Spitting on decency

Originally published October 1, 1996, by Mike Barnicle for The Boston Globe

On a morning when the sun arrived like a warm handshake offering the promise of a splendid day, a single green bench stood bathed in a yellow glow along the Commonwealth Avenue mall, between Berkeley and Clarendon, where apartment buildings are low enough and the sun was at just the right height in the sky to turn late September into mid­July. It was 8 a.m. when I sat my ample arse in comfortable escape from lost children, fired Red Sox managers and the daily grief of life.

My wonderful Monday start was broken, however, by a dog belonging to some Back Bay bore in a bow tie who, regular as a laxative, took his pet out for a dump before work. The dog, an ugly little thing not much bigger than a dust mop, came up behind me quieter than a professional prowler and peed on my pants cuff as I perused the baseball box scores.

It’s amazing how quickly your mood changes once you’re turned into a urinal. Suddenly, the sun didn’t feel quite so warm, and instead of simply going for a second cup of coffee somewhere, I had to go get a change of socks.

Heading toward Copley Square, I bumped into a throng of kids coming up out of the subway on their way to school on Newbury Street. They appeared to be about 15 or 16 years of age and looked as if they had just crawled out of a dumpster.

A couple of them were swearing loudly at someone or something when, in a flash, one kid turned to a second strolling alongside and let loose a lunger that landed on the other boy’s jacket; then the whole posse erupted in laughter.

It was another of those moments ­­ and, believe me, I have had many lately ­­ when I again realized that so much has gone right past me that I can barely understand half of what happens in front of my own eyes each and every day of the week. From the global to the local, events seem etched in such insanity that either I am getting dumber ­­ a distinct possibility ­­ or the culture is growing more depraved by the moment.

One kid spitting at another on a crowded city street reminded me instantly of the incident in Toronto over the weekend where the Baltimore Orioles were playing the Blue Jays Friday evening and a spectacular ballplayer by the name of Robby Alomar spat in an umpire’s face and was right back out on the baseball field the following afternoon. Incredible.

No wonder baseball is in trouble. But whatever problems plague this particular sport, larger problems afflict us for not punishing brutal behavior with protests plus our absence.

The fact that an athlete can do this to an official and not suffer immediate banishment is ridiculous. Yet this occurs all the time, and then we wonder why so many kids, adults too, act like fools: They see it played out daily. They see bizarre behavior rewarded with big money and no consequences.

And it’s not just baseball. Take a peek at pro football, where we have these marginally talented defensive backs going immediately into some berserk street dance of ridiculous gyrations after they intercept a football or make a weak tackle in open field.

It’s not just touchdowns, either. It’s deflected passes, quarterback sacks, kickoff and punt returns. And it triggers a trickle­down effect: High school kids copy what they see pros do on their Sunday TV.

The Alomar situation is different. It was an obscene act, a vile thing, the lowest of the low. Why, you’d rather get sucker­punched in the kisser than have someone spit in your eye.

Maybe the worst part is the weakness with which baseball reacted to Alomar. There is no commissioner, and apparently the president of the American League doesn’t have the guts to confront the players’ association and sit this chump down for the league playoffs as well as for the first three months of the 1997 season.

Now you might think this is overreacting because it’s sports, not real life; but the problem is that a huge number of people who happen to be younger than 21 think these millionaire, sociopathic morons are worthy of emulation. Ask 10 kids who their heroes are and most will not respond with the names of Clinton, Gore, Dole, some teacher or a parent.

Odds are the reply will involve an athlete, an actor or a rap singer, someone who takes the field with a low IQ, huge bank account and big car. And they are admired merely because they are rich, famous and can do what they want, whenever they want, and do it while they spit in society’s face.