The Elephant in the Room

December 19, 2006

The NBA handed down suspensions yesterday for Friday night’s brawl at Madison Square Garden. Fifteen games for the Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony. Ten game suspensions each for J.R. Smith and Nate Robinson. Mardy Collins of the Knicks the instigator, is suspended for six games. Four game and one game suspensions were assessed to others. A total of seven players from both teams will lose significant game checks and court time for their respective roles in the melee.

When NBA commissioner David Stern takes action he comes down hard. Stern is widely considered the most effective commissioner in sports with his near dictatorial powers, 10 million dollar salary and an unmatched ability to keep his players in line when they embarrass polite society.

Stern takes action because he sees clearly the “elephant in the room”. He knows all too well that the “elephant in the room” remains race, whether anyone else wants to honestly deal with that fact or not. The NBA’s African American players simply cannot make a scene, let alone come to blows without incurring the wrath of columnists, psychologists and anthropologists.

The image of black men fighting – outside of a boxing ring – is just too scary for most of America to deal with. These “thugs” as some would call them are supposedly a threat to the youth who look up to them and a disgrace to a society that barely acknowledges them unless they are in a uniform or on stage providing entertainment. This is why the great sports master – Stern – has intervened to insure his young men act right, talk right and play well with others.

While 2007 looms, nearly seven years into a new millenium, the fears presented by race still linger. We are still impacted by a centuries old lack of compassion and true acceptance.

African American young men remain the nation’s least educated, least employed and most jailed group of citizens. They also remain the least understood. Too many of them believe sports and entertainment are the only viable legal options to obtaining the “American Dream”. And for too many fans, uniforms and stage gear are the only things that seem to fit the stereotyped notion of what a successful black man should look like.

Thus, the problem is ours – to get over, once and for all. All of us. From the players who act out, to the authority figures who crack down, to the fans who seem to expect nothing better, we all need to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Because until we do we will never be able to deal with it.


Another Brawl – And Hypocrisy Reigns

December 18, 2006

How the NBA honchos hand down penalties and punishment for the brawl between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets at Madison Square Garden the other night will go a long way toward determining what they learned if anything from the infamous Pistons-Pacers brawl of two years ago. Let’s start from the beginning. The Knicks Mardy Collins fouls the Nuggets J.R. Smith hard as he goes in for a layup/dunk. The ensuing confrontation led to a brawl that quickly got out of hand. But the brawl may have actually begun before the first blows were thrown, when Knicks coach Isiah Thomas allegedly “warned” Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony not to drive the paint. At that point the Knicks were being blown out and embarrased yet again at home with time running out in the fourth quarter while Denver’s starters were still in the game.

Athlete fights are always interesting in slow motion review. The replay allows us to opine from on high what really happened and how those angry players should have responded. The replay doesn’t take us into the huddle where perhaps the call for retribution for the embarrassment was demanded. What price should Isiah Thomas pay for allowing his players to mete out punishment? And why should Carmelo Anthony get singled out for increased punishment for sucker-punching Mardy Collins, when clearly, tackling and wrestling were going between several other players on both teams at the same time?

If this were ice hockey or major league baseball our view of this brawl might be totally different. In baseball when one player is hit by a pitch, invariably the “code” demands retribution by the opposing pitcher to hit the offending team’s first batter. This “code” is understood and accepted as being “part of the game.” The code is also sanctioned by the manager. Still bench clearing brawls usually follow despite the code. In hockey an unskilled “goon” is often called upon by his coach to put a “hit” on the opposing star who is scoring too much. Fights and occasional muggings are an accepted part of the NHL culture. Still, when the goon attacks the star usually a melee erupts and benches also clear. In both baseball and hockey though the fights and retribution come to an end and the next day the sun rises and fans return for more.

So what was different at Madison Square Garden? What is the “code” in the NBA? And why do so many people react with apparent shock and horror when basketball players “lose it”? NBA Commissioner David Stern has been tough on the behavior and etiquette of the league’s players. Obviously, Stern is keenly aware of the double standard applied to the players in his league. What makes the violence of basketball players so much worse? Its a retorical question. We really know why. Its still hard to take any sort of misbehavior from this still mostly black league. Black men out of control. Its an outrage. Let hypocrisy reign.