Decade of Decadence: Counting Down Sports' Top 10 Excesses
Pacman, then a defensive back for the Tennessee Titans, began to make it rain -- throwing money in the air as if it were raining -- in a strip club called Minxx. Jones, who reportedly arrived with $100,000 in cash -- gambling winnings, carried in black trash bags -- stood on the stage and made it rain while the strippers cavorted around him. Shortly after the rainstorm began, a fight broke out as the strippers scrambled to grab the money on the gilded stage. From there a bouncer was shot outside the club, and chaos reigned.
The "making-it-rain" story grabbed headlines for months, was the pivotal event surrounding the NFL's new personal conduct policy, and represented, in a matter of minutes, the perfect illustration of our own decade of sports decadence. For the unaware, decadence is defined thusly: "A process, condition, or period of deterioration or decline, as in morals or art; decay." And while Pacman's making it rain might have crystallized the decadent decade of sports, he had many compatriots. Dive in for the 10 most decadent events that summed up the decade that was in sports.
Before we begin, let's keep in mind that sports merely served as a reflection of our larger society's decline. Indeed, sports' own decade of decadence was set in motion by larger market forces that embraced excess. On March 10, 2000, the NASDAQ stock market hit 5132.52. New millionaires were being crowned each day thanks to the love affair with a newfangled contraption called the information superhighway. As sports fans across the country geared up for the release of the NCAA Tournament brackets in a few short days, it appeared likely that we were all going to be fabulously wealthy. Only it was not to be. March 10, 2000 was the peak of the internet bubble.
10. Pacman Jones makes it rain.
As we discussed in the introduction, no other single act better personifies the decade that was.
Consider the requisite points of excess that coalesced in this single incident.
a. More than twice the salary of the average American family of four
b. is tossed into the air
c. for strippers
d. whereupon a fight emerges
e. that leads to a bouncer being shot and paralyzed.
9. College coaches get filthy rich.
In 1996. Steve Spurrier became the first college coach to make a million dollars a year. By the end of the current decade, Mack Brown was making $5 million a year to coach football at Texas. If the currently escalating coaching contracts continue at this rate, by 2025 the top coach will be making $25 million a year.
That's 15 years away.
And we won't even blink an eye at $25 million a year.
Or $50 million.
Because $5 million is already chicken feed.
8. Latrell Sprewell of the Minnesota Timberwolves turns down a multi-million dollar contract extension because, "I got my family to feed."
Sprewell, then 34, described a three-year, $21-million deal as insulting.
''Why would I want to help them win a title?," Sprewell went on to say. "They're not doing anything for me. I'm at risk. I have a lot of risk here. I got my family to feed.'' At the time, Sprewell made $14.6 million per year playing basketball.
After rejecting the team's offer, Sprewell played his final NBA game in 2005. No other team offered him anywhere close to the amount of money he rejected from the Timberwolves. Since his final game Sprewell's 70-foot yacht, Milwaukee's Best, has been foreclosed upon and so has one of his homes in the city.
Sprewell, along with Antoine Walker and Mike Tyson, take your pick, represent the perfect poster-children for athlete excess.
7. Kobe Bryant is charged with rape.
Setting the template for the athletes' struggle with both courts and fidelity, Kobe Bryant is charged with sexual assault in Colorado in 2003. The companies whose products Bryant endorses abandon him. Amazingly, he continues to play basketball throughout the proceedings and ultimately the case crumbles as Bryant pays an undisclosed amount of money and apologizes to the victim.
Bryant's reputation among fans does not suffer, indeed, in a sign that forces us to ask whether sports fans are the most culpable of all for our decade of decadence, Kobe's jersey sales skyrocket in the immediate wake of the arrest.
Six years later, Bryant's being charged with rape is almost completely forgotten. His endorsements have returned, and his wife, Vanessa, has a bigger diamond ring.
And athletes everywhere have their template for how to behave when caught in the wrong.
6. Mike Vick fights dogs.
If I'd told you in 2000, that by 2008, one of the five most famous quarterbacks in the NFL would be in jail for dogfighting, would you have ever believed me?
Of course, you wouldn't have.
That's because dogfighting existed in a dark netherworld, a place most Americans didn't really believe existed. It wasn't so much shocking that Mike Vick, hundred millionaire quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, fought dogs, it was shocking that anyone fought dogs.
And in the wake of Vick's conviction, fans were left wondering, what other sordid and decadent practices are embraced by the athletes we make millionaires?
