A SPITTING IMAGE
Baseball remains a runaway leader in the ranks of spitting and SewerBall offers a touching vignette in defense of one of sports? unheralded traditions
SewerBall has not earned its stripes for fearless, hard-hitting critiques without reason and it is past time that we finally address the issue of spitting head on. To argue that seeing a pro athlete let spit fly out of his mouth is an elegant act would be akin to spitting into the wind. There is no doubt a breach of decorum when it is done indiscreetly, but to how egregious a level does an act of this nature really rise ? Before we get into the whys and wherefores, let me first posit that in a world filled with problems, this isn?t one of them.
Professional sport demands a lot from players physically and many often perform like they?ve taken to heart the famous quote from Winston Churchill?s memorable 1940 wartime speech in which he said: ?I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears.? Of the four elements contained in that quote, toil stands apart. It?s a by-product of desire, the physical and emotional effort put forth when heart rules head, something fans love to see. The remaining three elements are all human body fluids that, within the world of sports, can be fairly described as having a certain nobility to them. Both blood and sweat are closely associated with passion, endeavor, and desire. Bloodlusts excluded, no one really wants to see too much blood being shed in any sport, but let?s face it: it?s inevitable when bodies collide or fall to the ground. Sweat is an ever-present element in all sports and most athletes don?t even consider themselves ready to play until they?ve worked up some sweat in pre-game preparations. Tears can be shed as a result of great joy or deep disappointment and all sports inevitably bring those emotions to the surface.
But sporting endeavor also produces another fluid that isn?t quite so noble or admirable.
You see it all the time in baseball, hockey, soccer, and football, but nobody has turned spitting into an artform like the Boys of Summer. As athletes get their bodies in a lather, thirst builds, mucous forms and ?whooosshhh!!? ? out flies a gooey, phlegmy, viscous blob that no one remotely wants to step or fall on. At best, it?s a vile necessity. At worst, to the thin-skinned it is a vulgar expression of disrespect and a violation of all things decent.
Some sports just naturally produce it and accept it as part of the game. Baseball players chew tobacco or nibble sunflower seeds throughout the game and either activity results in a need to expel something. Walk around a baseball dugout after a game and the floor is littered with seed shells and brown goo. No one gets too worked up and the mess is quickly cleaned up when the game ends.
Other sports where athletes constantly tax their heart and lungs require air passages be kept as clear as possible to maintain that effort, so occasionally the spitting is part of rinsing out mouths with water. That?s more of a spouting action than actual spitting. But it?s not unusual to see football players lift their facemasks to let fly en route to the huddle or see hockey players gob on the ice awaiting a face-off.
Not every athlete can spit at will. When the playing surface is grass, dirt, or ice, spent saliva isn?t much of an issue as it gets absorbed or frozen, but when the playing surface is slick, glossy hardwood, any liquid on it makes for treacherous footing. Which sets basketball players apart as they have to invoke a discipline not to spit until a time-out visit to the bench offers them a spit bucket to launch loogies into. This by no means makes Ron Artest more cultured than Derek Jeter. The same goes for sports where etiquette is the coin of the realm, such as golf and tennis, which may help explain why we have never seen Roger Federer ignominiously spitting onto the fabled lawns at Wimbledon or Jack Nicklaus jettisoning a saliva rocket onto the well-groomed greens at Augusta. That said, the wrestling mat is also one of those surfaces that should remain spit-free, yet few athletes spit on it as spectacularly as did Goldberg.
At times, spitting becomes an act of aggression, ranging from spitting in an umpire?s shadow to express an opinion about a call to spitting at an opposing player who has managed to stir emotions past the boiling point. Crossing that line can forever stain an athlete?s reputation because, while spitting may be deemed rude, spitting at someone is unequivocally and demonstrably obscene. It is what led to the slow unraveling of Robbie Alomar?s career when he spat in the face ? literally ? of home plate umpire John Hirschbeck in 1997, or as he was thereafter known to some, Gobbie Alomar.
It might be a distasteful act, but spitting is part of everyday activity in the sports world. You?d have to be a prude to find spitting objectionable when a wrung-out athlete discharges a trail of spit amid the throes of an intense trial of physical competition. This ought to be tolerable by anyone?s standards, even by more lofty, Heloise-worthy senses of etiquette. And so it is on the playing field, where it is generally acceptable, but it is a definite no-no in settings such as church, or your friend?s living room. And you?ve probably gone too far when your high school teacher says to you during a heated exchange over how harshly he graded your History midterm: ?say it, don?t spray it.? In Singapore, spitting on the sidewalk will get you a hefty fine. Besides, it?s not like a wad of human gob laying in a grass field will never be expunged. This is saliva resting on a surface as natural as soil, not hummus stuck in shag carpeting.
And I?m proud that thanks to a groundbreaking study by SewerBall?s own incorruptible scientists we learned that the enzymes found in human saliva can stimulate plant growth. So it?s a win-win all the way around. Let?s maintain some much-needed perspective here because the harder our heroes play, the more urgent their need to spit. So to those who would have you believe that spitting in full view of television cameras is tantamount to spreading Sars or Ebola, we say to them to put down the Nyquil and Robitussin because if boys can?t be allowed to be boys anymore, then the end is truly nigh.
Fans can have great expectations. Players will have great expectorations.