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NFL SHOULD GET FLAGGED FOR UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS WITH OWENS

Now I suppose it's a good thing that awful Terrell Owens is being taught a lesson, huh? We're showing him -- aren't we? -- that he can' t show up his opponents by running to the middle of the field and spreading his arms like Michael Jackson on stage.

It's the same debate that has been raging in football in recent years, to taunt or not to taunt. And I've got the same reaction I've always had: Man, please!

Suspending Owens and fining him $24,294 is yet another pointless move by folks in the NFL, in this case the San Francisco 49ers.

The league covertly markets itself with video of violent hits and warm and fuzzy tales of just how dirty old-school players like Dick Butkus were in the trenches. Yet the NFL feels a need to save us all from rampant showboating.

This is where the NFL is now. If the NFL and its teams are worried about role models, they should focus on situations that won't see players accused of serious crimes, owners connected to gambling fraud cases or players barely able to walk after five years in the league.

Hey, no one is asking you to agree with what Owens did. And, yes, I agree he should act like he's been there before. But let's not act like he choked his coach or literally spit in his opponent's face, either.

This whole thing was handled terribly.

So you think what Owens did was horrific. OK, fine. But didn't Emmitt Smith do the same thing in retaliation? Didn't Smith take off his helmet, too?

And George Teague -- oh, my goodness!

Teague is the brilliant Dallas defensive back who rushed out to the star and rammed into Owens as Owens celebrated his second touchdown. "That's like a slap in the face," Teague said.

(Memo to Teague: If you really want to stop Owens from doing something, stop him from scoring touchdowns.) And it's amazing how some fans and members of the media have become so self-righteous, calling Owens a jerk for his actions. Many of the very same newspaper columnists and radio talk-show hosts who sit and complain about the so-called "me-first" attitude of professional athletes are, themselves, hypocrites. Now, you tell me who's me-first.

Look, if a guy is truly a bad sport -- hello, Keyshawn Johnson! -- then usually it comes back to him. If it's that bad, officials should throw a flag.

But just as we saw in last year's Ryder Cup, excessive celebration is an oxymoron. So let guys pile on each other or dance or go to midfield if they want.

Hey, we can go back and forth in the sportsmanship debate. Really, it just depends on which side you fall, and that doesn't necessarily mean one side is right or wrong.

For example, I like the flashy guys. What athlete was more braggadocious and me-first than Muhammad Ali? He's arguably the most beloved athlete of our time. I love Deion. I loved Reggie Jackson.

I also love Barry Sanders and Steve Young, guys more than happy to let their games and not their mouths do all their talking.

But it doesn't make them any better as people.

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