Fans support sports thugs

One of my many conservative mantras is that people should be responsible and held accountable for their own lives. I have yet to hear a compelling reason why that concept should ever be set aside, but people still try.

For this reason, I am not a big sports fan. There is something distinctly hypocritical about professional sports teams and leagues that routinely overlook many of their players’ illicit drug use and criminal behaviors. Celebrity sports figures are regularly allowed to strut around like spoiled, arrogant children who aren’t held to the same rules as everyone else. Even when players are caught red-handed in some nefarious situation, the leagues only hand out token fines and penalties as public-relations opportunities to uphold the “professional integrity” of the particular sport.

As it has oft been said, “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” Witness the pummeling of NBA fans in a recent brawl at an Indiana Pacers/Detroit Pistons game.

For the folks who haven’t caught the news clips, here is a condensed version of what happened from Yahoo Sports.

“It all started when Detroit’s Ben Wallace went in for a lay-up and was fouled hard by Ron Artest from behind. After being fouled, Wallace wheeled around and pushed Artest hard in the chest and face. The benches emptied and punches were thrown.

“As the players continued shoving each other near center court and coaches tried to restore order, Artest sprawled out on his back on the scorer’s table, looking relaxed. Just when it appeared tempers had died down, Artest was struck by a cup and beverage thrown from the stands (presumably a Pistons fan). He jumped up, and charged into the stands, throwing punches as he climbed over seats. A brawl involving fans and players ensued.”

NBA commissioner David Stern called the brawl one of the worst in league history, “shocking, repulsive and inexcusable” afterwards, when he suspended four players indefinitely. Not surprisingly, the players’ union has appealed the suspensions.

A Reno Gazette-Journal opinion poll showed only 41 percent of respondents thought it was the players’ fault.

Excuse me?

Did the fan provoke Artest? No. Artest was still simmering over Wallace’s shove, not because he was offended, much less hurt, by the cup. Was it self-defense? No. Artest charged into the stands to get to the fan he thought threw the cup.

By no means do I excuse the behavior of the fan who threw the cup or those who joined the brawl, but I find it inconceivable that respondents to the RG-J poll didn’t find the players, particularly Artest, overwhelmingly at fault.

Artest’s whining response to his suspension? On NBC’s Today, he protested the harshness of the penalty. He said, “I don’t think it was fair—that many games. I respect David Stern’s decisions, but I don’t think I should have been out for the whole season.”

Here’s where I agree with Artest. He shouldn’t have been suspended for the whole season. He should have been fired on the spot and permanently banned from the sport.

While fans continue to support teams and leagues that allow their professional players to abdicate personal responsibility and accountability, it is not surprising that this type of incident occurs. With their financial support, fans tacitly tell the teams and leagues about the character and integrity of the players they want to see: professional athletes with the mindset of schoolyard punks.

Incidentally, a correlation can be drawn between this incident and the recent election, when "values voters" kept President George W. Bush in the White House for four more years. What concerns me is that 56 million people didn’t get it.