Ordinarily, one fan making an obscene gesture at another at a mixed martial arts event is not unheard of. In fact, given the raw atmosphere of a sport in which two men get into a fenced-in ring and attempt to beat each other up, something like that might be one of the event's tamer moments.
The outspoken and occasionally outrageous coach already has made plenty of news by saying he "never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings," calling out Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder and even suggesting the Jets should have been favored throughout the postseason.
But this one was different. This one was worse.
He shouldn't have done it. As a public figure, he needs to control his emotions and not engage in behavior that will embarrass him, the Jets and the NFL.
Ryan wouldn't expect that behavior from his players, nor should they expect it of him. He's looked up to by fans, many of whom are young and impressionable, and he needs to maintain a sense of decorum on and off the field.
He knows that now, and he apologized. "It was stupid and inappropriate," Ryan said in a statement issued through the Jets. "I wouldn't accept that type of behavior from one of the coaches or players and it's unacceptable from me. I apologize to the Jets organization, the National Football League and NFL fans everywhere."
NFL vice president Greg Aiello said the league will examine the incident; it's possible Ryan will be fined. There is precedent. The league fined Titans owner Bud Adams a whopping $250,000 for delivering a similar gesture to Bills fans - one with each hand - during a home game last November.
Just because Ryan didn't make the gesture at an NFL- sanctioned event doesn't mean commissioner Roger Goodell will ignore it. After all, every employee of the NFL, including coaches, players and executives, must abide by a code of conduct. Any incident deemed a violation of that code is subject to sanction by Goodell.
Goodell absolutely should fine Ryan, and the Jets should levy an additional sanction.
"Rex showed extremely poor judgment and his conduct was inappropriate," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "He knows he was wrong, has apologized and we have accepted his apology. Any other actions regarding this incident will be addressed internally by the organization."
Ryan has admitted he doesn't always have a filter for the things he says and does, and this clearly was an example. And given his penchant for speaking his mind, there's no guarantee he won't engage in similarly controversial behavior down the road.
But as the negative publicity surrounding this latest episode suggests, he needs to do a better job of showing some composure. If a fan was being so abusive that Ryan felt the need to make the gesture, the coach should have removed himself from the situation.
Ryan has been a breath of fresh air with his "Everyman" personality, injecting enthusiasm and passion into a franchise badly in need of both. He might be a guy you'd want to share a beer with, but as a coach, he can't be the one getting into a bar fight when the taunting gets out of hand.
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