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November 25, 2004

What If?

by Chris Feeney

What if Friday night’s NBA fiasco in Detroit actually surprised anyone? Sure it was shocking to see the professional basketball players go into the stands and enter into a physical confrontation with fans. But can anyone say it was not simply a matter of time until something like this happened?

In case you missed it, the fracas I’m referring to occurred in the final minutes of an NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers in Detroit. After a bit of a scuffle between the teams on the court, the action erupted into the stands with players fighting fans and vice versa.

Let’s just look at the transition sports has undergone over the decades. Where has the respect gone?

The players show no respect to the officials. Look at how many technical fouls are called each game. What was a rarity is now common place.

These millionaires show little consideration for the coaches. Once upon a time, players looked up to their coaches and if nothing else, at least obeyed them out of fear of losing playing time. Now we have coaches being fired because the star player says so. You even had one player try to strangle his coach. That same guy, while suspended the rest of that season, is now clamoring for a raise so he can make $10 million a year so that his “kids won’t starve.”

These guys obviously don’t mind showing each other up. Instead of a friendly handshake players would rather talk trash and try to show up the opponent.

Based on these statements one might suspect that I place the blame for the Detroit brawl on the players.

Sure I think it was wrong for Ron Artest and his buddies to charge into the stands, punching fans and inciting the riot.

However, it all started with some idiot in the stands throwing a full beer at the Pacers player while he was sitting on the scorer’s table.

Granted, the player should have turned the other shoulder and allowed security to escort the rude fan out of the gymnasium. Still, one should not expect to be able to throw something at a player and get away with it.

If the players have lost their respect for the game, the same can definitely be said for many fans.

It is ridiculous that a growing number of fans continue to push the envelope. What once was a little innocent razzing has turned into brutal, ruthless hazing and worse. I don’t believe that buying an overpriced ticket for a sporting event gives the buyer the right to verbally abuse the players. It obviously doesn’t give you free reign to toss debris on the court or at the players. And if you are stupid enough to step foot onto the playing field, then you get what’s coming to you.

The next day there were a couple of “fans” sporting black eyes waiting in line at the lawyer’s office to try to sue their wealthy attackers. The wealthy attackers are now out of work for a number of games as the league suspended them without pay. Artest, who started the riot, was kicked out for the rest of the year, forfeiting more than $4 million in pay. The police are reviewing all the TV tapes and criminal charges are pending.

But what is truly sad is all of this happened in front of the eyes of hundreds of children. What kind of message are we sending to our kids? It’s okay to fight, taunt and disobey the officials?

I just hope by the time my kids are into sports there will be some better role models out there. Right now I’d almost rather have them idolizing rap stars than professional athletes.