5. Jerry Jones' $1.15 billion Dallas Cowboys stadium, the Roman Colisseum of America, opens.
The stadium features an 11,520-square foot video screen. Shortly after opening the field makes news for two major reasons. a. the gigantic scoreboard screen is sometimes in play for punts and b. a couple takes advantage of the voluminous bathroom stalls to have sex inside one during the game. The man, predictably, is wearing a Michael Irvin jersey.
Watching a Monday night game from Cowboys' Stadium, as Tony Romo prepared to surge onto the field, we couldn't help but think this: The NFL is the closest experience to the Roman gladiators that we will ever know.
And the coda to that thought is this, like the Roman gladiatorial era, one day this will all end as well.
4. Steve McNair is murdered by a jealous girlfriend.
The murder by Saleh Kazemi causes athletes everywhere to enter into deep contemplation of their sexual infidelities for approximately three minutes.
Then life returns to normal.
McNair's dalliances with multiple women who aren't his wife reinforces the baronial lifestyle that awaits successful athletes in today's society. And while McNair's antics may be no more decadent than those of athletes before him, today's media culture brings those transgressions into the public eye in a way they never been before.
Athletes be warned.
3. Indiana Pacer Ron Artest runs into the Detroit Pistons' crowd after having a beer tossed on him.
After the ensuing melee -- forever dubbed Malice at the Palace -- Artest is suspended for the season.
At the time, American sports fans engaged in a short period of intense hand wringing about what Artest's actions meant for sports and fandom. Our national mourning lasted long enough to watch Artest attempt to hawk his newest CD on the Today Show, and then, predictably, Artest faded from the national discourse and we went back to our games.
Five years later, with the benefit of distance, Artest's sprint into the crowd looks a bit different. Rather than a dangerous assault upon fans, it emerges as an early preview of the rising influence of fans upon the games we watch. The angry fan as lonely heckler with an audience of a few rows has given way to the angry fan typing away for an audience as large as the market sees fit. Angry fans are all tossing metaphorical beers for the world at large to review now, and the discourse of the game has changed.
If you're a person of prominence in America today, and you Google your name, someone hates you with every fiber of their being.
The public era of Haterade is upon us. And Artest getting drenched by a beer was the first liquid salvo in our new world order.
2. Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and other baseball players teach us that reality is far from real.
The 2000s can also be noted as the decade of reality. That's because we saw the rise of reality television and an intense belief in the ability of those television shows to capture the world around us with greater verisimilitude fashion than scripted television.
Only we learned quite rapidly that "reality" can be every bit as inauthentic as anything that takes place on a stage. And while we may have hoped, that our games -- unlike our real estate, our stocks, our banks, and just about every other facet of our modern lives -- couldn't be built upon a foundation of lies, they were, in fact, just as susceptible to artifice.
As we've all learned, the reality of our world is steeped in illusion, and baseball's illicit drug trade was yet another march towards decadence.
1. Tiger Woods implodes.
The carefully crafted world of sports' first billionaire comes crashing down amid revelations from the National Enquirer about Woods' relationship with a female club promoter. Yep, the National Enquirer is now our nation's greatest truth-teller.
Suddenly, entertainment reporters who couldn't tell you what color jacket you got for the Masters, were green with envy over the number of viewers poring over every decadent detail of Tiger's life. We can already trace this reportorial trail of decadence all the way back to Monica Lewinsky's blue dress. That story opened the door for politicians to be exposed, and from there athletes have become fair game.
Woods' transgressions are not a surprise, but the rapidity of his tumble and the voracity of the media coverage are significant signposts in our decade of decadence. Right now, there are an awful lot of athletes clicking through their text messages and cursing.
Someone will be next. Because entering a new decade isn't going to alter our trajectory.
Maybe, after all this, sports aren't any more decadent than they've always been, we're just more likely to know about the sordid excesses that our athletes embrace.
But I tend to think that things have changed.
Because the money our most-talented athletes continue to rake in makes them more and more likely to fall peril to excess. After all, money makes you more of what you already are. Way back in another money-soaked decade, the roaring '20s, F. Scott Fitzgerald famously remarked, "The rich are different than you and me."
Implicit in the commentary was not just that the rich are different but that you and I, the non-rich, share something in common as well. Now, in the wake of our past decade of decadence. it's time for an addendum, "The rich are different than you and me, they make it rain."