Michigan law is now taking a punch at the celebrated basketbrawlers whose fights in the stands and on the court did so much last month in Detroit to tarnish the image of the National Basketball Association.
Players Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony Johnson were each charged with one count of assault and battery, a misdemeanor that could put them in the slammer for three months, plus a token $500 fine. Player Jermaine O'Neal was charged with two counts of the same offense.
Six of the seven fans in the brawl face the same charges and penalties, except for Bryant Jackson who could be sentenced up to four years in prison for allegedly hurling a chair.
For fans, at least some of them, the fine could hurt. The toughest punishment for the players is the NBA suspensions, which are costing them tens of millions of dollars, plus a shot at playoff money. That will hurt. And we hope the NBA doesn't back down and lift the suspensions early.
Even so, the legal charges make an important point. A professional sports arena is not off-limits to the law. If you behave like a thug there, be you fan or athlete, you'll have to answer to the courts just as anywhere else. No one's above the law, nor should he be.
During an era of increased violence in sports, that's a good message to get out there.
Also, the brawlers are on notice that if they trigger another near-riot, their punishment will be a lot more severe next time. Civilized society is getting fed up with sporting events being turned into gang warfare.
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