Monday, November 22, 2004

The Bad Boys of Basketball

Since Friday's violent altercations between players and spectators at the Pacers vs. Pistons basketball game, this story seems to have taken precidence over Iraqi War deaths, Sudanese genocide, global warming, holiday recipes, and President Bush's trip to Chile and Colombia.

Things erupted with hundreds of witnesses and on camera, and yet NO arrests were made that night, and NO arrests have been made as of late Monday, three days later. How hard could it be?

It's one thing for the commissioner of the sport to hand down decent and carefully considered justice, but this does not let the law itself off the hook for players or fans. Why have our public protectors been slower to act than the commissioner?

If what happened in that sports arena had taken place in the parking lot outside, there would have been arrests immediately. As in raucous Red Sox fan scenes last month, both observed partipants and even some merely suspected of participating would have been arrested and taken into custody in handcuffs.

Yet inside the hall, all of these clear assults seemed to be let go like O. J. Simpson's being allowed to drive his white Bronco down a public freeway in Los Angeles clearly brandishing a handgun.

Why the special treatment for players? Why the special treatment for fans?

Money? Weenie security guards? A celebrity mongering madness? A desperate desire not to piss off more fans? Fear of a larger "riot"? Again, I dare say these concerns would not have stopped or even slowed arrests outside the stadium.

But inside, it was as if basketball had become a maniacal hockey game gone awry in an angry and anarchistic science fiction movie in which Americans have grown even more addicted to road rage, incivility, assault, aggressive threats, brusk guvernators, pre-emptive war and the general degredation of any virtues we have remaining as a culture.

The extremities of Friday's events (repeated ad nauseum in case addicted viewers haven't sated their prurient desires) might seem to some a huge break with an innocent past in which nice people didn't do these things. But this trend has been on the rise for some time. Soccer fans around the world riot far too often. It sometimes seems hockey fans come hoping for a little carnage the same way NASCAR fans want to see a wild crash now and then. And as for basketball itself, the trend toward poor behavior started over a decade ago. In the early 1990s, Dennis Rodman became the most notorious of basketball bad boys, and Charles Barkley's mouth had all the edginess of Muhammed Ali's, with twice the animosity and half the wit.

But since then, a lot of panache has left the game. Grace and flair have been edged out by elbows and egregious fouls. Obviously, some stern refing is not enough anymoe. As a sports-crazed culture (and there are others though none rival the United States for time spent watching sports), it seems we are heading backward toward more ancient and barbaric times, at once drawn toward and repulsed by gladiatorial "bread and circuses," the old saying which refers to the debasedment of Rome and the Roman Empire in the midst of its hedonistic decline.

We've certainly known for a while, with hyper consumption and Hummers and gratuitously violent movies and nerve-racking superhighways and rampant "reality-based" hedonisism all around, that our own degredation as a culture, as an Empire, has been at hand for years. Empires don't take dives lightly.

The United States doesn't get to bury the facts on this: it is one of the most violent cultures in the world, certainly one of the most murderous. The lines between cultish sports heroes and barbarians are crossed often, of course usually not in such plain sight as the violence at Friday night's game.

Some are even saying the fans are primarily at fault (lots of millionaire players and former players are saying this), and some are saying that the penalties of lost games and dollars are too severe for the half dozen or so players cited so far.

Ridiculous. In a culture that expects peaceable play and good sportsmanship of its professional athletes, arrests would have been immediate and universally applauded.

Arrests in the stadium before leaving the arena of both fans throwing anything, fans on the court and players leaving the court. The line between court and seats is not an ambiguous one and need not be made more vague.

If on the job, as a player, cross the line and you're fired. Making sure the spectators stay within their bounds is the job of security guards, not basketball guards.

It is heartening to see that Ron Artest received a suspension for the rest of the season and that other players got sizeable penalties. Anything less would have been a sham. It is not heartening to see that he and other violent players were not arrested that night. It is further disheartening that spectators seen on camera as committing acts of assault, aggrevation or revenge also avoided immediate arrest.

Any delay shows a soft and sinister deference for celebrities. It patronizes paying fans, and so-called "sports heroes" who are really nothing more than spoiled anti-heroes who happen to deal in bluster, thuggery and hoops.

Much of the public and far too many parents seem to not know what a real hero is. They seem to mistake showmanship for sportsmanship. They seem to so easily slip into valuing muscle, might, athleticism, notoriety, territorialism, team rivalries and "winning" more than any sorts of heroic virtue.

The raucous players and the rabid fans are losers.


At 11/23/2004 6:20 AM, Blogger Aleksu said...

They made Dennis Rodman look like a girl scout.

Wait and see, accusations of racist attitudes against the players will start flying pretty soon.

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