So Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart received a three-game suspension for shoving a middle-aged Texas Tech fan who called him a “piece of crap.” That was the party line agreed upon by everyone Sunday, from the player and fan intimately involved to the Big 12 conference offices up the track. Investigations were completed. A video shot from what looked like Mission: Impossible-level equipment was produced to bolster the narrative. Everyone was determined to respond fast and to forget what happened faster.
“This is not how I (conduct) myself,” Smart said at a news conference Sunday evening, less than 24 hours after the incident with Red Raiders fan Jeff Orr. “This is not how this program is run. This is not how I was raised. I let my emotions get the best of me. Just can’t let that happen again. It’s something I have to learn from -- the consequences that are coming with it, I’m taking full responsibility. No fingers are pointing. This is all upon me.”
Here’s betting that Marcus Smart will change, that the suspension lets some air in the room and a frustrated sophomore star learns to channel his passion more constructively. Here’s betting that Jeff Orr will change, that he will return from his – chortle, cough, snort – “voluntary” time away from any Texas Tech basketball games and stick with PG-rated heckling next season.
And here’s betting that ends the list of changes.
The call for a reexamination of fan behavior and how players and fans interact is noble and justified. And no matter what happened with 6.2 seconds left in Lubbock on Saturday night (below), it’s unfortunately an exercise in tilting at windmills. No one is willing to hear it. The intensely visceral and entrenched reaction to the Smart/Orr incident suggested that much. The flume of declarations about which side was blameless was a shade of the blind zeal that causes some fans to say really, really nasty things and not feel all that bad about it.
It is reality even if it’s a shame, because there’s a discussion about workplace environment, for lack of a better term, to be had. This would be a group of unpaid laborers, and maybe it’s fair to ask just what level of behavior they’re entitled to expect in hostile territory – but more importantly what responsibility schools bear to prevent them from being declared pieces of “crap,” besides some warnings on the back of a ticket stub and a pregame announcement about sportsmanship that might as well be delivered in Urdu.
Just one week earlier and hundreds of miles away from Lubbock, a Wisconsin student sat on his friend’s shoulders wearing an adult diaper as an Ohio State player shot free throws at the Kohl Center. That’s hilariously fair game. A grown man telling a soon-to-be 20-year-old that he is a “piece of crap” seems like despicable behavior -- no matter how far it is from the racial epithet that both Orr and Texas Tech insisted never happened.
“We talked to our players a lot, especially lately about playing within the lines and not worrying about fans or referees,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said Sunday. “Worry about the things that you can control, and our team needs to be a better job of that… I’ve spent an enormous amount of time talking about how to handle a situation like (hostile crowds). I haven’t spent an enormous amount of time talking about that particular situation. But maybe because of fans being closer, that becomes a part of the game and we see it all the time.”
They will, because if there are ushers or security personnel at a given game, they aren’t going to act like schoolmarms patrolling the aisles. If there aren’t ushers or security, schools probably won’t want to pay for them. Even more cynically, telling the home fans to keep it civil adversely affects the chances of the home team winning. Just guessing that coaches and administrators will take their chances on kids not laying hands on fans on the road, so they can benefit from the same hotheaded ticket-holder behavior at home.
Had Marcus Smart sent a dart of abuse back to Jeff Orr and walked away, Jeff Orr probably returns to his seat at the next Texas Tech home game and sets about mocking or degrading teenagers without a hint of good humor. Now that he won’t, someone else will, because what’s the worst that can happen? He gets shoved and puts out a statement and watches a few games on his flat screen? It’s almost that the Smart/Orr confrontation wasn’t serious enough to represent a watershed. It’s a mouthy adult and an impassioned young adult and a mistake that will slide out of consciousness by midweek. Either Jeff Orr was a jerk or Marcus Smart was a jerk and no one was budging off that from the start. No one will change because no one sees the need to.
“This is a great opportunity for Marcus to learn, for me to learn, for coach Ford, for every member of the team, for every other athlete and every other coach at our institution, and for sure our fan base,” Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder said. “Let’s be respectful when visiting teams come into our stadiums and our venues. Let’s be good sports across the board. Not just as athletes, but as coaches and fans. It’s a great opportunity.” It’s a nice thought, and it will be shouted down as soon as the next game tips off.