And the hits keep coming. Google hits, that is. Since the horror show that was the Pacer/Pistons game on Friday night, I've gotten about 500 hits from people looking for this post,
about Terry O'Reilly and Stan Jonathan's foray into the stands during a Bruins game.
Well, the post isn't entirely about that; it's mostly me going on about how much I miss the fighting in hockey. That's not say I condone players going into the stands. Because that's just idiotic. Fighting in hockey is done in the context of the game. It's when a wall is breached between players and fans that things get crazy.
I grew tired of the NBA several years ago, when it occurred to me that my formerly beloved Knicks were nothing more than a goon squad with massive egos and very little dignity. The rest of the NBA soon followed suit.
This, sports fans, is what happens when you feed into the demanding nature of the average professional athlete. This is what happens when people are spoiled by fame and fortune, when they - from high school through college and right into the pros - are handed every single thing they want on a silver platter. The spoils of too much money and adoring fans can do amazing things to one's personality.
This is also what happens when fans are too stupid to handle the responsibility that comes with purchasing a ticket to a sporting event. But that's a whole other story, isn't it?
I'm sitting here laughing at so many reporters wringing their hands over the state of our society, in regards to the basketbrawl. It's the society we live in, they say. What can you expect when we are bombarded by images of war and terrorism every day, they say. It's the cult of reality television that causes people to live in an one-upmanship society, they say.
bq. Blame our violent times
-- the streaming images of war and terrorism on TV, the edginess of daily life -- and the continuing decline of civility.
bq. [W]e’re going to hell
in a handbasket sponsored by Coors Light.
bq. After all,
it is we as a society who applauds the moves as the kind that Detroit Pistons' center Ben Wallace made Friday night to defend his honor after being fouled by Indiana Pacers' guard Ron Artest.
Wait. Maybe they are onto something here. Perhaps I shouldn't be laughing at all. The thing is, this has been going on for years and years. It is nothing new, it's just that media is so ubiquitous now - you've got the internet plus cable news pouring this stuff down the pipes 24/7 - that the fights and brawls and general misbehavior of fans gets talked to up to more of a degree than it did back in the days of Terry O'Reilly. I wonder if anyone blamed society then? Or did they just chalk it up to the general attitude of sports fans/stars?
I know, the attitude sucks. You have the fans who think they own the right to heckle, goad and deride the players for the entire game and you have the athletes who think they're above being booed. As one who has attended hundreds upon hundreds of sporting events - both as a fan and an employee of one team or another - I can attest to the fact that the society that exists within an arena or stadium is quite different than the one that fans leave in the parking lot. It's a no holds barred sort of civilization where anyone - coaches, refs, opposing fans - are fair game for ridicule and sometimes physical violence. It's often ugly and it's often unreported. From the comfort of your chair or your newspaper article, you have no idea what goes on in the stands on a nightly basis.
That culture, to me, has existed in sports since I was old enough to attend my first game (a ABA era Nets game at Nassau Coliseum). I think what's changed since then is the culture that exists on the playing field.
Have we given athletes too much value? Maybe it is the fault of fans, specifically the ones who hero worship athletes who are undeserving of such adoration. By giving tribute to pros gone wild (see Latrell Sprewell, Bob Probert, Mike Tyson, etc.) what message do we send? Simple - as long as you put out, the masses will worship you, no matter what you do when the game is over. And the NBA, a pitiful shadow if its former glory, markets the thug attitude of its players as if this is something good.
So is it any wonder these athletes walk around as if the world owes them something? Is it any wonder they develop big heads and bad attitudes? What kind of culture exists within pro sports when a multi million dollar player like Artest can ask for time off to promote his new album?
I once worked in the sports administration office of a college whose Division I basketball team, at the time I worked there, was a top ranked team. I watched in amazement as the players were coddled and treated like gods. Excuses were made for bad behavior and terrible grades; infractions to the school code were overlooked. The players walked around on campus like they were kings of the world and why not? In essence, they were.
Young men who are handed the world and not subjected to its rules are bound to end up thinking that they exist in a sphere above the rest of us. And then it's only a matter of time until the two spheres crash, as in the game Friday night.
Of course blame lies with the fans, who overstepped an unmarked but known barrier between players and spectators. That a few fans decided to show their distaste with the Pacers through physical actions is deplorable and highlights what has been a growing problem in sports fandom - that somewhere along the line, fans have come to expect nothing less than perfection from players. One error at third base will get you mercilessly booed even if you're an All Star and the backbone of the team. You hear many fans say "I pay their salary by buying tickets and jerseys, they owe me!" I'd like to know if the bosses of these fans stand over them at work all day, heckling, cajoling and goading. I wonder how any one of these fans would react if their boss threw a beer at them.
I've had beer thrown at me in Philly and rocks thrown at me in Boston. I've been jeered in Montreal and cursed at in Toronto. But this all existed within the confines of a sporting event. Once outside, away from the play of the game, the people in all the respective cities were wonderful. What is it about sports that brings out the animal in otherwise normal human beings? And what is it about being a star athlete that makes some players think they are above the rules of the land?
Well, the answer to the second question is easy. The fans, the coaches, the colleges, the management, the ridiculous salaries, the star treatment by the press - they all contribute to the growing arrogance of star athletes. It doesn't help when a player is caught doing something illegal, maybe even thrown in jail, and his jerseys still sell out at the team stores. Every time I see a little kid wearing a Latrell Sprewell jersey, I want to smack the parents.
So the fans and the players feed into each other's bad habits and you end up with physical confrontation. The fact that Artest - no stranger to controversy - pulled his act in the opposing arena certainly made matters worse.
But is all this really a reflection on our society as a whole or is just a reflection on the culture of sports? The talking heads and writers are going crazy today reflecting on the societal norms, the breakdown of civilization, the lack of morals and manners that exist in today's reality-tv/violent video game/war-torn society.
So what was going on when fans threw batteries at Reggie Jackson? What was going on when Stan Jonathon climbed into the stands? Was society to blame when Cleveland Browns fans pelted players with bottles and cups? What about when Ty Cobb beat the crap out of a fan?
If violence in sports mirrors the times, as one writer put it, then the attitude of today is nothing new because this has been going on for ages. If it's just more prevalent now than before than maybe it's the leaders of professional sports that need to step back and look at where they are going wrong rather than trying to blame society as a whole. It's a whole different world inside a sports arena or stadium. It's a society of its own and people like David Stern would do well to figure out how to clean up their own houses before they ask the rest of the world to clean up theirs.