Sports and drinking

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 26, 2004

The big story this week is the brawl Friday night in a game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers in Auburn Hills, Mich. With only one minute left in the game, Ron Artest, a forward of the Pacers committed a hard foul on Piston Ben Wallace. Wallace then shoved Artest and players from each bench got up and began shoving and pushing.

All of a sudden a fan in the stands threw a beverage cup on Artest and he charged up the stands after a man and started throwing punches at him. Teammates Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson were also guilty in throwing punches. Players were soon escorted off the floor while fans threw beverages and other snacks at them. The result is that Artest is suspended for the rest of the season, forfeiting more than $5 million dollars in salary; O’Neal is suspended for 25 games; Jackson is suspended for 30 games; and Wallace is suspended for six games. Other teammates received lighter suspensions.

NBA Commissioner David Stern said that this action by players was shocking, repulsive and inexcusable and was the worst thing to ever happen in NBA history.

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Each time I hear about this incident I wonder what kind of training athletes receive before they join a team. I heard a newscaster say that some of these men were from the streets and were no strangers with street fighting, even after entering college. If this is the case, the NBA definitely needs to provide some kind of counseling or training about temper control before becoming professional players. After all, they receive millions of dollars for what they do and one negative or criminal act can ruin their entire careers. I then compare them to news reporters and other businesses whose careers don’t pay as much.

As reporters we are trained and taught that the customer is always right. When we are ridiculed or laid out by a person for not being able to get his or her material in the paper or for making a mistake in his article, we are sometimes threatened by that customer that he is going to stop taking our paper, that we don’t know what we are doing or that they are going to take their material to another paper or worse. No matter how much we may want to tell the customer off, we still have to maintain a calm voice and try to explain why their material was not printed to their satisfaction. We also must reassure the customer in the best way that we will try to correct our mistakes. In the many years that I have been associated with this paper, I have never witnessed any employee pulling any customer by the collar and punching him. Others who deal with the public have to follow similar rules.

So what is wrong with these players? If we can stand the pressure for much smaller wages, why can’t they stand it since they received big bucks, especially when it may mean that some innocent bystanders could get hurt in the scuffle as some actually did.

It absolutely broke my heart when one news report showed a little boy about 12 years old holding another little boy crying against his chest who appeared to be afraid of what had taken place. If nothing else, these players should be thinking about the many kids who come to these games. Therefore, I’m holding the players more responsible because they don’t drink during a game like some fans.

It was reported that the Players Union is going to appeal the suspensions and other punishment given to the guilty players, but in my opinion, they should be made an example of so that other players will think twice before this nonsense happens again. Here’s why:

In another news report, and I have listened to so many I can’t recall which one, it was stated that these players should not be held as role models. However, we all know that they play big parts as role models. Just look back and recall how many youth you have heard say they wanted to be football and basketball stars like Michael Jordan or Emmett Smith?

Even closer than that, on Saturday morning following the Detroit Brawl on Friday, a college football game between the Clemson Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks in South Carolina also broke out in a brawl with under six minutes left in the game. State Troopers had to be called in and it took them 10 minutes to separate the combatants. The reporter stated that both of these teams had watched the game between the Pistons and Pacers on Friday night and saw the big brawl.

Since those guilty fans and players have learned that there may be criminal charges included they are appearing on TV apologizing for what they did and trying to give explanations why they did what they did.

I think they should also receive their fair share of punishment.

Mitch Albrom from the Detroit Free Press stated that the main culprits were alcohol and disrespect.

Albrom said that when a fan has had too much to drink, he might feel that he is part of the game. He also said that some players feel that the visiting team can’t come into their house and disrespect them.

&uot;We have to get this notion out of sports because it’s only going to lead to more trouble. I have always been in favor of cutting the level of alcohol sales out of college and professional events, &uot; said Albrom.

He also said that major sports sponsors who have marriages with beer companies might want to think about the consequences of serving them.

I do agree that the NBA and NCAA ban alcohol. A little lesson on how to groom the hair also wouldn’t hurt so that some of these players won’t look as if they belong in a jail cell. These procedures will surely bring respect back to sporting events and reduce disasters in future games.

Evelyn Wall is a retired reporter for the News-Herald and a regular columnist.