In the early weeks of the NFL playoffs, a player who has become renowned for his antics on and off the field was cited and fined by the NFL for mockingly “mooning” the fans of the opposing team. For the totally uninitiated, “mooning” is a gesture where the perpetrator bends over and flashes his or her hind side as a put down to another group or individual.

During this nationally televised playoff game, the well-known wide receiver scored a touchdown, and then bent over beside the goal post and mimicked a “moon” to the opposing fans seated above the end zone.  Although no flesh was flashed, the gesture was interpreted as offensive and inappropriate, and the player was reprimanded and fined $10,000 by the NFL.

In the days following, sports talk radio personalities and callers kept the airwaves buzzing by debating the seriousness of the gesture and second-guessing the actions of the NFL in fining the accused player.  I am not an avid pro football fan, but I do watch the playoffs.  I did see the gesture in question, and while it was distasteful, I did not perceive it to be any more offensive than the any of the profane words, promiscuous lifestyles and lucrative salaries that have become all too characteristic of some professional athletes.

A couple of days following the incident, I happened to be listening to sports talk radio, when the two announcers stated that they were not as offended by the lewd lunar gesture as they were by the player’s recent admission that he “takes plays off.”  They went on to explain that the player in question has confessed to taking plays off when the ball does not come to him.  That is, if he is not the designated receiver on a play, he does not block or run his route. In other words, he is not truly a team player.

In most team sports, a team cannot attain championship caliber status unless the team members do their best to fulfill every assignment, especially the unnoticed ones.  A member of a team who suspends effort and shirks responsibility while other members of the team are giving their best lacks integrity.  “Taking plays off” is an entirely different way of showing your worst side.

However, before we point an accusing finger at an athlete, we should evaluate the impact of taking plays off in other arenas of life.

Barry Howard is a minister and columnist who resides in Birmingham, Ala.

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