November 21, 2004

From the standpoint of deterring athletes from charging into the stands to attack abusive fans, the NBA Commissioner's decision today to suspend Ron Artest for the season, as well as the hefty bans placed on Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson, certainly accomplishes the task. If the punishment for leaping into the bleachers to defend oneself from a beer shower is going to be more severe than for turning another player's face into raspberry jelly, you can be rest assured that athletes in the future will know their place. After all, the league doesn't have a problem with players choking their coaches anymore.

Turning a blind eye to the problem of nasty, drunken fans (or, in the case of David Stern, making pathetically empty denuciations of their bad behavior) guarantees that the NBA will have more black eyes will in the future. This isn't a problem limited to basketball, of course; a couple of years ago, several players on the Dodgers went into the stands at Wrigley Field after being attacked in the bullpen by a number of rummies, and a Kansas City Royal coach was nearly beaten unconscious by a father-son tagteam in Chicago. The last few years, going to Dodger games has become an increasingly unpleasant experience, the franchise apparently pursuing the fan base the Raiders left behind when they returned to Oakland.

What Stern has done is give the green light to that sort of behavior. Sure, the Pistons now have a P.R. problem, what with their fans now being perceived as being something out of A Clockwork Orange, but thanks to the thuggish antics of Pistons fans, the league has now completely wrecked their chief divisional rival. Drunken hooliganism has now, unbelievably, been rewarded by the league in the only area that counts to most fans.

One can only imagine how fans in other cities will react to this precedent. If the Pistons' quest for back-to-back titles has been aided by the crippling of the Indiana Pacers, with no real punishment (and no arrests) meted out to the true malefactors, what's to stop fans in other cities from pursuing the same ends? Fans of the Boston Red Sox who believe that Ron Artest had it coming, for example, might think twice if a similar situation were to occur at Yankee Stadium, with drunks tossing beer bottles, batteries, and other assorted objects, while yelling racial epithets to boot, all for the purpose of baiting David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez into losing their cool. Letting the Pistons get off scot free is an invitation for fans in other cities to get liquored up for the home team.

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