Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart was punished for his actions involving a spectator, but little attention has been directed toward the fan. What is acceptable behavior for fans at sporting events? Joe Leathersich: So we all know about what happened with Smart recently against Texas Tech. He was suspended for assaulting the fan, which is an appropriate punishment. In my opinion, however, the narrative has been too much about Smart and not nearly enough about the 50-plus-year-old fan harassing a 19-year-old kid.
Mike Eisinger: I would agree with that. The fact that he felt he had the right to personally call out and insult Smart, one of the better and more well-known players in college basketball, is just not right. I watched the [Syracuse University vs. University of Pittsburgh] game the other night, and after Tyler Ennis made his game-winning shot, Pittsburgh fans who, before the game, had been taking pictures with Jim Boeheim, were yelling and flipping off the celebrating Orange players just a few feet from them. Thankfully, no one responded.
Doug Parks: Brings up a point that has been raised on and off over the past couple years. How do you all feel about fan proximity to the court? When the fans are close enough to players where they could physically reach out and touch the players – for example, Cameron indoor stadium – you invite these kind of situations. On the flip side, moving fans away from the hardwood would affect the home-court advantage teams have.
Kevin Frankel: Fans have historically shown a contempt for athletes that doesn’t exist in other arenas of entertainment. When an athlete underperforms, fans have no qualms about berating athletes, even going so far as to make personal attacks on them. Such conduct would be utterly inexcusable at a play or a live music performance, for example. Taken in concert with the physical proximity fans have to athletes, this is a recipe for disaster. The onus should be on the fans to behave civilly, not on the athletes to not react when provoked.
JL: I agree with that last sentence. We love it when these athletes are passionate about their sport, but as soon as they carry that behavior to a place where it is not as commonly accepted – even directly off the court, for example in basketball – we scrutinize them and wonder why they behaved the way they did. It immediately becomes about the athlete’s character and who they are off the field.
ME: So, we all agree that there is something wrong with the way some fans act toward players. How about this: What is the ideal fan behavior? I don’t think we all want to see sports turn into some sickeningly nice thing where there’s never a critical word or harmless taunt thrown. What is acceptable here?
KF: As long as the crowd’s feedback stays away from the vitriol that Jeff Orr directed at Smart. Orr claims he called him a “piece of crap,” while there have been rumblings that Orr actually called Smart a racial slur. Neither of these is acceptable. As for the alleged racial slur, it speaks volumes that Smart was punished more stringently for reacting to racism than Orr was for being racist.
JL: I am not necessarily upset when fans do make personal attacks on an athlete; I don’t ever get personal when I cheer and recognize it is wrong when others do it, obviously. I’m more concerned with the fact that fans think they can say anything and assume that, since they’re at a sporting event, they are absolved of any verbal wrongdoing. So, to me, the conversation can be as simple as, “Say what you want but know you are not protected by the boundaries of the playing field.”
The way I put it in perspective is to imagine myself seeing that athlete on the street. Am I going to say something from the comfort of my 300-level seat? Maybe. Am I going to say that same thing while in line at the grocery store? Not a shot. It’s similar, in a sense, to commenting on the Internet. Everyone has comfort from the keyboard but not in person. And there have been lawsuits against some things said on the Internet, just like fans being kicked out for being unruly at a game.
ME: I’d like to see fans that cross the line truly punished by the institutions that they cheer for. There are ushers and security guards at every game. I realize that they have other duties, but they can definitely see a good amount of bad behavior and take steps to eliminate it. We as fans need to realize that we are accountable for our actions, and just because we’re watching something that we love does not give us free passes to act like jerks.