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Sports Authority

Fans must control tempers

| Monday, February 10, 2014

You might have heard that Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart made a big mistake over the weekend. In fact, he broke the one inviolable rule of sports: Never, ever lay hands on a fan.

As one would suspect, the consequences were swift. He was kicked out of the game and will be suspended for three more. He had to answer to the media, where he apologized to the Texas Tech “super fan” he shoved. College basketball analysts rushed to their cameras and keyboards to explain just how much this will dent Smart’s already-falling draft stock.

It all sounded pretty bad for Smart. But then I went to watch the video. And while I cannot say that Smart acted admirably or came away looking all that good, I also cannot pretend that many of the rest of us would not have lost our cool in a similar situation. Be honest ¾ if you were knocked to the ground, and you heard a man two-and-a-half times your age taunting you, calling you a “piece of crap,” do you think you would respond calmly? It is easy to say that Smart should have ignored the fan, but can we truly be surprised when a college student finds that hard to do?

The “super fan,” a Texas Tech alum named Jeff Orr, has likewise apologized and said he regrets calling Smart a “piece of crap,” but insists that he did not direct any racial epithets towards the Oklahoma State star. While I suppose it would be an even worse affront if Orr had made an explicitly racist comment, the fact is he still felt the need to tell a teenager that he was somehow less than human. A racist person can make an offensive comment without using the n-word, and non-racist people are still entirely capable of saying and doing offensive things. The bottom-line is that Orr wanted to upset Smart, and he was even more successful than he probably intended to be.

I do not write all of this because I think we should let Smart off the hook. He does need to be suspended, because we just cannot have incidents like this become routine. Smart’s shove did not do any damage to Orr, but it could have been a very different story if he had thrown a punch instead. And there are enough timeouts in college basketball as it is. I do not want to wait around while referees issue technicals for a fight started by a fan.

But some fans do not understand that this rule is a necessary measure to protect both athletes and audience members. They seem to think it is a shield that gives them the right to hurl insults and threats with no risk of retribution. They need to get over themselves.

Just as I understand why Smart might have wanted to deck Orr, I also understand why fans want to get rowdy. I have said (okay, shouted) some unkind things in my day. Like everyone else, I join in chants, some of them mean-spirited, at basketball and football games. But I also realize that I am not responsible for the outcome of the game. I am not the “12th man.” Good fans cheer for their team to show their support after a good play. Good fans make noise in the hopes that it will distract the other team. Good fans make funny signs for their own amusement. Good fans enjoy the game but realize they are there to watch the game, not interfere in it. Good fans do not personally harass individuals on the other team. Let’s hope Jeff Orr has learned that lesson.

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