In the harshest penalties ever handed down by the National Basketball Association, nine players have been suspended for more than 140 games as a result of several Indiana Pacers charging into the stands to fight Detroit Piston fans in Detroit Friday night.
Less than 24 hours later, legendary football coach Lou Holtz ended his final game on the ugliest note of his decades-long career, when his thoroughly beaten South Carolina Gamecocks - after trash-talking and bad-mouthing their Clemson Tiger opponents all afternoon long - launched a fist-swinging brawl in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
It would be bad enough if these were isolated incidents, but they aren't. They're symptomatic of the coarsening of our culture. Can you imagine such things happening a generation ago?
Unnecessary, dangerous violence in Detroit and Clemson were simply the two most publicized incidents of uncivilized sports conduct over the weekend, but not the worst. That would have to go to the Wisconsin deer hunter who shot and killed five people and injured three others following a dispute over a tree stand.
More evidence that civilized conduct is being defined downward: the video game released this week, on the 41st anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, that has players replicating Lee Harvey Oswald's three fatal shots.
As our culture sinks further into vulgarity every day, we should not be surprised at reports like that just released by Richmond County schools, showing that student assaults on teachers are on the rise. Who says young people can't learn? They're learning very well from the social conduct that surrounds them.
Athletes involved in the basketball and football melees deserve whatever punishment they get. The NBA players, in particular, warrant maximum punishment for charging the fans.
To be sure, fans are not exemplars of innocence - they should be removed from the arena, prosecuted and banned from future games, if need be, for their misconduct. And they're just the worst: You can see examples of boorish, if not dangerous, fan behavior at nearly every sporting event today.
But that's still no justification for players charging into the stands as the Pacers' Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal did.
Artest drew the stiffest penalty - suspended the rest of the season without pay, essentially a $5 million fine. Hopefully, he'll pay even more when he's hauled into court by the hapless fan he beat up - a man, as it turns out, who may have done nothing to provoke the attack.
Artest, who's been in trouble with the league time and again, is a perfect example of what's wrong with many NBA players today. Some may have the talent of a Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, but not the character. They are arrogant, spoiled multimillionaires with a hateful, anti-social "street" attitude.
Some of these thugs might be in prison today were it not for an extraordinary ability to run, pass, catch and shoot baskets. The NBA is losing a lot of fans because of these anti-social misfits - and no doubt more will be lost after Friday's shame.
Uncivilized athletes should not be allowed to play civilized games.
Uncivilized fans need to be shown the same door.
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