I came across a pair of headlines this week that made quite an impression. The first -- "Tank gets clear road: Johnson can make trek to Miami" -- was of course about Tank Johnson.
The second -- "Toddler's temper ousts family from plane" -- was about a Massachusetts family that was kicked off a plane because the 3-year-old had a tantrum before takeoff. Apparently the little angel "was climbing under the seat and hitting the parents and wouldn't get in her seat" according to an airline official.
I hadn't laughed so hard since "Borat."
After I caught my breath, I told a buddy about the story and then we laughed together. The rush of endorphins must've jump-started my synapses because once I wiped the tears from my eyes I realized that the two stories actually had a connection.
Anyone who has ever dealt with children knows that kids will try to get away with as much as the supervising adults will allow. So, if you let little Miss Sunshine run amok at home, she's going to run amok on a plane full of people. I'm not trying to pass judgment on anyone's parenting skills; I'm just saying not everyone in the restaurant thinks it's cute when little Tommy bangs on the table because you haven't taught him the meaning of the word "no."
Not "no" as in the opposite of "yes" but "no" as in "there are consequences to your actions."
Which leads me to Tank.
He needs a "no." But I guess those in the position to say it must feel saying "no" hurts them more than it does him. So, the Bears' 300-pound toddler keeps trying to get away with as much as he can.
Coach Lovie Smith could have told him "no," but he's trying to win a Super Bowl.
Bears GM Jerry Angelo could have told him "no," but he too is trying to win the Super Bowl.
Even Lake County Judge Theodore Potkonjak and Cook County Judge John Moran could have told him "no," but I guess the Super Bowl's important to them as well.
Six counts of possessing unlicensed guns, his third arrest in 18 months, 30 police house calls in a two-year span and what does he get? A threat of obey the law "or dire consequences will result" from Moran. Do you know what that translates to in baby talk? "Stop running. Stop running. I said stop running. Didn't you hear me? Stop running now. I'm not joking with you. You better stop. Get over here. Young man, you're going to be in trouble. Stop it now. I said stop it "
It's little wonder why some athletes turn into brats. We, as a society, love to spoil them. You want to cancel "CSI: Cincinnati Bengals"? You want the steroids, the DUIs, the nerd beatings and cake tossings to end? Try saying "no."
Not "no" as in the opposite of "yes" but "no" as in "I don't care if it is the Super Bowl, young man, you go to your room and don't come out until I tell you to." Only when the consequences of getting caught surpass the rewards of getting away with something will we see a change in behavior. That's true for 3-year-old girls and 25-year-old men. Heck, that's true for everyone. Unless you're Wesley Snipes, most of us don't cheat on our taxes because we're scared to death of what would happen when we're caught. Not if -- when. But we're comfortable sneaking food into the movies because our chances of getting caught are slim and if we do, so what? But if the punishment for cheating on your taxes becomes as lax as that for sneaking food into the movies, then everyone's going to be clipping Uncle Sam.
So in a way I don't blame Johnson. I'd be packing my flip-flops with a smile on my face too if I had a stadium full of people essentially saying, "We forgive you as long as you make big plays." After all, the fans at Soldier Field could have said "no" as well, but I guess winning the Super Bowl's more important than good citizenship. Just like having a little peace at home is more important than enforcing consequences. So we allow the toddler to run around undisciplined, not really thinking about the power of "no" until we're on a plane full of people and discover that the word has lost its meaning.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." LZ can be reached at email@example.com.