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Unsportsmanlike conduct

(Associated Press/Photo by Michael Conroy)


Unsportsmanlike conduct

Critics are showing an ugly glee in football coach Charlie Weis' troubles at Notre Dame

When football coach Charlie Weis took the head job at Notre Dame in late 2004, he set his own bar-and high: "You are what you are, folks, and right now you're a 6-5 football team. And guess what? That's just not good enough. That's not good enough for you, and it's certainly not going to be good enough for me."

Five years later, on the heels of a double overtime loss to Connecticut that dropped the Fighting Irish to 6-5, Weis took his medicine like a man: "If they decide to make a change, I'd have a tough time arguing that because 6-5 is not good enough," he said when asked if he would understand should Notre Dame choose to fire him (which the school did after the following game). "Who else is responsible? Now, I could sit there and try to blame everybody else, but ultimately, it falls on my shoulders."

As is so often the case at the highest levels of athletic competition, the struggle to move beyond mediocrity has humbled Weis. Gone is the bravado and bluster of the past-in its place, self-examination and awareness of professional shortcomings.

The Notre Dame job changed Weis, and for the better. A man castigated as an arrogant bully by former players now doles out encouragement, a sentiment the beleaguered coach could use directed his way, too. High-pressure coaching gigs have a way of drawing out an empathetic streak.

Why then the piling on? Speculation about whether the Irish would fire Weis dominates college football headlines, and shrill celebration over the man's demise echoes throughout the blogosphere. Notre Dame haters seem to delight in the program's past decade of frustration and especially the steady diet of crow this disappointing season has force-fed Weis. Recognition of the character built amid such toil is rare.

Such is the nature of much sports criticism-the value of important life lessons drowned out in a chorus of spite and fanaticism.

Weis is far from alone in standing on the wrong side of this human phenomenon. Consider Bill Belichick, the much-despised coach of the New England Patriots. His critical decision to seek a first down on fourth-and-two late in a recent loss to the Indianapolis Colts sparked a deluge of condemnation. Belichick bashers did gloat-as if the game's result of a 17-point lead blown in the final quarter hadn't buffeted Belichick enough.

Of course, high-profile coaches expect a certain amount of high-profile criticism. But the blood-in-the-water scramble to feed on wounded coaches is sometimes unfair, even unsportsmanlike. Why not let the Charlie Weises of the world be as they suffer through their inevitable Charlie Brown moments?

Kicked out

Major League Soccer, the red-headed stepchild of the game's far more talent-laden European leagues, could hardly have asked for a better matchup in its championship final. With megastars David Beckham and Landon Donovan leading the L.A. Galaxy against a scrappy Real Salt Lake squad, the match's appeal might have propelled the sport into popular culture, as do the title matches of the big three American games.

But the bane of soccer matches worldwide frustrated such potential when two halves and an extra frame failed to produce a winner. The match ended in a 1-1 deadlock, forcing a shootout tiebreak, which yielded a Salt Lake victory. Deciding the league's champion with penalty kicks inspired more than a little grumbling, even from the players.

"It's Russian roulette," Beckham said of the format. "It's not a nice way to go out. It's just the way it is." And that way may never be good enough for the American mainstream.