Marcus Smart was suspended for shoving Texas Tech “super fan” Jeff Orr. But Rob Scarborough wonders how much athletes should have to put up with before fans are held accountable for their behavior?
Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart was involved in an ugly incident Saturday night during the waning moments of the Cowboys 65-61 loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders. With seconds left in the game as he was being helped up after a failed block attempt, Smart appeared to exchange words with a Texas Tech fan. The exchange quickly escalated and Smart shoved the fan with two hands before being led back to the court by teammates and officials. The 6’4″ sophomore wasn’t ejected from the game, but he was given a technical foul and later suspended for 3 games.
This incident, while unfortunate, was necessary. For far too long there has existed a double standard in the world of high level athletics that many people conveniently ignore until a situation like this rears its head. Not since that faithful night in Auburn Hills has the conduct of the modern sports fan been subjected to the same type of scrutiny as the behavior of our top athletes. You see, respect is a two-way street, and that doesn’t change no matter how much one pays for a ticket, or gets paid (or not paid) to entertain.
To be clear, there are no victims in this situation. An adult and a young adult each made poor decisions in the heat of a moment and it’s really as simple as that. The problem is that too often athletes are expected to exhibit superhuman levels of restraint in the face of extensive verbal abuse. Worse yet, fans are rarely held accountable for the venom that they spew at players. This creates an environment that breeds a twisted sense of entitlement that allows people to believe that purchasing a ticket grants them open license to disregard basic principles of respect.
Marcus Smart’s situation is a prime example of just that. While it has yet to be confirmed if Jeff Orr—the fan pushed by Smart—actually did call the 19 year old a racial slur, he has admitted to calling the young man a “piece of crap”, as if that somehow makes it better.
For his part, Marcus Smart reacted irresponsibly to the heckling. He has to understand that the system he is a part of isn’t designed to protect him, and thus he must be extra vigilant in protecting himself. In order to succeed at the next level he has to develop skin thick enough to withstand much worse than what he heard Saturday night in Lubbock.
Yet the question remains, should he, or any other young athlete, have to? Should being belittled by fans be something that young athletes are taught to accept? Should they be taught that they’re solely responsible for being the adult in these situations? Where do we draw the line of responsibility?
That’s where the double standard comes in to play. While Smart has been chastised for not being the cooler head in the situation, despite being barely above legal voting age, Orr has been described as a “super fan”. To Orr’s credit he has volunteered to not attend anymore Texas Tech games for the remainder of the season, a gesture that shows he accepts responsibility for his role in the altercation.
Unfortunately, that gesture simply highlights the double standard. Why would him attending any further games even be an option? Because in high level athletics, the customer is always right. You can be an adult and call a teenager whatever you want to call him and not only is it okay, if he reacts, he will be punished for it.
I feel that as adult spectators we have a responsibility to behave maturely and with respect, not only for the players on the court but our fellow ticket holders as well. There are children at these games, and when young boys see the men in their lives, their fathers and brothers, behaving in an unruly and unbecoming manner, they come to believe that’s what one is supposed to do at a sporting event. Quickly, another disrespectful, potentially line crossing fan is born.
The bottom line is that the NCAA and all of the major professional sports leagues need to do more to protect their players and erase the double standard. While Marcus Smart’s reaction to Jeff Orr’s mouthing off may not have been wise, and surely wasn’t the most mature option at his disposal, it could’ve been much worse had he decided to actually enter the stands, or throw a punch rather than a shove.
Fans will always be the variable and, as long as business is good, they will always greatly outnumber security and arena personnel. However, that shouldn’t relieve them of accountability. Therefore examples must be made when these situations pop up. Fans have to be cognizant of the reprecussions of their words and actions and remember that at the end of the day these athletes aren’t saints nor are they super human. No, they’re simply men, some still boys.