No sympathy for fans

It was the night of November 19, 2004.

In the waning seconds of a National Basketball Association game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, Pistons forward Ben Wallace took exception to a hard foul from Pacers forward Ron Artest.

As players and coaches from both teams tried to diffuse the situation while the referees sorted things out, a fan named John Green, tossed a cup of beer onto Artest and what happened next could only be described as all hell breaking loose as Artest charged into the stands and mistakenly attacked another fan sitting beside Green.

In the months that followed the "Malice at the Palace", NBA Commissioner David Stern came down hard on Artest as well as his teammates Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson, feverishly denouncing their actions that night and stressing the NBA's commitment to fan safety.

While the NBA did ban Green from ever attending Pistons home games again, much fervor and vitriol from the league and fans alike were confusingly directed towards the players.

Never mind that fact that it was a fan who started the entire melee. Never mind that it was fans who rushed down onto the court and angrily confronted Pacers players. Never mind that several fans poured drinks, threw food and garbage, spit on, and even tossed a folding chair at the Pacers as they attempted to leave the court.

Just recently, Oklahoma State University men's basketball star Marcus Smart shoved Texas Tech University "super" fan Jeff Orr after Orr allegedly made offensive comments to Smart during the game.

Smart was suspended for three game by the National College Athletics Association, while nothing of note was levied against Orr.

We may never really know what Orr said to Smart that night. While some witnesses, including Smart himself, claim that Orr used a racial slur, Orr himself denied the accusation, and was backed up by Texas Tech officials.

Regardless of what was said, the incident, however, brings to light a very important issue, the issue of fan behavior at sporting events.

Fan heckling and jeering goes hand in hand with sports like peas in a pod. Often times, throughout this country's history, it's had very negative and racial overtones.

I recently watched the movie "24", which chronicles the life of baseball hall of famer Jackie Robinson. While movies have a tendency to embellish things here and there, I finished watching that movie with even more respect for the late Robinson than I had before.

I would not have been able to restrain myself as Robinson so heroically did, in the face of such hate and disgusting garbage being hurled from not only the fans, but opposing players and coaches as well.

Just to be clear, I do not condone the actions of Smart, nor those of the Indiana Pacers years ago.

There is a line that should never be crossed and fans should expect to feel safe and secure while attending a game.

However, just as we hold athletes to a certain standard, the same standard needs to apply to fans as well. A fan has no more right than an athlete does to start confrontations with verbal abuse.

And just as we expect athletes to be reprimanded for crossing that boundary, fans need to be punished when they step over the line.

Incidentally, this isn't the first time Orr has been at the center of attention at Texas Tech regarding interactions with players. A few years back, Orr made the public spotlight for making obscene gestures towards then Texas A&M; University's Bryan Davis.

In the aftermath of the Smart/Orr incident, several former Oklahoma State players such as former NBA player Desmond Mason, and Utah Jazz guard John Lucas III, recalled hearing Orr spout off nonsense before when playing against Texas Tech, as well as hearing some of the most racially insensitive taunts down in Lubbock.

This is 2014, not 1947 when Robinson first took the mound. Short of excommunicating Texas from the United States, which is quite a brilliant idea considering all the crap that's come out of there, the only way to curb ignorant fans is to punish them as we do the players.

Purchasing a high priced ticket does not give you the right to be obnoxious, disrespectful, racist, and say things you wouldn't dare say to someone face to face in the street.

Fans should be expected to behave themselves in a professional manner at all times or else face the same consequences as Green, when the NBA banned him from Pistons games.

A little trash talk is okay, it's part of sports and it can be exciting to engage a player from an opposing team. It's not okay when it's insensitive or has nothing to do with the sport at hand.

One should also question the mental state of a 50-year-old man like Orr who seemingly gets his kicks from shouting obscenities at 18 and 19-year-old kids.

In the end, it will be Smart who has the last laugh come the NBA draft in June when he laughs all the way to the bank, while Orr continues his sad existence, living in the wasteland know as Texas, getting thrills by verbal harassing children.

SportsDavid YapkowitzComment