Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will fling off his towel in the locker room before the game and jump into the arms of sideline reporter Michele Tafoya (who just happens to be one of the best sports broadcasters in the business).

Maybe we're all making too big a deal out of the Owens/Sheridan skit. I happen to think that Owens' irreverence is good for football. And I can understand why ABC thought the skit might go over big. After all, 25 million viewers tune in every week to watch the cast members of Desperate Housewives act out their sexual frustration (I've never watched the show. Can you fill me in?).

However, does it strike anyone as odd that Disney owns ABC, and this is what they're producing? Whatever happened to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves"? On second thought, maybe we shouldn't go there either. If anything, I think we've seen that Americans are sensitive to subtle nuances in how and when adult themes are portrayed on television. Monday Night Football, when millions of American families are settling onto the couch with their pizza for a night of controlled violence, is the wrong time.

And that leads me to the NBA, which announced last night it would suspend the Pacers' Ron Artest for the rest of the season for his part in the brawl in Detroit. Also suspended were his teammates Stephen Jackson for 30 games and Jermaine O'Neal for 25. A few Pistons received lesser penalties, primarily because they didn't take their wild punches into the stands. The penalties handed down by the league are harsh -- they will cost some players millions of dollars. And the NBA needed to take drastic measures to save the sport.

Perhaps this isn't fair, but I can't think about the shameful events of Friday night in Detroit without drawing a connection to the conflict in Iraq. At the same time a dozen overpaid athletes were resorting to violence because of a hoops game, other young Americans were coping with violence of a different nature in the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad. They didn't have any choice in the matter, and their lives were at risk. If Artest, Jackson and O'Neal teamed up with the Piston's Ben Wallace and Anthony Johnson for a goodwill trip to Baghdad's Green Zone to visit the troops and maybe even play a game of pickup basketball, I think they might view their lives and all they have to be thankful for in a different light. But who am I to say? I couldn't dunk a basketball in my dreams.

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