Friday, November 19, 2004

Athletes Should Know Better


My heart is still racing from tonight's Pacers-Pistons game. A bar-room brawl between players and fans broke out with less than a minute to play in Detroit.

With the Pistons down by 15, Detroit's Ben Wallace took offense to a hard foul from Indiana's Ron Artest. Wallace simultaneously choked and shoved Artest towards the sideline. Pushing and shoving ensued as Artest lie on the scorers table. Just as the game officials nearly had order restored, a fan approached Artest and poured liquid on him.

Artest, of course, trying to emulate his newfound gangster rap persona, quickly charged into the stands at the Palace of Auburn HIlls. Several other Pacers joined Artest as punches and more liquids were thrown. One unidentified Pacer is seen bing pummelled by a large, haymaker-throwing fan.

As the Pacers left the court, numerous fans were seen pouring large quantities of beer and cola on the players as the players ran under the stands to the locker room. The question is this: Why did so many Pistons' fans have so much beer and cola left in their cups with one-minute to play?

This was easily the most horrific and bizarre sight that I have ever seen watching sports. On many instances, the scenes on the television seemed surreal, as if you were about to witness someone either killed or severely hurt live on your screen. Now America can talk about a problems in sports and society more riveting and plausible than last Monday's Monday Night Football female bareback.

Coupled with the somewhat similar fight that occurred at the Coliseum last season when the Texas Rangers' reliever Frank Francisco hit a woman in the stands, there needs to be a dialogue over who's to blame for these actions.

ESPN's studio team covering the NBA will apparently be no help in this discussion. After the fight, anchor John Saunders, Stephen A. Smith and former players, Greg Anthony and Tim Legler quickly sided with the players. Of course, do you think these players have no lingering animosity towards fans who yelled, cursed or booed them throughout their careers?

Saunders even threw professionalism to the wind when he said, "These fans are a bunch of punks." The stodgy ESPN crew entirely blamed the so-called "cowardly" fans who threw debris at the players.

Does all the fault really belong to the fans?

The offending Pacers that raced into the stands looked like the same street criminals that I could have seen running around East Oakland. The only difference is that these guys are million dollar gangsters, driving the same Escalade and sporting the same gaudy gold jewelry and possessing the same lack of intelligence that any high-profile drug dealer might have.

ESPN claims that Artest was calm and innocently lying on the scorers table while the refs sorted everything out. To me, it looked like he was scared and choose to act in a petulant manner as if to say, "No worry." He was just showing the same cocky attitude that led him to ask for a break from basketball to promote his new rap CD.

Professional athletes, are, of course, far from street thugs or gangsters. They possess extraordinary skills that have been honed throught hard work sprinkled with a bit of God-given talent. Few people can do what they do, thus they are paid huge amounts of money for their scarce talents. Children look up to these men, though. They are meant to be pillars of their community. Their importance to a region cannot be quantified. What value does the fact that someone like Joe Montana is so identified with the Bay Area or Cal Ripken, Jr. is to the Baltimore area?

Fans pay for these guys salary for godsake! Should the Pacers just sit there and let the fans abuse them? Unless some bodily harm is exacted, yes. Ron Artest should have known better, but, of course, as we've seen with his antics and stupid comments, he's shown no evidence that he's capable of acting like anything near a good citizen or even someone that should be released from his straight jacket.