Athletes have a responsibility to set an example for us

November 28, 2004|by BILL KOHLER

The word " responsible" is a good one. Look it up in the dictionary and see some of its meanings:

1. Being legally or ethically accountable for the welfare or care of another.

2. Involving personal accountability or ability to act free from guidance or higher authority.

And, in my mind, most importantly:

3. Capable of making moral or rational decisions on one's own, thereby being answerable for one's behavior.

Once we slip from the bonds of childhood, it is expected by society and other adults that we grasp some form of responsibility.

We go to college or trade school, get a job, pay taxes and become responsible - for ourselves and our families.


Several recent events have screamed of irresponsibility and I feel they must be addressed:

· The punchout at the Palace: The NBA fracas that broke out during the end of the Nov. 19 game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers was an all-time low in athlete-fan interaction.

Irresponsibility was lacking in several areas in this incident.

The players are responsible for their own actions and had no business entering the stands. I realize there is a limit to the abuse athletes - even ones making millions of dollars a year to play a game - should have to absorb, but never, ever should a pro athlete enter the stands and attack a fan.

The fans, no matter how much they overpaid for their courtside seats, have no business throwing anything. The ones who threw things at the players - if they can be identified - should be prosecuted. They also made a grievous error by entering the floor area while the fight was in progress.

The security force at the arena was not much of a force at all. I've watched the tape several times and had real difficulty finding any security stopping anything.

All three groups acted irresponsibly. What about the kids in the stands? What about the millions of kids watching at home and catching it on SportsCenter? What kind of message are we sending?

And speaking of not taking responsibility, my anger boiled over Tuesday when I saw Pacers player Ron Artest, who was suspended for the rest of the season for his part in the fight, on several TV interviews saying he regretted the incident (of course he does - he stands to lose $5 million. Anyone in his right mind would regret it.), but not apologizing.

Then, he interrupted the interview to promote the rap album his record label is selling. With a straight face.

The only ones to act responsibly in this incident were those players who apologized and the NBA, which acted swiftly and deftly with its punishment.

Granted, these men are human and make mistakes. We all do. Ask my parents and my wife, I've made thousands. This incident reeked of inexcusable behavior by adults that should force the NBA to rethink its courtside seating.

· The Clemson-South Carolina college football game the very next day also focused the spotlight on men behaving badly and shirking their responsibility to themselves, their teams and their schools.

The fight between the teams went on for several minutes and seemed to be worse than the NBA incident except that no fans were involved.

The most responsible action of the episode was the response of the universities in announcing they would not accept any bids to play in a bowl game, punishing the players as a team.

· Parents and coaches in youth sports. First, millions of parents and coaches across the country are to be commended for giving countless hours to their children, their communities and their clubs or leagues.

However, one bad apple can spoil the bushel faster than you can say, "obnoxious, irresponsible jerk."

As a high school and youth soccer referee for 10 years, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly - usually in the same weekend, or sometimes in the same game.

A word to remember for those who seem to forget: Be responsible, set an example and let kids be kids and adults act like adults.

Think of what a better place the world would be if we all did our part - at our jobs, walking through the mall, on the freeways during a busy holiday weekend and in our own homes with the people we care about the most.

Seems like the responsible thing to do, doesn't it?

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of The Herald-Mail. Reach him at 800-626-6397, ext. 2023; or by e-mail at

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