Sports Rage: Artest’s Actions Uncalled For

Steve Sheridan

Everyone knows that today’s professional and collegiate athletes should not be the “role models” of the younger generation, as so aptly put by Sir Charles years ago. But, with that said, there has long been a standard – albeit a low one – that even these athletes have been held to. But on November 19, those standards flew out the window as the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons met in what was supposed to be a basketball game. Ron Artest, the man around whom the basketbrawl situated, is no stranger to controversy. This is a man, who just a few short weeks ago felt that he needed time off from playing basketball – his job – because he was too tired from promoting his new rap CD. And, as so many of the jokes have went lately, now Artest has plenty of time to rest, since he was rightly suspended for the season by NBA Commissioner David Stern. For those of you that haven’t seen the footage (likely not many, by this point), the whole situation started with a hard foul. And while NBA players still pale in comparison to soccer players who go down after a slide-tackle like they’ve been shot, they rarely resist the urge to start something where there is clearly nothing. After Artest hacked Detroit’s Ben Wallace as he went in for a lay-up – a meaningless lay-up, at that – Wallace responded in the macho fashion, shoving Artest and setting off all the fireworks. If Wallace had simply taken the foul and stepped to the free throw line, the game would have ended peacefully and nobody would have ever remembered it. And although Artest may say that he did nothing after that point, his reclining on the scorer’s table was clearly a show of disrespect to the entire Pistons team. The guard was attempting to make himself look cool and incite Wallace to come after him again, but instead of Big Ben, some (most likely drunk) fan decided to do something about it. Now at this point, Artest had two choices: stay on the court, with his wounded pride; or confront the fan, proving himself as a “man.” Artest apparently decided that he couldn’t let himself be disrespected in such a manner and went in after the fan, breaking almost every rule in the professional athlete’s unwritten handbook. But at least he kept his credibility. People can blame the fans for this melee, and to a certain extent they are right. The fan never should have thrown a cup of beer at Artest or any player in the first place. But as a professional athlete, one of the first things you learn is that there is an invisible barrier between the players and the fans that should never, under any circumstances, be crossed. There is no feasible provocation in my mind that would excuse Artest from jumping into the stands, but of course that didn’t stop the Pacer guard. He had a reputation to uphold. The macho behavior displayed by Artest during the incident is not isolated, and that is part of the growing problem in professional sports. As the stakes get raised and the players need more and more theatrics to keep themselves relevant and cool in the eyes of the fans, then things begin to spiral out of control. At a time when “street cred” is the big thing, athletes more and more look towards their reputation – sometimes in detriment to their play – as their most valuable asset. The advent of 24/7 marketing blitzes helps this trend along, creating personae for athletes to assume off the court, and many players take this to the absolute extreme. It began with then-San Francisco 49er Terrell Owens mocking the tradition of the Dallas Cowboys last year by showboating on the team’s midfield star – a stunt he repeated this year as well in the Dallas endzone. Soon the wide receiver was pulling Sharpies out his sock and pom-poms from the cheerleaders. TO was obviously marketing himself as the anti-establishment, just a regular guy who wants to have fun after scoring a touchdown. His constant self-promotion is the typical attitude of a pro athlete today, and his actions almost single-handedly have helped to usher in a new era of celebration that is frankly getting out of hand. From cell phones to dry-erase boards, things are going too far. Everything in today’s sporting culture has become a form of showboating. From players fighting with one another in pre-game warm-ups to constant team taunting, it seems that there are new offenders around the sporting world every day. Now, it’s come to a point where a team doesn’t even have to be good in order to taunt: the Cincinnati Bearcats attempted to psych out the host Louisville Cardinals by stomping on the Louisville logo at midfield before the game, drawing the ire of the home team and the crowd. The Bearcats then went out and lost the game by a score of 70-7. When a team thinks it is good and then loses by 63 points in football, it shows perfectly how out of control this whole arrogance thing has gotten. The only people who can put a stop to this are the higher-ups within the respective leagues. Stern set an excellent example, in my opinion, with the punishments that he handed out for the Detroit fiasco. His dictum shows that the NBA cannot and will not stand for such drastic and unwarranted behavior on the part of its players, and that is something that needs to be done. With the obscene amounts of money players are making, fining them 1/100th of their salary will not make them blink an eye. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has attempted to cut down on showboating in his league, but did little when Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges in October. Lewis received a two-game suspension from the league. Two games for pleading guilty to drug conspiracy? That’s a joke. And don’t forget Lewis’ teammate and namesake Ray, who was charged in a double murder case – and received no suspension at all from the league. Clearly the NFL lags behind the NBA in doling out punishments for players who drag the integrity of the league through the mud, both on and off the field, and that is unfortunate. Granted, every player is not bad. For every Ray or Jamal Lewis, there is a David Robinson or Tim Duncan that does good for the community and never sets a bad example. Unfortunately, such examples as those are growing harder to find in a society where celebrity is a religion and everyone worships at its altar. I don’t see this changing anytime soon, either. So next time you get a poster of your favorite athlete for your wall, think about just whom you put up there. For even though he or she is cool, that athlete is likely also to be a fool.