Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Professional sports hits a new all-time low

After seeing the highlights from the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons all out brawl with each other and then more disturbingly with the fans, I was shocked. The resulting suspensions cost Ron Artest the rest of the season (73 games plus any playoff games), Stephen Jackson 30 games, and Jermaine O'Neal 25 games for going into the stands and fighting with fans.

After watching the highlights of this a dozen or so times on ESPN last night after the suspensions were announced I really felt ill. I love sports, playing and watching; I'm a huge fan in general. What has led us to this point? Who's at fault? What should be done to correct the problem?

In this case I believe both the fans and players involved to be repsonsible. For the players, their is no excuse. With great prestige, power, and influence in our everyday lives (for better or for worse) comes great responsibility. Their is no excuse for the players to rush into the stands and assault the fans, granted the fans behavior was appalling, but the majority of the burden still falls on the players to restrain themselves.

Unfortunately the conduct of the fans in these cases has become increasingly belligerent. What is acceptable behavior these days at sporting events? Swearing; insulting the player's performance, family, race, religion; fighting; and general drunken debauchery have become standard at most sporting events. And I'm sure we all know stories of first hand experiences. My family has season passes to the LA Dodgers. My cousin refuses to take his young daughters to the game unless he has those good seats (2nd level third row behind homeplate. They're great seats). He said based on past experiences in some of the higher levels he'll never take his girls into the higher levels. When I was in college in San Diego the Padres had won the National League and earned the right to play the Yankees in the World Series. Padre fans are very dedicated to their team and I knew several people who went to NewYork to catch one of the games there. They came back and told tales of their miserable experiences being yelled at, spat on, having beer and other things thrown at them while they cheered for their team (ironically, Yankee fans who came to San Diego gave interviews saying how graciously they had been hosted by the city and the fans at the stadium). I actually attended a Dodger/Cardinal game several years back that became infamous because it was baseball give away night. All fans in attendance recived a free baseball. The game ended with the fans pelting the field with the balls after Raul Mondesi was called out on strikes on what was apparently ball four. Now you can't pick your giveaway item up until after the game.

These situations are becoming more and more common as acceptable fan behavior goes to hell in a handbasket. That's not to say that these things never happened before, but their regularity has become frightening. What can we do about the unruly fan behavior?

I think the NBA is actually doing just about all it can right now. As far as the suspensions go, the only thing I might have done differently is harsher suspensions for Jackson and O'Neal, while they didn't instigate the fight, they did just as much damage as Artest did. I think the most difficult problem to address is the fans. They'll never stop alcohol sales, but maybe a system to limit the number of drinks people have, or cut off taps sooner is in order. For the next Piston game, they had a visible increase in the amount of security present in the hopes of discouraging and policing the crowd. New laws have gone into affect to allow for the prosecution of fans that tresspass on the field of play (eg. Calvin Klein's Law in New York named after the famed designer drunkenly strutted out onto the court of a Knick's game to start a conversation with Latrell Spreewell). NBA seats are right on top of the court, and scarily, hundreds of fans could just take a few steps to come within arms length of the players. The potential for disaster is always there, but has increased dramatically as of late as our society's standards of acceptible behavior continue to drop. As Dennis Prager might say, we're in a cultural civil war: religion and morality vs. MTV, gangst rap, and moral relativism. This isn't a call for censorship or increased policing of personal behavior, but as our society becomes more liberal and less accepting of Judeo-Christian values, people are less and less likely to control their own behavior when they are not beholden to a higher standard. Standards of behavior are not calls to conversion but a recognition of acting for something bigger and more important than yourself. Selflessness has become a lost art as people's beliefs that what's right for them is moral, and who are you to tell me anything different type attitudes become more prevalent. Liberalsim's moral relativism at it's worst.

The players will appeal their suspensions and the rumor is charges will probably be files against players and fans involved in the altercations as well as inumerable lawsuits. Think about your safety and the safety of your family the next time you attend a sporting event. Think of how you'd explain your behavior to your children. These players are going to have to. Ron Artest has four kids and he's out of work without pay for the next several months. And the most dispicable sight of all from the replays of the highlights of that brawl was the father trying to protect his young son who ended up frightened and in tears when all things were said and done.

Come to think of it, maybe those suspensions weren't harsh enough. If baseball banned Pete Rose for life for betting on the game he played, why not do something similar for extreme cases like these. We shouldn't have to deal with child endangerment at a entertainment venue.

UPDATE: Other opinions around the web:
  • Slings and Arrows: Is anyone REALLY surprised by this? The biggest thug in the biggest thug sport gets involved in some thuggish hooliganism. We've bred this streetball mentality in the NBA, personified by Artest and his badboy B.S. and installed it league wide. A word on the fans - I feel for none of them. You throw a drink on someone, you might as well poke a bear with a stick.
  • Radio Blogger: [How's this for hysterical, the brawl is Bush's fault according to James Carville] The man who owns the Detroit Pistons that failed to put security there for his fans is a man named Bill Davidson, who has given $20,000 to the Republican Party. Don't you think Mr. Davidson looks at the irresponsibility of this administration, the corruptness of running the surplus into deficit, of all of the lies that were told to this country about Iraq and all of these things, and saying, 'What the hell. Why should I worry about affording protection to the people who pay me money when I know that the administration lets everybody else off in the pharmaceutical...and everybody let me off.' Why would Mr. Davidson afford protection to his fans? [talk about a stretch, liberals must really be getting desperate]