This past week has been quite hectic in the world of sports-related violence. The melee receiving the most attention has been the brawl in Detroit involving the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, and a few of their less-evolved fans. Pacer Ron Artest has been suspended for the entire season, and lengthy suspensions have been handed out to other players involved. There’s no word yet on criminal prosecution of some of the fans involved, but the police are still reviewing video and are likely to press charges soon.
Other sports brawls have broiled over lately, too. The Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers mixed it up last week, feuding over one Browns’ player’s threat against the Steelers’ hot rookie quarterback – “kill the head and the body will die” was the money quote that started that fracas. (I always have to laugh when I see NFL football players – clad in the best collision armor money can buy – trying to punch each other with their fists. At least hockey players have the sense to pull off each other’s pads and helmets before they fight.)
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this thuggishness is only the purview of the pros. There was also a bench-clearing dust-up between Clemson and South Carolina in college football, where Lou Holtz was coaching his final game in a storied career. How nice for Lou’s career to close on such a positive note. Way to go, kids!
There were also a couple of violent incidents off of the field but related to sports. Over in Washington D.C. there was a man protesting the move of the Montreal Expos to the city. He was upset that the new team would be building a state-of-the-art baseball stadium largely funded by the taxpayers. His punishment for exercising free speech was to be jumped and beaten. Maybe he wasn’t standing in a “free-speech zone”.
Finally, right here in Oregon we had four players from the Oregon State football team get into a scuffle with an Oregon National Guardsman on leave from Iraq. The four players, who are black, had some unkind words for the Guardsman, who is white, because the Guardsman was dancing with his wife, who is black. One player punched the Guardsman, knocking him out.
The players were suspended and prosecutors charged the assaulting player, Joe Rudulph, with four misdemeanors. What they noticeably didn’t serve Rudulph with was any “hate crime” charges. Apparently if a black guy hits a white guy for having a black wife, that’s not a racially-motivated “hate crime”. I wonder how the charges would have worked out if four white guys were attacking a black guy for having a white wife.
Personally, I’m against the entire concept of “hate crimes”. Isn’t every assault a case of hatred on some level? We wonder why our society is so rife with racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and homophobia, but then we declare some acts of violence to be more dreadful based on factors of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. These battle lines wouldn’t exist if we wouldn’t keep drawing them, but if we are going to draw them, they should apply equally to all people. I’d rather we did away with “hate crimes” and instead treat all violence as a “hate crime” and punish it accordingly. You hit somebody in malice, you’re going to jail, end of discussion.
But the riot in Detroit is by far the most compelling sports-violence story of the year. I’m sure everyone has seen it by now – Artest lying on the scorer’s table, a beer cup flying from the stands, striking him in the chest, this multi-millionaire jumping into the stands to assault the ignorant fan who probably dropped a week’s salary on seats close enough to pelt multi-millionaires with beer cups. We’ve all seen the clip replayed dozens of times.
I’m left wondering where are all the voices crying out against the endless repetition of this clip on virtually every media outlet? Just a week ago the nation was up in arms about Nicolette Sheridan dropping her towel before she leapt into Terrell Owens’ arms in a skit before Monday Night Football. Yet all those folks seem remarkably silent about exposing our youth to players beating each other and their fans. It seems there’s a double standard regarding sex and violence in our culture, and it seems we’re too offended by one and not enough by the other.
Speaking of double standards, the Sheridan-Owens skit again brings up those questions of race. Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, who is black, suggests that the offense felt by so many about the skit had a lot to do with the fact that Sheridan is white and Owens is black, fueled by an old stereotype of the black man as sexual predator, comin’ to get the white women. I didn’t view the skit as anything but bad acting by Owens, but then I wonder how much outrage would have registered if Sheridan was jumping into the arms of a white player. It’s now a story of the outrage about the outrage. I’d rather believe that race was not a factor, but then I recall a Diet Pepsi commercial a year ago that featured a white woman naked in a whirlpool bath asking a group of mostly white football players for a towel. I didn’t hear any outrage about that oft-repeated commercial.
It’s a strange set of double standards we have as a culture. A flirtatious pre-game skit on Monday Night Football is uncalled for, but scantily-clad cheerleaders are acceptable, as are commercials selling beer with the sex appeal of “the Twins”. We have an assault in Oregon based completely on race being dismissed as just a normal incident of violence, but then we have a sexy skit that is only tangentially about race being interpreted as racial stereotyping. We can’t show the reality of flag-draped coffins coming home from war, but we’re treated to an endless loop of basketball players beating up fans. Now that’s an outrage.
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