Fighting In Sports
Imagine David Ortiz is purposely hit in the ribs by a 98 mph fastball two innings after a Red Sox pitcher beaned a batter of the opposing team.
Benches would clear. Words would be exchanged, and if it's anything like last week's Red Sox-Rays scuffle, some serious hay-makers would be landed.
But there's nothing wrong with that is there? That's just the way the good ole game is played. That's baseball policing itself right?
Popular culture wouldn't be indicted as a cause for the outburst of sudden rage. The Rolling Stones' "Start me Up" wouldn't be dissected to glean patterns of violence and explain why Big Papi took one in the ribs.
There would't be any outrage on media outlets, and fans on sports talk radio and message boards wouldn't spew vitriolic and empty rhetoric about "inmates running the asylum."
And at the end of the day, Ortiz's teammates would be extolled for their support of their comrade.
The word "thug" would likely never come up.
Now switch leagues.
Would there be the same reaction if we were talking about the NBA? What if members of the Denver Nuggets left the bench in defense of teammate Allen Iverson after a hard foul?
In that scenario, those players coming to the aid of their teammate will have committed the worst sin ever â€” in the history of the universe.
How did we arrive at this point? Why is it that the reaction to the occasional team brawl or player skirmish is vastly different for two of America's most popular sports?
The answer is obvious, but you might not like it.
The divide begins and ends with a simple fact â€” most of the players in the NBA are young, black males, while most of the players in the major leagues are not.
That may seem to be an overly-simplistic and extremely flammable hypothesis, but every other plausible explanation is easily rebuked.
Baseball fights are typically brushed off as the sport policing itself. But if baseball players police themselves, why are there league officials and umpires who put rules in place and enforce those rules.
Somehow a batter admiring a home run too long breaks some unwritten rule of baseball, and the penalty is usually a baseball in the back or butt from the offended pitcher.
That is beyond ridiculous. Sounds like something a 12-year-old would do.
While that kind of behavior is excusable, NBA dust-ups are often explained as inexscusable because of the fans' proximity to the court. Fights on the floor could endanger someone sitting nearby.
I'm really not buying this one either. In the last 20 years there have been two serious incidents involving players going into the stands. In 1994, Rockets guard Vernon Maxwell went into the stands in Portland and beat up a fan who had been berating him â€” and his ill daughter â€” all night. Maxwell received, at the time, the largest fine and second-longest suspension in NBA history.
The other instance was the Pistons-Pacers fight in 2004 that admittedly was a very ugly scene. However, it wasn't the end-of-the-world, apocalyptic event that it was portrayed as. It was a confluence of drunk fans, frustrated Pistons and something Chris Rock likes to call "crazy," in reference to Ron Artest.
Ninenty-nine percent of the time an NBA player wouldn't think of going into the stands, certainly no less than a baseball player would.
Here's the reality.
The disconnect between NBA players and the NBA's season-ticket holders â€” who are overwhelmingly older and white â€” is as deep and vast as a black hole.
There's more focus on players' tattoos, their piercings, their skin color and their expressions more than any other sport. That draws out otherwise latent (or not so latent) racist tendencies. It's almost subconscious.
So when two NBA players go at it, the image immediately conjures thoughts of a street fight. The tattoos and corn-rows makes it near impossible to see it as boys just being boys.
Media portrayals paint the picture.
A story from the aforementioned Red Sox-Rays fight received a headline of "Red Sox find Rays fit to fight" from Yahoo! Sports. Yahoo! writer Jeff Passan said "Brawling and verbal grenades and unfinished business only add intrigue, making the Red Sox and Rays â€“ dare we go here? â€“ the most interesting AL East matchup this season."
No mention of hip-hop lyrics or a decaying culture or lack of father-figures, both of which became part of the dialog following the Pistons-Pacers fight.
Now, juxtapose the Red Sox-Rays Yahoo! story with the headline from USA Today in 2006 after a fight involving the Denver Nuggets and the New York Knicks.
"Wild brawl mars Nuggets-Knicks game", the headline read.
I don't agree with much of what she says, but ESPN Page 2 columnist Jamelle Hill succinctly makes the point.
"It is what it is. A NASCAR guy can drop-kick another driver through his car window and it is just considered part of the sport. Hockey players drop their sticks and pound on one another on a regular basis and no one dares blame it on anything other than just a boiling, competitive spirit. When NASCAR drivers blast one another with their cars out of anger it isn't symptomatic of what's wrong with white people. So please don't turn a silly NBA fight into a town hall meeting about what's wrong with African Americans â€” even though, unfortunately, something like this somehow winds up reflecting poorly on the entire black community."