Steve Chapman

Kids' soccer games have grown so raucous that some leagues enforce a "silent Saturday," when parents are banned from cheering, yelling, booing or swearing. It's a great idea that ought to be extended to professional sports -- not to shut up fans, but to shut up players.

The National Basketball Association is moving in the direction of greater quiet. This season, it declared a new policy against excessive complaining. The happy result is more technical fouls being called and more players being ejected.

Commissioner David Stern explained, with admirable understatement, that "we have the best athletes in the world, playing a spectacular game as well as it has ever been played. In my view, it detracts from it when a small handful of players spend their time negotiating and slowing the game down . . . by engaging in an enterprise which is not productive."

And how have the offending parties responded to the new policy? By vehemently disagreeing.

Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett said the rule is "almost like communism." Rasheed Wallace of the Detroit Pistons, who led the league last year in technical fouls, said it was obviously aimed at punishing him. He set out to prove his point by getting tossed from the season opener. Players association President Billy Hunter is so aghast at this suffocating repression that he threatened to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the league.

To which any sports fan can only sigh and say: Boo hoo. If professional athletes want to spend their time debating, they should run for office. Nobody goes to a game to see athletes run their mouths, but a lot of them operate as though they're being paid like freelance writers -- by the word.

They do this even though, as Stern noted, their incessant griping serves no functional purpose. How many times have you seen a referee slap himself on the forehead, exclaim to the disputant, "By golly, you're right!" and reverse the call? All the grousing does is interfere with the game and make the complainers look like toddlers who missed naptime.

The NBA is hardly alone in the problem. In recent years, you would think a lot of major league baseball players had just graduated from law school and were looking for opportunities to practice objecting, pleading and hair-splitting.

Any allegedly errant strike may elicit a round of grimacing, head-shaking and eye-rolling by the aggrieved batter. Any close call at first base may induce one player or another (or his manager) to dash up to the umpire, hop up and down, wave his arms, stamp his feet and strongly recommend professional eye care. Occasionally, umpires give the offender the heave-ho. More often, they simply indulge the histrionics.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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