Sunday, February 9, 2014

Marcus Smart Reminds Us Fans are Entitled

Saturday night, I watched the reaction to Marcus Smart pushing a Texas Tech fan. Naturally my first thought was what did the fan say? Obviously Smart will be suspended for perhaps the first major blemish on his college career but more important is what provoked it.

Smart was told "Go Back to Africa" by Jeff Orr. Where I come from, you say that to somebody it's hurtful. I was told "Go Back to Compton" as an adult at Newport Beach - a lillywhite area in SoCal - and even though it was silly, I was hurt that it came at a beach. Orr knew what he was doing reaching for a racial insult and deserved what he got.

Also naturally, folks were quick to say "But he shouldn't have done it" or whatever excuse they needed to justify being thrown a racially coded insult. In 2014, why are we still doing this? Have we not evolved to think deeper? Is it all knee-jerk reaction without any analysis?

Let's call it what it is. Media and other sports fans are quick to judge athletes when they don't judge fans for their behavior that's gotten worse and worse over time. Don't believe me, consider the recent evidence.

Fans called Derrick Rose soft for taking his time with his body. A grown woman flipped off Joakim Noah as if she knew he wouldn't respond. Fans get self-righteous when you dare suggest paying college athletes. I saw a high school fan called a kid a 5-letter word for kitten this year for being injured on the field.

And now this Texas Tech fan, who has a record for being boorish and uncouth toward players. So you dare say players are selfish and entitled? They aren't the only ones. This has happened for years and it's about time more folks get on board with holding fans accountable.
Also, please don't bring up Jackie Robinson's nobility to say athletes shouldn't fight back. This isn't 1947 or the 60's. Black athletes (or people in general) did not fight back because that was a death sentence. They raised their fists, they went to jail if they were lucky. Jackie Robinson fought back against the U.S. Army so do you think he took that abuse because he wanted to? He and others did it so future athletes wouldn't have to suffer in silence.

So again, how selfish of a fan to think you can say anything without retribution. It's equivalent to thinking you're at a zoo protected by cages. And like zoo-goers, fans have treated athletes as less than human but objects of scorn who wear the different colors. It's one thing to boo or smack talk but folks take it to the extreme.

You can only ignore it for so long. Just like how my media brethren have mostly ignored calling out fans getting worse at games. Never forget a fan sparked the worst brawl in NBA history 10 years ago and fans were among the worst offenders that night. Never forget how fans think they own players by spewing anger at them over fantasy sports.
Sports cater to fans more than ever now. From graphics to promotions to instigating debates to encouraging fanatical behavior to sparking debates of the lowest common denominator, it's all dumbing down and entertaining fans at their core level. I'm not complaining about it when it's fun but I also recognize it is a privileged position.

Sports fans have more access to players thanks to Twitter and Facebook and other social media. You can now insult your favorite player behind a computer screen as an anonymous face. Stuff you know you wouldn't say to their face, you'd drop it in cyberspace. That's privilege and by definition, entitlement that's enabled by promoting social networking as a place of interaction where respect can be thrown out the window.

No amount of money spent at a game entitles you to treat a fellow fan or a player with vile behavior.  That's why I love when an athlete smacks down a fan via Twitter because frankly, they deserve to. In the real world, your words have consequences and Orr should find that just as much as Smart does for his actions.
I see it on a nightly basis in high school sports and I see youth sports with parents go wild. It's even more egregious in college and the pros. Passion is one thing but when it goes too far, it ruins the game.

Oh, and nothing is more bush league that calling somebody a derogatory name, being handed the appropriate retaliation and then crying foul. I was raised better than that and I know many folks who were too. If you poke a hornet's nest, you deserve what you get and you should know better.

The media has improved from their willingness to always blame the athlete but not by much. I still heard the chorus of "Yeah fans can be jerks but you can't touch them." Media enables fan behavior when we don't call it out and by us being gatekeepers, we need to cover all sides. When fans cross the line, we need to call them out as well as the player.

I saw a few people on Twitter say it but few more in print will say "Yeah Smart was wrong and should be suspended but the Texas Tech fan is the real villain as is a growing sense of fans going too far." The day I see more of that and less of "Smart shouldn't have done it", I'll be happy. We react too much instead of asking why like good reporters and fans with critical thinking.

Yes, players should be accountable too. Yes, Smart was in the wrong and will hopefully be handled with fairly. But that's easy and goes without saying. It's high time we hold fans more accountable because there is no excuse anymore. Orr got what he deserved and hees lucky he got pushed because outside, I've seen far worse happen to folks who play the race card in insulting somebody.

Nobody wants to be called out for their entitlement but maybe if more get shamed in the seats instead of the court, maybe we'll alleviate some of this fan angst towards players.


  1. your perspective on this issue is spot on. no college kid (nor anyone) should ever be subject to the kind of intolerant bigotry that Marcus Smart claims was directed at him last night, and the Big 12 should stand up and protect its student athletes. in my opinion, the best way that the conference could respond to this incident would be to announce new standards of conduct for the fans, with the universities taking ultimate responsibility for fan behavior, including facing fines for not responding properly to uphold the standards.

    Marcus Smart will likely receive discipline for pushing the fan in response to what had been said, however the focus should be on the much larger and more important issue of racism and how it has absolutely no place in college athletics.

    had this fan--who reportedly has a history of inappropriate behavior toward college athletes--been handled properly before by the school then there likely wouldn't have been an incident at all yesterday. and a 19-year old college kid would not have had to deal with responding to a racial slur.

  2. well, it appears that Marcus Smart was either dishonest or confused in claiming that racist slurs were shouted at him yesterday (video and audio of incident, via Texas Tech athletics). this is good news, since it means that there weren't racist slurs being slung at college kids, at least in this incident. but this is also bad news, since it means that Marcus Smart shoved a fan for shouting "you piece of crap" at him, and then inaccurately claimed he made racist remarks and called him a racist m-f. also bad news because racism does exist in sports, and this will only make people take real incidents less seriously. Smart has a lot of thinking to do, and now some extra days to do it with a 3-game suspension.

    that said, there should be stricter standards of behavior for fans, especially for college athletics, and the universities should be held responsible for fan behavior. thankfully in this case the fan wasn't shouting racist words, but still no grown man should be shouting at a college kid like that at all. we should take this moment to improve upon the current situation to reduce abusive fan behavior and underline the fact that there is no room for bigotry of any sort in athletics.

  3. Thanks Frank and Marcy. I don't buy Orr's story that it wasn't racial but at the same time, I'm willing to move on and continue looking at how we can better police or call out fan behavior. Players fighting back rarely happens and I think as a matter of decency, it behooves schools to establish a clear code of conduct like the Dodgers display before every game and enforce it.