by Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
December 09, 2004
It never occurred to me to punch him in the nose.
Some years later, I had a drink with John Henry Johnson, the Steelers running back whose reckless style I much admired, a character on a team of characters.
It never occurred to me to throw it in his face.
And that brings us to the recent hostile interaction between fans and their presumed idols, rather like clueless suburbanites moving into the territories of grizzly bears and mountain lions.
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Latrell Sprewell has been suspended for shouting what has been described as "sexually graphic obscenities" at a female heckler. What did this woman expect? To get those kinds of seats, she had to know something about basketball and thus had to know that Sprewell is a violent head case who once choked his own coach.
Indeed Sprewell may have shown some restraint. In a game at Oakland, the Texas Rangers bullpen got into it with a group of fans and reliever Frank Francisco flung a folding chair that broke the nose of a female heckler. (Surely by coincidence, you can buy a Rangers folding chair for $59.99 on the team's Web site.)
When a fan threw a bottle at Milton Bradley, the Dodgers outfielder threw it back. Bradley was then described as "temperamental," which he may well be, but the natural instinct when something is thrown at you is to throw it back. And none of the accounts of that incident that I read explained what the fan was thinking. Perhaps because he wasn't.
And then there was 10-minute brawl that ended the Clemson-South Carolina game. It wasn't like the fight would change the outcome - Clemson had it won 29-7 - and the schools felt compelled to forfeit any bowl bids, depriving the seniors of their final college football game. How dumb was that brawl? And these are supposed to be educated kids, as opposed to many pro baseball and basketball players.
And that brings us to the celebrated Dustup in Detroit that's being presented as some kind of symptomatic event of all that's wrong with sports, our society and our culture. What it's symptomatic of is a certain level of stupidity.
As we know from that now famous video that television took every chance to replay even as they deplored what was happening, Ben Wallace of the Pistons and Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers got into a shoving match that seemed to have been broken up.
Artest, propelled by some mysterious force, stretched out on the scorer's table and put on a headset, and there matters might have stood - or laid - until a fan threw a large plastic cup full of ice that hit Artest in the chest. Now what did that fan think would happen?
Artest tore into the stands where the guy who threw the ice helpfully stood aside so Artest could go after an innocent bystander and he, the instigator, could attack Artest from behind.
But what were the fans thinking? "Here I am a flabby, middle-aged office worker half-soused on beer. I think I'll take a swing at a 6-foot-7, 246-pound, superbly conditioned athlete flying under a full load of adrenaline."
Now five Pacers and five fans face criminal charges. Nine players got varying suspensions from one game up to Artest who is out for the season.
Given the sheer number of American collegiate and professional sporting events, these incidents are isolated - although the airplay would make you think otherwise _ and not really a trend. Which is a good thing because I don't think the Detroit cops and NBA commissioner David Stern are going to come up with a cure for stupidity.
At heart, these incidents are also kind of sad. Fans who are angry, drunk and dumb cheat themselves of the joy of sports - like meeting a Ralph Kiner or a John Henry Johnson.
Contact Dale McFeatters at