Monday, November 22, 2004

Major sports becoming haven for thuggery

The NBA has once again given proof as to why many of us in the more civilized sports world consider it a haven for overpaid gang-bangers. Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest has been suspended for the season after leading a charge into the stands Friday night near the end of a game in Detroit, fighting with a Detroit Pistons fan who threw a beverage at him. Artest led an onslaught which involved Pacers guards Stephen Jackson and Anthony Johnson, Pacers forward Jermaine O’Neal, and Pistons center Ben Wallace. Several other players, including Reggie Miller, were suspended for leaving the bench during an altercation.

To be fair, there is plenty of blame to go around. The fan in question should not have thrown a beverage at any player from either team, and were I in charge, I would not only have removed that fan from the arena, but would have seen to it (inasmuch as it is possible to do so) that any fan who exhibits such behavior would be banned for life from attending any NBA contest. I would also institute the same rule in all sports, at all levels of competition.

A side issue that no one seems to be talking about in all of this is the issue of ticket prices, and how exorbitant cost to attend major sporting events contribute to a destructive fan mentality. “I paid $300 for my courtside seats, so I can behave how I please!” Perhaps if prices were more affordable for more people, the notion that attending any sporting event is a privilege, not a right, can be re-enforced. Civility shouldn’t be overcome by the size of someone’s checkbook.

Inexcusable fan behavior does not also excuse the players involved. Being a professional athlete is also a privilege, and not a right. Part of professionalism in any field is the ability to exhibit grace under pressure, and ignore derision and bad behavior by third parties who do not affect the outcome of the work being done. This translates to the sports world in this manner: When fans taunt, boo, and throw beer, you ignore it, unless the fans interfere with game play, then you ask for an appropriate penalty. The classic example of the right way to behave is Jackie Robinson, who, being the first African-American player in the majors, endured years of taunts, racial slurs, boos, and even thrown objects from hate-filled and angry fans. Robinson made an agreement with the Dodgers’ organization, however, that he would not retaliate, and he didn’t do so. (It is worth noting that, after his first year, Robinson didn’t tolerate hate from fellow team members, opposing players, or umpires, however, nor should he have done so.) Jackie Robinson’s example is one for all athletes to follow, whatever their ethnic background.

It seems the violence carried over to Saturday’s football contest between Clemson and South Carolina. It is a shame that such an old and venerable Southern rivalry had to be tarnished by a street brawl that even WWE would find timid. Perhaps most sadly, however, is that the gang-fight tarnished the final game of a great coach and a great man, Lou Holtz. Heat of the moment or not, these young men need to be taught that civility is not to be left at the stadium gates.


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