You know the difference between pro basketball and pro wrestling?
In pro basketball, the fighting is real.
All 10 players on the floor at the Denver Nuggets'-New York Knicks' game Saturday night at Madison Square Garden were ejected after another ugly National Basketball Association brawl. At one point, two fighting players spilled into the stands.
In 2004, Indiana Pacers player Ron Artest attacked a fan in the stands after believing the man had thrown a beer at him during an on-court dispute. Artest had the wrong guy - and then proceeded to punch another fan on the court. Artest was suspended for the year, 73 regular-season games in all, for the ugliest incident in NBA history and perhaps the vilest in American sports.
The brawl Saturday night - for which seven players were suspended multiple games - only added to the NBA's thuggish image. But in truth, thuggish behavior is rampant in most sports at many levels.
Why? We can guess.
It's likely that once athletes got the green light to taunt and trash each other verbally, then all bets were off, sportsmanship was out the window and physical violence was inevitable. Upon inspection, you will find that trash-talking underlies many of the ignoble incidents we see today - including on-court and off-court unpleasantries at the debacle in Detroit, and in the infamous head-butting in the World Cup soccer championship.
On Sunday, NBC-TV read a short essay by Augusta State University college student Angelique Jordan as part of the "The More You Know" series. In a Chronicle story Sunday, Jordan said, "I don't know if celebrities realize that people watch them and look up to them, and when they say, 'Don't drink and drive' or something like that, their fans are listening to them."
Conversely, when they say or do something harmful or worthy of contempt, that, too, is copied by fans - particularly younger ones.
Thus, thuggish behavior has, for years, been trickling down to college and even youth sports. Taunting and other unsportsmanlike behavior have become common in sports at all levels - among both participants and their parents in the stands.
We wish all professional, college and high school sports would crack down once and for all on trash-talking and taunting, which create an environment for violence.
We also urge all adult leaders of youth sports to cling tightly to standards of sportsmanship, and require honorable behavior by all their young athletes and fans.
There are resources out there: Check out "Pursuing Victory with Honor," and the "Gold Medal Standards for Youth Sports" at www.charactercounts.org/sports/youth-sports-summit.htm.
In addition, information on the Arizona Sports Summit of 1999 is at www.charactercounts.org/sports/accord.htm.
A child may have to lead us. We may have to give up on the adults in American sports today and starting rebuilding character in sports from the ground up.
We hope that's not the case. We hope leaders of all major sports will come together to initiate a zero-tolerance policy for violence in sport, both physical and verbal.
Words do matter.