NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Here’s something you may not be aware of: basketball is the only major sport where there’s no barrier between the players and the fans. When a basketball player goes diving after a loose ball, they often tumble into the seating area. That almost never happens in football, baseball or hockey. (Golf is the only exception, and interactions between the players and fans are highly regulated, shaped by tradition and the nature of the game.)
Over the weekend Marcus Smart, a college basketball player for Oklahoma State, committed a hard foul in Saturday’s game at Texas Tech. He went tumbling into the crowd and landed on his back, surrounded by the other team’s fans. He got up and shoved one of them – Jeff Orr -- in the chest. The shove didn’t just happen; Orr said something. He admits that he called Smart “a piece of sh—“. It’s not clear if he used a racial slur. Most people say he didn’t.
Smart got a technical foul and was kicked out of the game. Now the Big 12 Conference has announced a three game suspension.
I disagree with the punishment.
There’s a difference between jeering your opponent, and saying something to a player when they’re literally down in front of you. Even the loudest, rudest cheer is different when it’s shouted in a loud arena than when it’s said to the face of a specific player who’s inches away from you. In what other situation can you get away with calling someone a “piece of sh—“ and not have a physical altercation? Yet we expect an 18-year-old to walk away when a hyped-up 40-something fan yells and curses at him.
Mr. Orr, who’s been celebrated as a “super fan” by the Texas Tech athletic department, is the bad actor here. He’s the one who should have been kicked out of the game. And the only way you get tickets to a major college sporting event two rows from the court is to be connected to the school. The school should revoke his tickets and tell him he can be a super fan in his living room instead of at the arena.
This is fundamentally an arena security issue. At college and pro basketball games there needs to be security guards stationed under the baskets and near the benches… and when a player falls into the crowd there needs to be a guard on-the-scene almost instantly to keep fan-player incidents to a minimum.
As for the punishment for Smart: he already has a reputation as a player who sometimes loses control. He knows that he can’t shove every fan with a big mouth. It’s clear to me there were extenuating circumstances in this case. Smart was kicked out of the game, and I’m fine with leaving it at that.
Image: Butler Fieldhouse via Wikicommons.com