My question is does the NCAA start gettin involved in posts on a social media page like this one, Facebook, Twitter, etc? I see some really bad taunts and jeers on social sites all the time. Thankfully, most site admins and moderators are pretty good at policing such things on their own. What about policing bars and other places where people gather to watch games on TV? How far does it go? Let's say I want to plaster a bumper sticker on my car and I pull up in the parking lot at the stadium?
NBA player Jason Collins’ decision this week to announce his homosexuality to the world has been met — mostly — with congratulations and shrugs. Many feel Collins has knocked down yet another barrier in our society. Many others are past the point of worrying what their favorite athletes do behind closed doors.
But some — if the 34-year-old free agent signs with a team this offseason — will no doubt shout heartless/gutless insults at Collins if/when he takes the floor again. Just as sure as the majority of sports fans aren’t heels, there is most definitely a small set of sports fans who are. Why some people feel the need to taunt and harass is beyond me, but anyone who’s ever attended a game knows that some believe ugliness to be a legitimate part of sports.
For those types, Collins might as well wear a “taunt me” sign on his back.
So what does this have to do with the SEC? Well, NCAA president Mark Emmert said yesterday that he’s in favor of penalizing schools whose fans hurl verbal abuse at players because they are different.
Emmert was speaking at an Inclusion Forum in Indianapolis. The goal of the get-together was to urge campus leaders “to make school policies more welcoming for women, minorities, disabled athletes and those with different sexual orientations,” according to ESPN.
When the subject of Collins’ announcement came up, Emmert said:
“At the very least, I hope it does make it much easier for athletes in universities and other environments to be open about it and be supported by their coaching staffs and teammates. We’re talking about a culture change, and it’s slow and arduous, but what I’m seeing on campuses is that the inclusion issues has moved up…
I’m delighted by it. The need for a high-performing athlete to fell he can be open and honest about his sexuality is long overdue.”
First, an admission. My social views are libertarian. I personally don’t care whether a ballplayer is married to a woman, a man, or a maple tree. It’s your life, live it. So when I look at those statements by Emmert, I’m not shocked, aghast or overjoyed. Those statements – those statements — fall right in line with the statements made by most other educated people across the country since Collins’ announcement.
It’s what Emmert later said about sanctioning fan behavior that caused me to perk up.
When someone in the audience in Indianapolis pointed out that female basketball players “seem to be getting singled out” over their gender identities during games, Emmert asked the person what she thought could be done to stop such behavior. The woman suggested schools could be sanctioned for improper fan behavior.
Remarkably, here was Emmert’s response to that notion:
“I would certainly support a proposal that would do that. If that’s a rule that makes sense and there ought to be some sanctioning like that, then I hope the membership brings that forward. I think that would make good sense.”
No. That would most definitely not make sense, much less the good kind.
You can’t legislate thought. Many have tried, to be sure, but to do so is as un-American as whatever the opposite of apple pie is. Would the world be a better place if we had jails for the stupid and prisons for the rude? Abso-frickin-lutely! So long as I’m the guy deciding who’s stupid enough and who’s rude enough to shipped off to the hoosegow. Otherwise, I’d rather not have someone else handing out penalties for what I might choose to say or do.
For those of you who follow English football — anyone? anyone? — you know that there is a serious push to stamp out racism from the game we call soccer. Players are suspended for using racial epithets against one another on the field, er, pitch. More surprisingly, fans who hurl racial abuse at players from the stands have on occasion had their ticket-buying privileges taken away as well.
Now, if some season-ticket holder annoys any and all people around him with the garbage he speaks, ok, I can see how a team could choose not to sell such a person tickets. But what of the usually well-mannered fan who has one too many pints before a match and says something he would never dare say sober… or again? If his one fumbled mumble were heard by an usher, should that man be banned from all games for all time because of — wait for it — a word?
But that’s punishing a person for his dimwittedness. Emmert suggests that an entire school or athletic program could be punished because of the actions of its fans in the stands. Look, it’s one thing to fine a school for fans rushing a field or court and creating a potentially hazardous situation. It’s another to hand out fines or other penalties because a school counts among its fans a few closed-minded, ugly, prejudiced buffoons.
(Sidenote — It’s also possible that some overzealous fans could pose as fans of their rival, shout horrible insults at their own players, in order get their rival school sanctioned. And, yes, I’m looking at you Alabama and Auburn fans.)
Taking the issue further, who decides what is and isn’t offensive enough to earn an NCAA penalty? I think we can assume that slurs dealing with ethnicity and sexual-orientation would be outlawed. Fine. But what if a player is simply mocked for being ugly? Will the Cameron Crazies earn Duke a punishment for rattling their car keys at someone with a traffic violation on his record?
Where exactly is the line and who draws it?
Hey, I’m all for the University of Wyoming having to deal with the disgrace that its fans brought upon that school by chanting the word “alcoholic” at Colorado State basketball coach — and recovering alcoholic — Larry Eustachy this past year. That wasn’t funny. It was cruel and disgusting and it’s shaped my view of that school and, perhaps unfairly, even the people of that state going forward. Isn’t that punishment enough?
Likewise, the name of Arizona State University will forever be tarnished by a group of its fans who once chanted “P-L-O” and “Your father’s history” at Arizona basketballer Steve Kerr… whose father was assassinated in Beirut in 1984. Talk about making reservations for Hell.
But should the NCAA have punished ASU? What better punishment is there than the fact that 25 years after the fact that egregious act is still well-known and still discussed. (Hey, happy to do my part, ASU.)
Oftentimes we toss around “freedom of speech” as a blanket protection to say anything. In reality, that’s not was freedom of speech is. If you make a threat against the President of the United States, you’ll find out just how much freedom of speech you have. If you walk into your place of work tomorrow and call your boss an A-1 Simpleton, you’ll be unemployed before lunchtime. Walk over to your neighbor’s house and call his wife ugly and see if freedom of speech protects you from a black eye.
No, for me, this isn’t about freedom of speech. It’s simply and wholly about what makes sense. Emmert is wrong to suggest that punishing a school for its fans’ words makes sense. It doesn’t.
We live in an age of omnipresent media. Let a person say something imbecilic or cruel or hateful and he’ll have to live with that statement as it bounces around the world via Twitter, text messages, and cell phone video. When a school’s fans offend the masses, the school will suffer. There will already be “punishment” without Emmert and his NCAA cronies rushing in to pile on (as they did at Penn State).
There’s no need to bring in the Thought Police. The Court of Public Opinion will most assuredly rule on the offensive acts of fanbases who toss verbal bombs at those with different skin tones and different sexual preferences.
That’s punishment enough.