Violence in Sports ‘s hard-hitting demand to clean up sportsmanship.

North County 5/25/94


The violent nature in sports today must stop. It has reached the saturation point, and is getting uglier by the incident. The chance for those in charge to quell the rise of this behavior is fleeting; and the only way to prevent serious injury, irreversible damage, or even a law suit that could shake the foundation of a league, is to stop it completely.

There is hardly a day that goes by without a disgusting display of poor sportsmanship and childish machismo that results in a rampageous fight or all-out brawl. The evening highlight shows are filled with these incidents; and although the well-meaning talking heads tell you how awful it all is, their attention inadvertently sanctions this behavior.

Toughness and heart is one thing; but it’s beyond that now, and there is an underlying fear among league officials of amateur and pro sports that this spreading disease is incurable. Fines and suspensions are tantamount to putting a band aid on a gaping wound. It’s time to stop the bleeding for good.

It’s time for the leagues, the NCAA, and even the Athletic Directors at High Schools everywhere to step in and stop it now. At some point, before it’s too late, some player committing a violent act during a game must be punished severally. Someone must become an example.

College and pro football defensive backs standing over the prone body of a felled opponent, wagging their fingers down at him. Hockey defensemen swinging their sticks at the back of an unsuspecting winger’s head. Major League pitchers using the baseball as a weapon, promoting mound-rushing mayhem. Useless trash talking and taunting after nearly every foul and basket in the NBA. This has got to come to an abrupt halt. Something bad is going to happen soon. Real bad.

Two rounds of NBA play-offs, and every game has some sort of altercation. Some have led to bench-clearing brawls like in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, and most recently in the always vicious Bulls/Knicks rivalry in Chicago. The sight of benches-clearing bodies flailing into the crowd with security guards and police rushing in is all too familiar.

If the league wants to let play-off basketball run its course and sanction a “let ‘em play” attitude, then they can expect this problem to escalate. Watching a good, rough-and-tumble pro basketball game used to be fun. But slowly it has become a series of personal battles for manhood and territory. The league calls it a “heated reaction to big-game pressure,” but in reality it is a drop in the quality of play. There is simply too many players with big egos, and bigger mouths, pushing each other over the edge.

The NHL once reached that edge, but within the last couple of years the league has taken a tougher stance on stick work and “third man in” fights. In fact, there have been twice as many embarrassing incidents in basketball, a proposed “non-contact sport,” than in the world’s most violent one. Twenty years ago, hockey had deteriorated into a bloody fight fest where only the biggest and meanest could survive. It wasn’t until the league realized that a star like Wayne Gretzky had to be protected. Only then did the slow cleanup begin. It may have saved the sport.

The most inexcusable trend in bench-clearing brawls these days occurs too often in baseball. During the last two seasons the amount of fights on the diamond have been unprecedented. The art of pitching inside is dead, because even a close call ends up causing a mass of bodies piled up in the middle of the field. Baseball itself has its share of taunting, with hitters admiring their home runs and trotting slowly around the bases. Pitchers retaliate by knocking batters down or staring down their strikeout victims. More macho garbage.

The participants can no longer carry the burden of controlling themselves. The policies and officiating have given them enough rope, and they continue to hang themselves with it. The coaches and managers are no help. They will take the rules as they are, and try to exploit them. During the Bulls/Knicks series, New York head coach, Pat Riley, a man who ten years ago cried foul when the Boston Celtics were pushing his team around, sent his muscle men onto the court to intimidate Phil Jackson, who had four different centers use six fouls to bang Patrick Ewing all over the place. The Bulls coach then spent the entire series whining that the Knicks were too physical. Finding a way to bend the rules is part of coaching. To expect these men to take a stand is laughable.

It’s time for the leagues, the NCAA, and even the Athletic Directors at High Schools everywhere to step in and stop it now. At some point, before it’s too late, some player committing a violent act during a game must be punished severally. Someone must become an example.

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Any player leaving the bench must be penalized, and not just with a huge fine, but a lengthy suspension and a warning of expulsion. Nobody wants to lose a job, or scholarship, or current standing on the team. Owners of franchises must pay through the nose as well. Slap a monster fine on an organization for one of these riots, and just watch things calm down.

It is a violent society in which we live; and the world of sports sometimes reflects it all too clearly. It is a frightening picture coming into focus. The time has come to put the brakes on, before it’s too late.

Sports may have always been about toughness and heart. Being tough and being stupid is the difference here. And allowing stupidity to stand in the place of toughness is the problem.

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