After the 'basketbrawl'

November 26, 2004

After members of the National Basketball Association's Indiana Pacers charged into the stands to punch fans they believed had thrown a cup at one of them, sports historians have dug up numerous instances of altercations between fans and players.

According to Los Angeles Times writer Athan Atsales, even baseball great Babe Ruth went into the stands after a heckler called him a "bleeping bum" in 1922.

But as we read these accounts, we are struck by two things. They're becoming more frequent and, until recently, the players involved expressed regret for what they had done.

Whether those expressions were sincere is anybody's guess, but the players knew they'd done wrong and that they would be expected to apologize.


Not so now. Ron Artest, the Indiana Pacer who started the fracas after being hit by a fan's tossed cup, believes his season-long suspension is unfair, even though the videotape shows him charging into the stands and swinging wildly at fans there and on the floor.

So who's to blame?

First, the teams that hire players with records of temper problems because of their playing skills.

But players don't begin to think like Artest overnight. It happens because coaches and fans put up with their bad attitudes and their bad behavior because they, too, want to take advantage of the skills the player has.

That dangerous form of tolerance needs to stop. School-age players who give their opponents the "choke" sign or who taunt foes when they score should be ejected from the game, even if it means their team loses.

Likewise, the parents and fans who can't control their emotions at a sporting contest should be banned from the arenas, stadiums and the stands.

Like it or not, sports stars are role models and while the multi-million-dollar salaries some of them get may fuel fan resentment, they're there to entertain fans.

Being booed is part of that, but when booing escalates into something worse, the proper way to respond is not with violence, but with a call for security guards to quell the disturbance.

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