There hasn’t been this much discussion of a full moon since Neil Armstrong took his small step for man, but Minnesota Vikings’ wide receiver Randy Moss has placed his posterior on the national radar screen. After a backbreaking 34 yard touchdown catch which slammed the door on the Green Bay Packers, playoff hopes, Moss engaged in what is being called a “faux-mooning” as he mimed dropping his pants and then bent over to scratch his tush on the Lambeau field goalpost. Now morality and hypocrisy in the NFL are once again dancing cheek to cheek.
At first, color analyst Cris Collinsworth stifled a guffaw saying, “Moss is giving the fans a moon! But then play-by-play analyst and statue of rectitude Joe Buck exploded in outrage, bleating, That’s a DISGUSTING act by Randy Moss, and it’s unfortunate we had it on our air live!”
Joe Buck of course has never felt the need to apologize for appearing in the Budweiser “Leon commercials that parody with a lovely helping of racism and homophobia – a pretty, lazy, and egomaniacal wide receiver thinly disguised as Moss (although “Leon would never have caught that pass on a gimpy ankle like Moss did). For Buck, capitalizing on Moss’s outrageous personality for the purpose of selling beer is just business as usual.
Fox sports, studio host James Brown continued the hypocrisy waltz by declining to show Moss’s heinie hijinks on replay, but taking the time to call Moss “classless, ignorant and embarrassing.” This from someone who fronts for a networking featuring shows like “Who’s Your Daddy? a reality program where a young woman in skimpy attire has to guess which of twenty men is her natural father.
ESPN also adhered to the blackout on Moss’s moon shot, merely alluding to a “tasteless, crass display” while sparing us the footage. As NFL writer Peter King put it, “FOX and, later, ESPN, must have had some sort of pact with the United States Human Decency Dept. (a.k.a., “The NFL”) and never showed a replay that I saw.
The “Decency Department” is mum of course about the endless wave of television commercials during NFL games that make Moss, touchdown tushie dance look like a trip to Sesame Street. Announcers fret about Moss’s influence on young people yet say nothing about the ideas pounded into kids’ heads by NFL sponsors–that the key to sex is driving the right truck, drinking the right beer, eating the right nacho chip, taking the right erection pill and of course having the money to afford it all. In this context, the criticisms of Moss are like a Greek Chorus led by Caligula.
Unfortunately, the outrage by the auto, alcohol and erection carnival barkers fronting for the NFL obscures a conversation about Moss that is far more interesting. Put simply, there is a method to his madness. The Minnesota Vikings were one of the hottest teams in the league early in the season, winning five of their first six games. But then they buckled like a belt down the stretch, losing seven of their last ten. Their decline coincided with injuries to Moss, who hasn’t been healthy since October. With his team under constant scrutiny for “backing into the playoffs with an unseemly 8-8 record, Moss invited tremendous heat in the last week of the season for walking off the field two seconds before the game ended in a loss. Then, the following week, Moss said he didn’t know if his coach Mike Tice “was the right person to coach the Vikings.” As everyone with a bookie put the smart money on Green Bay to spank this team on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the Vikings got up 17-0 before the Pack knew what hit them. By taking the focus away from why the Vikings shouldn’t be there, Moss perhaps played a role in focusing his team. Moss continued to invite scrutiny after his moon dance by saying, “It wasn’t mean. I was having fun. It was more a fun thing than a hatred thing. My teammates loved it. I’m probably gonna catch hell, but the Green Bay Packer fans know: I don’t forget s—.” Now, once again, expect more sermonizing about Moss ‘s character instead of how next week’s opponents, the mighty Philadelphia Eagles, will run the Vikes off the field.
Do such antics actually help a team? Does taking the focus away from wildly talented but mistake prone quarterback Daunte Culpepper and a defense that plays like purple teletubbies spur this enigmatic squad to victory? In this era of sports media saturation, does getting the cameras out of his teammates faces and enduring the brunt of the bright lights make a difference? Even Joe Buck at the end of the Packers/Vikings game said, “I can’t believe Randy Moss is having a galvanizing effect on this team.”
Believe it. And if he keeps scoring touchdowns, that Hall of Fame heinie may even make an uncovered appearance this weekend in Philadelphia on its way to the Super Bowl.
DAVE ZIRIN’s new book “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States will be in stores in June 2005. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.