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Foul Behavior

Pro athletes are facing heavier fines and longer suspensions for misconduct, but league officials feel it's a small price for maintaining the image and marketability of their sports
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Jimmy Smits, May/June 2005

(continued from page 1)

Hence, the grumbling among some athletes that marquee names are all but immune from punishment. "What can I do to Tiger [Woods]?" admits Jon Brendle, one of several PGA Tour rules officials. "Almost nothing that could possibly affect him."

The PGA Tour is the only major sports organization that keeps disciplinary actions confidential. So when Jonathan Kaye failed to show up for several consecutive events in late 2001, following an incident in which he'd reportedly attached his Tour badge to a lowered pants zipper to flash at a security guard who'd been pestering him, the word from the Tour was that, as far as it knew, Kaye was perhaps taking some time off. "We don't share it with the world because we'd rather not draw attention to the very small percentage of problems that we have," says Henry Hughes, the senior vice president and chief of operations for the Tour.

In addition, the secrecy helps players with large endorsement contracts keep any procedural misdemeanors out of the limelight. "The feeling is, it's nobody else's business," says Brad Faxon, one of four players on the PGA's Tour Policy Board. "It's between the Tour and the player. Why should anybody else know about it?"

One reason they should is that it leaves the fans out in the cold. "Fans have a right to know why a player didn't show up to a tournament, or if they've been reprimanded," insists Bob Harig of the St. Petersburg Times, a veteran observer of the PGA Tour.

Perhaps even more important, the lack of disclosure removes the embarrassment factor from an embarrassing act, mitigating one of the strongest incentives not to misbehave. "The Tour doesn't publicize our fines like I think it should," says Jeff Sluman, who earned more than $1 million on the PGA Tour in 2004, and didn't have to pay a dollar of it back in fines—at least as far as anyone knows. "I believe if you have acts that are fine-able, and the public knows that a player was fined, it's less likely to happen again."

As Sluman walked his way through 18 holes at the Funai Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, late last season, Brendle was patrolling the grounds on a golf cart, called from one hole to the next on a constantly growling walkie-talkie. His job is to enforce rules (which pertain to the golf) and regulations (which cover behavior of all types). Unlike baseball, football, basketball and hockey, which have tightly confined playing surfaces and limited player-to-fan contact, a golf tournament takes place over hundreds of acres. A snide remark to a player from a spectator in the gallery may elicit a snide remark back—and a visit from the Tour's version of the secret police.

Players can be tattled on by a wide range of informants, from the walking scorers who accompany foursomes around the course, to security guards, to fans. "We take information from anybody," says Brendle, maneuvering his cart past a knot of spectators to head to a trouble spot. "Marshals. Standard-bearers. Volunteers. Some of them are afraid of the players and don't want to do anything, but others take responsibility for the sport. They'll turn 'em in."

A glance through the PGA Tour Player Handbook reveals any number of offenses that will cost players money. Bring your caddie into the locker room? That's $100 for the first offense, $250 for the next and $500 after that. Exceed the allowable time to play a stroke? Do it three times in a calendar year at PGA Tour events and you'll cough up $10,000. Pay a fine with a check that bounces? "You'll be fined again," says Slugger White, another rules official. But even that $10,000 fine will barely make a dent in the bank account of Vijay Singh, who earned nearly $11 million in 2004 on the PGA Tour alone, plus plenty more from endorsements. And the rest of Singh's foursome the following week might never know it happened. "They don't even tell us," says Faxon. "That's how confidential it is."

Rumors abound, of course. Tiger Woods's main problem is said to be profanity; he hits a shot he isn't happy with and can't resist shouting out an expletive, even if it costs him a few hundred dollars. To casual fans and weekend duffers, knowing that about Woods might humanize him, and provide a measure of comfort that at least one aspect of his game is the same as everyone else's. But that's not how the PGA Tour sees it. "Our goal is to keep attention focused on the value of our sport," intones Hughes. "Tradition, honor, integrity."

In any other sport, do something wrong and your transgression is likely to make the newspaper. Fans can judge for themselves if the punishment—a mere $10,000 fine and a 16-game suspension (later reduced to 15) in the case of the chair-throwing Francisco—fits the crime, though the leagues refuse to make cumulative fine totals public. In addition, each sport weighs offenses differently. "Football is the tightest on things that mean the least, like not having your socks worn properly," says Ganis. "Yet when a player is a witness to a murder and won't cooperate with the police, like Ray Lewis, they can't do anything to him. It just shows you how much power the league has over things that happen on the field, and how little power once you get beyond that."


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