Monday, November 22, 2004

Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting

What in the hell was in the water last week?

It started with last Sunday's Steelers-Browns game, when Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter and Cleveland tailback William Green started throwing punches before the game even started. On Friday night there was the well publicized brawl/riot between players and fans in Detroit toward the end of the Pacers-Pistons NBA game. Finally, on Saturday, there was an on-field brawl between players during the South Carolina-Clemson game. Needless to say, it was an absolutely crazy week in terms of violence in sporting events.

As a result of their brawl, the football programs of both Clemson University and the University of South Carolina have announced that they will decline bowl bids this season. That's the honorable thing for both of them to do, to punish the whole team for an incident that never should have happened. It's unfortunate for the seniors on both teams, who had that incident mar their final games as collegians, but the universities had to make a statement by taking this action. It's even more unfortunate that this fight will be the lasting impression of the final game coached by Lou Holtz. He's a coaching legend, and he deserved to go out on a better note.

The fight at the NBA game on Friday had one positive impact: it has driven the non-story of last week's Monday Night Football intro "controversy" completely out of public discourse. This fight, probably rightfully so, has totally taken over the sports headlines.

I think the NBA acted appropriately by taking swift, strong action. Handing out such lengthy suspensions sends a clear message that players going into the stands, for any reason, is not going to be tolerated. I do hope that some sort of action can be taken against the fans that initiated or escalated the melee as well. Some actions are clearly across the line, and it needs to be ensured that such lines are clearly defined whenever necessary. The league cannot let those lines break down.

That said, I do think some members of the sports news media are overreacting to this whole situation. It must be noted that this was an isolated incident--you rarely hear of player-fan altercations during games, and even more rarely are they this severe. In fact, I've never heard of anything this severe. At any rate, it's not an epidemic. As long as existing lines are reinforced, there is no need to take drastic measures to make sure this doesn't happen again. The measures are already in place.

I heard one media personality (Mike Greenberg on ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning Show) suggest that many (if not most) people go to sporting events looking for a fight or perhaps even to start an incident of this nature. I find that statement to be patently false. I attend a lot of sporting events, and I have seen very few belligerent fans acting out. I know it happens, but not nearly with the frequency that he suggests. Of course, I have never been to a professional football game, and most events that I do attend are college games (BGSU football and basketball) where alcohol is not sold. You would have to be incredibly naive to believe, though, that all spectators at these events are totally sober when they arrive.

With all the sporting events I've attended, I've been at only two events where something like Friday's fight had even a chance of happening. Both happened at men's basketball games at Bowling Green's Anderson Arena, and both involved Akron forward Andy Hipsher. Anderson Arena is a unique venue in that the student section is right on the floor, with no barriers. That section (where I still sit for each game) is known for giving an extremely rough time to opposing players. Three years ago, when Akron was in town, Hipsher threw a ball at a fan in our student section after a verbal exchange during pre-game warmups. I thought the situation would escalate from there, but it did not. The next year, due to that incident, Hipsher was a target from the moment he stepped on the floor. At one point during the game he had to come directly in front of our student section to inbounds the ball, and he actually shoved one of our students (the student was definitely talking smack, but he did not cross the painted line separating the playing area from the seating area). Again, I thought it would escalate. That actually may have, but game officials and BGSU police did a good job of intervening before it could go any further.

I'm still bitter that the student in question was thrown out of the game and no action (not even a technical foul) was taken against Hipsher, but that's not relevant to this discussion.

The point is that even highly charged incidents don't have to escalate to the level they did in Detroit on Friday. That was an isolated incident that just spiraled out of control due to many factors. The blame can't be placed on any one person, team, or problem. Instead of overreacting and coming up with all sorts of new solutions to an issue that doesn't really exist, league officials (and officials in other leagues, who I'm sure are also looking at this event) just need to make sure that current standards are enforced in order to make sure that players and fans understand unacceptable behavior and don't succumb to it.

No comments: