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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 3)

Well, perhaps. The ATP Tour's Marat Safin has been fined between $500 and $10,000 for not trying (2000 Australian Open), for skipping a post-match press conference (2001 French Open), for verbally abusing a sponsor (2002 Nasdaq-100 Open) and for mooning fans (2004 French Open), which came with an automatic point penalty. But none of it has seemed to deter Safin, who earned just over $2 million in 2004, and won that French Open match despite the penalty. "You're not allowed to do this, you're not allowed to do that, you're not allowed to speak when you want to speak," he said. "They do everything possible to take away the entertainment."

Some players learn to at least keep their mouths shut. After earning $298,667 at the 2003 Funai Classic and qualifying for the season-ending PGA Tour Championship, Scott Verplank, an ardent Oklahoma State football fan, happened to mention he was skipping the following tournament to attend the Cowboys' game against archrival Oklahoma. No big deal there: as long as players compete in the required number of tournaments and don't renege on commitments made on or before the previous Friday, off weeks are taken at their discretion.

But someone involved with the tournament that Verplank was missing, the Chrysler Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, evidently heard about the comment and became incensed. He reported Verplank for undermining the value of his event. Why should fans or sponsors care about the tournament, he believed, if a player would skip it just to watch a football game? "I guess I shouldn't have been telling the truth," Verplank said at the 2004 Funai Classic. "But I did, and I got reprimanded for it."

Was he also fined? "I can't comment on that," he said, suddenly circumspect. "But I will say this. The same game is coming up next weekend, and so is the same tournament. And I'm not playing that tournament again this year."

He broke into a grin. "But this time, I won't tell you why."

Bruce Schoenfeld often writes about wine and sports for Cigar Aficionado and recently authored The Match: Althea Gibson & Angela Buxton (HarperCollins).

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