My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


The Drama of Human Competition

What with the election being over, and the news cycle relatively slow, I have actually had the opportunity to watch SportsCenter the last two nights. Boy, what a treat.

First we have the really bizarre footage from Detroit of Ron Artest (Indiana) climbing up into the stands to take a couple swings at a fan who had been yelling at him and, apparently, throwing things at him. He was, of course, followed by two of his teammates who were a)trying to get in the middle and keep things a little cool, or b)taking swings of their own to make things really, really bad. Of course, we all know now that the scenario played out as b), which led to a full-blown melee, a game be called on account of brawling, and just today four players (including Artest) being suspended indefinitely by the league.

Then today we get a bench-clearing brawl towards the end of the Clemson-South Carolina game. I've seen the footage a couple times, and I still don't know exactly what started this one. It looked like the end of the play was reasonably sportsmanlike, but twenty yards away something happened that the camera missed (somebody must have said "yo momma") and WHAM! Two hundred giant men on a football field throwing wild punches at some guy's helmet. Not exactly the sweet science.

And it begs the question: What the Hell is going on here? I, of course, have a theory, which, like most of my theories, is based in absolutely no scientific evidence or scholarly research. But I'll get to that in a moment.

First of all, as to the NBA. Of course, the analysts on ESPN were lauding the decision by the commissioner of the NBA to suspend these four players indefinitely. One even went so far as to suggest that the appropriate penalty for Artest would be to just let him pursue his music career that he wants while taking a year off. A year off? THAT would send a message?

I'm wondering when the Detroit PD files two counts of battery against Artest. You're talking about a gigantic man (I think 6'10") who threw punches at person who had not attempted to do him any harm, and then seconds later did the same thing to another fan who was stupid enough to wander onto the court to say something to him. Even in Colorado, the Make My Day Law does not extend to a person's place of business. Last year, in hockey, Steve Bertuzzi was charged with battery for a vicious attack on an opposing player, and a couple years back Donald Brashir suffered some major penalty for attacking another player with his stick (though, if memory serves, he avoided criminal prosecution). But these two incidents were attacks against other similarly situated persons--that is, equally large, similarly "armed", and wearing protective gear indigenous to the sport. Not so in the case of Artest et al.; the fans had no gear, were not exactly imposing physical specimens, and had no opportunity to interact with Artest in the context of the competition. A "message" would be an arrest.

A brief look at the history of Ron Artest as an NBA player reveals a career at least as notable for its fights and technical fouls as for its demonstration of skills. In any other field of endeavor--ANY OTHER (with the possible exception of hockey)--this man would not only have likely been fired for his behavior which is detrimental to the organization and the league, but very likely would have been served with a number of restraining orders and/or criminal charges. But because this man is a mutant who happens to have a distinct set of skills somewhat unique to that mutant class, he makes millions of dollars a year and is treated like royalty wherever he goes.

And it's not like Artest is the first. Remember what Latrell Sprewell did to his coach a few years back? And yet, he's on the court every night, making his millions, and is even briefly featured in advertisements for video games.

So is it any wonder that the college kids are doing the same thing? The problem in South Carolina today started before the game when a couple players wandered over to the other team's sideline and "disrespected" them. Disrespected? So, likely, what started the real melee was some continuation of that disrespect onto the field in a situation when the game was essentially over, and neither side had anything more to lose. But for the whole thing to start because of "disrespect?" Some university President ought to respect his school enough to revoke a handful of scholarships.

But will that happen? Not likely--the university has too much to lose from athletics revenue. By the way, even though it's never happened on the field in such a way, I am entirely aware that my own alma mater--dear old C.U.--has its own less-than-spotless record of citizenship. I also know that it isn't just Americans--didn't I see highlights from a soccer game in Europe this week that was played in an empty stadium because the fans got too violent last time? And I also know that this isn't brand new to sports--if I'm not mistaken, Ty Cobb once beat on an umpire with a bat for having a bad strike zone.

The point is, something needs to be done about this before more "misbehavior" leads to real tragedies. Clearly, young athletes are sent messages from a very early age that they are exempt from the rules if they are blessed in a certain way. Couple that with the training they are subjected to of controlled hostility, and you have a very explosive situation. And that situation only gets worse when officials--both athletic and civic--fail to or refuse to act in a way that discourages the criminal behavior.

The Roman Gladiators served a civic purpose by distracting the masses, and directing the hostility of the crowd in a controlled channel. And it has been said that sport in America serves a similar purpose.

The problem is, the armed savages are starting to wander out of the Coliseum, and into a neighborhood near you.

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