by Kent Sterling
Oklahoma State All-American Marcus Smart jumped to block a shot at the Texas Tech rim, fell toward the Lubbock crowd, got up, and angrily shoved a fan who was physically no worse for the interlude.
Athletes should never go into the stands, as the Indiana Pacers learned the hard way in 2004 in the Malice at the Palace. Regardless of the situation, nothing good can come of that.
Part of the sad truth of being an athlete on a bright stage in a strange town is that there will always be morons who get off on getting under their skin. Hecklers cocktail, grow what they mistake to be stones, and unleash a torrent of invective only they view as funny.
People near them turn away embarrassed, hoping that arena or stadium security will intercede and throw the guy into the street. Rarely does that happen. At the professional level, security will toss the worst of the worst. At colleges, security consists of elderly ushers so the abuse can be worse before any substantial penalty is levied.
The vast majority of the time, players take the harassment for what it is – the result a fan who has indulged in too many cocktails and too little respect for themselves. They ignore the moron because he has done nothing to earn their attention.
Tonight, Smart did what kids tend to do – make a mistake. He allowed himself to act. He indulged in the same base instinct that leads to so much trouble in today’s world. He acted on his anger.
We don’t know what the fan said. He might have been gracious, although he certainly didn’t appear to be. At some point, Smart will tell us his version, and the fan will likely share his memory. They almost certainly will not sound like they were a part of the same incident.
ESPN will be there to chronicle all of it. If this happened a week ago, the day before the Super Bowl, it’s possible this would have been a 20-second blurb at the ass end of Sportscenter, and that would have been that. But not today.
An hour after the incident, the mothership is broadcasting perspective from far and wide, carrying the post game presser from Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, and trying to satisfy the nation’s thirst for insight without knowledge. Nevermind that we don’t know more than we’ve seen. Smart shoved a guy after his momentum carried him into the crowd. All else is conjecture.
That’s life in the media these days. Many Texas Tech fans believe that Smart should be suspended for the rest of the season, and a similar number of Oklahoma State fans believe that Smart must have been provoked by a racist epithet to prompt such an outburst. But neither side knows.
Texas Tech fans believe the fan said “Sorry about that,” to Smart. Oklahoma State fans think not.
The truth is that none of us knows, and circumspection and due process be damned. Judging is much more fun than waiting for the facts. Much better to yelp about players acting up, failing to conform to societal mores, and falling short of the examples set by Jackie Robinson, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Lenny Dykstra (sounds funny to mention him with the others, but I sat in the bleachers at Wrigley as the guy was regularly eviscerated by fans) who kept their anger hidden.
There is no defense for what Smart did, and there is likely no reasonable explanation for what was said to prompt it. Good guys are nowhere to be found, but there is nothing wrong with waiting a few hours or a day to hear from Smart and the fan so we know what the hell we are talking about.
In the meantime, if you are one of those tools who love to inspire hatred in athletes, remember that every once in awhile, these very fit and strong young men remind us they are human. If the threat of being booted doesn’t hold your tongue, maybe knowing these guys can get up close and personal very quickly if pushed too far.