With Italian soccer player Marco Materazzi finally disclosing exactly what it was he said to upset Zinedine Zidane so badly, it made me consider the nature of such actions and the repercussions of them.
Hats off to you Mr. Materazzi.
Some incidents of a similar nature come to mind. Alex Rodriguez' yell when rounding third base against the Toronto Blue Jays, causing a dropped pop up was an act of distraction seen by many as unsportsmanlike. Robert Horry's clothesline of Steve Nash in the Western Conference Semifinals prompted Nash's teammates to leave the bench, thus earning them a suspension.
To varying degrees, these actions all come back to the same base concept of disrupting the other team in some fashion. One was more physical (Horry), another was merely immature insulting that incited action (Materazzi), while one was simple gamesmanship (A-Rod).
Fans get up in arms about these types of incidents since they interrupt a seeming balance of pure competition in the game by including more human interference than many fans are comfortable with. Most fans want to see a purer competition, one in which the participants play the game "the way it is supposed to be played" which basically means "the way each individual fan thinks it should be played."
Ultimately, a player can do whatever he chooses. In leagues and competitions that are driven by revenue, and with wins being one of the most impactful effects upon that revenue, players have choices to make. Is public perception more important to them, or is winning and succeeding and earning more money the priority? Some athletes choose to satisfy public perception while others choose the latter or find a middle ground between the two. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either one, and in a way, I respect the former more. If you can poke, prod, yell at or insult another team enough to get them out of concentration, make them angry enough with words to attack you or incite an action that is for the betterment of your team, you are dedicated to winning. You are devoted to your team, your fans and the ultimate outcome of that team. I respect that.
Additionally, if you are professional athlete and can't concentrate enough in the field to be distracted by another players actions, or if you don't have the mental fortitude to ignore an insult hurled your way, you deserve the repercussions of the lack of mental toughness you possess. Take some personal responsibility for once.
Despite the fact that some guys have done some despicable things in sports, when they are within the rules or for the betterment of your team, try to understand their motives. A-Rod's yelp may not have been classy, but it caused something positive for his team. Horry's attack on Nash was an unwarranted assault, but the ultimate outcome benefitted his team. Materazzi's insult may not have been the most reputable thing to do, but it got Zidane ejected. All of these guys won because of these things. They gained positivity for their respectice teams. Don't get angry just because it didn't seem like the sporting thing to do, get angry because the outcome of said events wasn't what you wanted personally.