Friday night saw one of the most appalling displays of sports-induced violence in recent history when a brawl erupted between Indiana Pacers players and fans at Detroit’s Palace of Auburn Hills. Nine players were suspended for a total of at least 143 games after several of them entered the stands, provoked by a fan throwing a drink at Pacers player Ron Artest.
The players’ union is already screaming “excessive,” but NBA Commissioner David Stern was on the mark with his disciplinary actions – if not a little easy on the players. Stern has expressed great disgust toward the offending players and Pistons fans alike and rightly acknowledges that in today’s society of prima donna athletes, violence and crude behavior have become accepted as just another part of the game.
Stern’s biggest sentences – Artest’s suspension for the remainder of the season, Stephen Jackson’s 30 games and Jermaine O’Neal’s 25 games – are acceptable. Given Artest’s history of erratic, violent behavior and previous disciplinary action, Stern would have been justified removing him from the NBA entirely. Jackson and O’Neal’s involvement was particularly gratuitous, as they were not assaulted by the fan in the first place.
The fans at the Palace who initiated and perpetuated the fight are equally as guilty. Just as the players breached the “invisible barrier” between themselves and the stands, the fans’ mob mentality was utterly out of control. If security and police officers can identify those who took part in the brawl, those fans should be prosecuted for their civil and criminal offenses.
They endangered many other fans and players when they chose to act on their far-too-emotional instincts. Police think they have identified the man who started the fight by throwing his drink and, thankfully, criminal charges will be considered.
Today’s sports could be controlled better – especially those at indoor venues. Detroit has already added security
to its arena, and Stern has promised a full review of procedures from arena security to alcohol sales at NBA games. They are on the right track – but they should not have to worry about players and true fans contributing to such mindless violence.