OUTSIDE SPORTS: Depriving Laker fans of their free tacos … and other miscarriages of sportsmanship among athletes, the public and the media

Ari Feuer, Sports Editor

Lack of sportsmanship sadly pervaded a couple of big games this month, one professional and the other a yearly matchup between cross-town college rivals. Curiously, some major stories include free tacos, one team’s dreadful start, and a scandal concerning the private life of a golf pro.

Interestingly, a taco promotion that the Los Angeles Lakers hold every home game has become more than just innocent fun.  Fast-food chain Jack in the Box promises all fans in attendance at Staples Center two free tacos if the Lakers win and hold their opponent under 100 points. The allure of free food has produced frequent chants of “we want tacos!” in the stadium, even if the game is all but won for the Lakers.

In a Dec. 1 game against the New Orleans Hornets, the lead was not in jeopardy but the tacos were, as the Lakers were ahead 106-97 with 16 seconds left.  The Hornets were obviously aware that the game was lost, but they played as if it was going to come down to the last shot.  Their goal was no longer to win, but rather to deprive Laker fans of their tacos.

To get an extra possession, they intentionally fouled Laker Josh Powell in the final half-minute.  Now down by 11 points after Powell made the free-throws, the Hornets hoisted up a desperation-like 3-pointer to climb into triple-digits.  Shannon Brown was also intentionally fouled when the ball was inbounded, and he made his two free-throws.

This put the Lakers 110-99 with 4.6 seconds to go.  Hornet guard and former UCLA player Darren Collison raced up the floor and down the paint for a lay-up, which was emphatically blocked by Brown. The crowd went wild, and New Orleans walked off the court looking like they lost twice in one game.

Just a few days earlier, in Los Angeles’ biggest college football game of the year, the USC Trojans had all but clinched victory against their cross-town rivals, the UCLA Bruins.  Up 21-7 with 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter, USC looked like it was going to stay put and just run out the clock. But after UCLA called a timeout, USC quarterback Matt Barkley passed to a wide-open Damian Williams for a 48-yard slap-in-the-face touchdown.

A melee nearly followed, after the Trojans erupted into unnecessary and perhaps inappropriate celebration.  Barkley was caught on camera as yelling “Scoreboard!” to some Bruins at midfield.  Even the Trojans’ coach, Pete Carroll, threw up his hands and hugged offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.  Bates was the one who had called the play.

This infuriated the Bruins, who then marched across the field to exchange words with the taunting Trojans.  The teams never physically met, but officials and coaches worked desperately to restrain the two teams for about a minute until the field was finally cleared.  Players came within a few yards of each other, screaming and gesturing.

Although all sports fans would hope that such antics pass with age, the Hornets are a relatively old team in the NBA, with their average age at 27.5 years old.  College players are one thing, but professionals?  Inexcusable.

But wait! Drama is brewing in… golf?

Tiger Woods has repeatedly made headlines, at first as a result of solo car crash.  Woods was briefly hospitalized for “serious injuries” (apparently anything that requires more than minor medical attention), and released in good health. He refused to talk to police about the incident, as he is legally permitted.

“…I have some cuts, bruising and right now I’m pretty sore,” posted Woods on his website, “This situation is my fault, and it’s obviously embarrassing to my family and me.”

Citing these injuries, the No. 1 globally ranked golfer skipped the Chevron World Challenge, a tournament that he hosts in Thousand Oaks.   Sponsors of Woods have had mixed reactions to the scandal.  Some have either cut back or completely eliminated Tiger-advertising, while Nike issued a statement backing Woods with “full support.”

Woods is also dealing with multiple accusations of cheating on his wife.

Media coverage of the incidents has been ridiculously over-the-top.  Simultaneous to the car accident was a speech delivered by President Obama, where he disclosed that 30,000 more American troops were to be dispatched into Afghanistan.  Despicably, Tiger got the major headlines and space on popular websites like ABCNews.com, FoxNews.com, CNN.com, and many more.

It would seem that celebrities — sports or otherwise — command a much larger following in the general public than other things, including our armed forces who are going off to battle.  Sadly, this is the world we live in, where golf balls receive more attention than gulf wars and football means more than endangered foot soldiers.