Fan’s behavior is a bigger problem than Smart’s shove
As recently as November, Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Marcus Smart was the king of college basketball. As one of the few who denied the allure of the NBA to come back and play more college basketball, Smart was a sure-fire top-three pick at the end of last season, but he decided to stay in college for a number of reasons.
In an era where NBA players are only required to attend one year of college, stars staying multiple years is a rarity. The money and glamour the NBA provides is often enough to get many players to leave after just one year, especially a player with Smart’s talent.
At the beginning of the year, Smart played excellently, surpassing the hype surrounding incoming first-years like Kansas Jayhawks forward Andrew Wiggins and Duke Blue Devils forward Jabari Parker. There was talk that the player who decided to stay an extra year in college could go first in the draft.
As the season progressed, however, and as college coaches did everything they could to stop Smart, they slowed his play. He turned from an unknown quantity with no ceiling to a player of measurable talent.
This quantity is not an indictment of the level of basketball he plays. A known quantity, however, always seems less valuable than the shiny new stars no one really knows much about. Smart has struggled lately as the season comes to a close, and the player who was a potential top-three pick a season ago has been in danger of falling outside of the top 10.
Now he’s in danger of falling out of the first round.
Smart just received a three-game suspension for shoving Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr as a game drew to a close. Two different versions of the story exist. Orr claims he called Smart a “piece of crap.” Smart claims Orr uttered a racial slur.
The truth is probably somewhere in between, but no one seems to care. Many writers have come down hard on Smart, saying the suspension is not enough. Some even say he should be banned from the NCAA or forbidden from entering the NBA draft. He has been painted as a picture of the entitlement of college basketball players and young athletes in general.
These people are missing the point. What we do know is that someone said something unsavory to Smart, who then got frustrated and pushed the fan. There are two people involved in this story, and most people have been focusing on the wrong one.
I’m not going to go into detail on Smart’s life story because it’s not my story to tell. What I do know about Smart is that he’s 19. I’m also 19. I get frustrated and yell when I play pick-up games in Wiegand Gymnasium. I can’t tell how well I would restrain myself if my future depended on every one of these games.
To put this situation into context, a 50-year-old man cursed or — if one were to believe Smart’s version of the story — directed much worse language at Smart. The general consensus has somehow been that Smart did something horrible and deserves punishment. Smart shoving a fan looks bad for the game, and a small suspension seems about right, but why is the focus on Smart? The absolute lack of maturity shown by a 50-year-old man is a much worse transgression than a fit of anger from a 19-year-old. There needs to be some recourse against someone who decides it is okay to walk into an arena where college students are competing in an extracurricular activity and utter a racial slur. Many reports have said Orr told Smart to “go back to Africa,” a sentence far more harmful than any shove. Language like that simply cannot be tolerated, and those who react should not be scapegoated.
To Orr’s credit, he has “suspended” himself for the remainder of the season by saying that he will not go to any more Texas Tech games. However, something should be done about crowd conduct near the court. Racist language near the court has been an issue in basketball in the past, and jawing between players and fans is a common occurrence. If athletes — especially college athletes — are held to such high standards of professionalism, fans should be too. Ejections should be immediate if officials hear discriminatory language based on someone’s race, sexual orientation, or other aspects of their identity.
Smart shoving Orr should not be seen as a product of the entitlement and selfishness of young athletes. It should show that athletes are humans, ones who go through the same emotional trials and tribulations as everyone else as they grow.
The added pressure of being nationally visible just adds another obstacle, and people should be more understanding of incidents like this one. If Orr was hurt, I could understand the backlash. But the shove was benign: No one was injured. Much of the backlash feels like it has a racist undertone, and there needs to be far more acceptance and sympathy shown in similar situations.