So we’re almost a week out now from the ugly incident at Texas Tech involving Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, and the spitting episode at Arizona State that happened a few hours earlier.
Reaction, especially to the Smart incident, has been heavy, and I have to say I agree with what Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said about it: “I’ve been around for a long time, and quite honestly, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more.”
Perhaps we can take solace that such disturbing scenes are by the far the exception. Hundreds of college basketball games are played every week, and nothing like this happens, even when fans are jammed into a tight space and players are sometimes so close they can reach out and touch them.
(Side note: I’m reminded of a humorous scene back in the mid-1990s, when I did a game at Michigan State’s Breslin Center. TV monitors at courtside show the running boxscore of the game, and students would peer over my shoulder, see that the forward from Illinois was 1 for 7 from the field, and jeer him, reciting his stats perfectly.)
There was nothing funny about the Smart situation. Players cannot, must not, become engaged with fans, especially physically. And you wonder about a 50-something fan whose life revolves around baiting another person who isn’t old enough to buy a drink legally. It says something about the fan when he thinks he’s absolving himself with a statement that claims he didn’t use a racially charged word with Smart. He only called him “a piece of crap.” Oh.
This week, Mike Montgomery, the Cal coach, was among those who cited the growing presence of social media in the deterioration of fan behavior, and I’m not sure he meant the removal of privacy in athletes’ lives when they partake, or the sometimes-inflammatory words athletes dish out on those media. Twitter, for instance, can be a vehicle for humor and it can also be a teeming repository for fools who can’t seem to wait to get their opinion out there, as dubious or depraved as it might be.
Just this week, after Michael Sam’s coming-out revelation at Missouri, Houston Astros pitcher Jarred Cosart tweeted out to a friend a homosexual slur in regards to Justin Bieber, which no doubt sprang from an extended period of deep thought and consideration. Then came, of course, the obligatory mea culpa: “I used a very poor choice in one of my tweets earlier today that I need to apologize for. The tweet does not reflect who I am or what I stand for . . .”
Too late, Jarred. You pretty much shouted to the world who you are with the first tweet. Why not just a followup, blanket tweet, something on this order: “I’m sorry in advance for any stupid, inane, thoughtless, crude, ill-considered, insulting, baseless tweets that might come from me in the future.”
We live in an era when some fans seem completely lost over what’s proper and what’s excessive. This week, a high school linebacker from Auburn, Ala., Rashaan Evans, said the reaction by local fans to his decision to attend Alabama rather than Auburn has been extreme, ranging from people “going to the board at my school, trying to get me in trouble,” to Instagram messages hoping he tears an ACL in his first game.
Even allowing for a measure of Southern-football derangement (Poisoning trees? Really?), this seems a bit much.
There are a lot of wackos out there, as any Internet fan site message-board will confirm. Some of them weigh in with obscene e-mails to newspaper columnists or leave vulgar messages on voice mails.
Shockingly, they invariably forget to leave their name and number.
This week, Larry Krystkowiak, the Utah coach, said he was going to remind his team of its responsibilities regarding decorum before its next game.
“It’s a little bit of an eye-opener for institutions, an eye-opener for student-athletes, and hopefully for fans as well,” he said.
Probably too much to hope it could open minds as well.