Lost in the cavalcade of news and views over Marcus Smart's three-game suspension was this nugget from the Big 12 Conference.
In the news release announcing Smart's punishment for shoving Texas Tech meathead Jeff Orr, commissioner Bob Bowlsby said this: “Mr. Smart's actions were a clear violation of the Big 12 Conference's sportsmanship and ethical conduct policy. Such behavior has no place in athletics and will not be tolerated.”
Bowlsby said the magic word. Sportsmanship. He introduced sportsmanship into the equation.
You've got to be kidding.
Smart should have been suspended and was suspended because you've got to maintain order. You've got to send the message that athletes cannot physically accost fans. That's a line that cannot be crossed, no matter what idiotic or vile thing is said.
But the Big 12 looks foolish playing the sportsmanship card. No one buys that. The Big 12, and every other major conference, far as I can tell, long ago raised the white flag on sportsmanship. Or common decency, which is much the same thing.
The Big 12 has shown no inclination to motivate fans to behave.
The mob mentality at sporting events long has been a problem. People who otherwise would never think of chanting vulgarities or calling someone off-color names suddenly become raving lunatics at ballgames.
Some historians say such behavior has been with us since the Roman Coliseum days. Some sociologists say it's not just a sports problem; that the mob mentality has inflicted society for centuries. That in some ways it's inherent in us. Remember “Lord of the Flies”?
That's how you explain Orr going from belligerent psycho to contrite humanitarian. Removed from the anonymity and comfort of the crowd, Orr is exposed.
Maybe Orr suddenly realized that he had stepped into the public marketplace himself, had gone from heckler to scrutinized. Realized that suddenly America could ask why it's acceptable for a 52-year-old air traffic controller to call, at best, a college basketball player a “piece of crap.” Realized that a lot of us ask why we're stepping onto airplanes if our safety is in the hands of a knucklehead with judgment like this.
Remember the great scene from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” when the lynch mob assembles to grab Tom Robinson. And Atticus Finch's little girl, the unforgettable Scout, diffuses the crowd by calling one of the mob leaders by name.
“Hey, Mr. Cunningham, how's your entailment gettin' along?” Scout asks. “Don't you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I'm Jean Louise Finch. You brought us some hickory nuts one morning. Remember? I go to school with your boy. I go to school with Walter.”
Mr. Cunningham lost his anonymity. Lost the comfort of the crowd. His humanity had been restored. He walked away in shame.
So, too, has Jeff Orr. Unfortunately, Marcus Smart had to pay a big price to expose the buffoonery sitting in the Texas Tech stands.
It shouldn't have to come to that. College sports should not condone, even at times encourage, such a culture.
But it does. At the school level. At the conference level. At the NCAA level.
Last week, I ended up at the OU-West Virginia basketball game in Morgantown.
At various times, West Virginia fans serenaded the arena with chants of “bull****.” Ridiculous. But nothing we haven't heard before at most every college arena.
But the Mountaineers have upped the ante. They periodically chanted “***hole,” at a referee, I assume, though sometimes it was hard to tell.
Hmm. Where was the Big 12's sportsmanship policy then? I mean, it's hard to police one particular goofball sitting behind the basket. The right person has to hear him at the right time just to think about doing something.
But a chorus of thousands? That's easy to police. That's easy to reign in.
Blow a whistle. Call a technical. Let the visitors shoot foul shots until the crowd decides to behave. That's easy to fix.
And it helps change the culture.
Society doesn't allow that kind of behavior at the mall. Or at town hall meetings. Heck, political conventions don't even stoop to such mob mentality, and those people are crazy.
But we let it go in sports. We enable the mob mentality, then are aghast when it bleeds into disorder and tell Marcus Smart he's broken some kind of sportsmanship code.
It's easy to know why schools and the Big 12 and the NCAA don't step in.
First, they don't want to anger coaches. Coaches run college basketball; they're not to be bucked. And coaches don't want technical fouls soiling their game.
But even worse, college basketball faces a rough marketplace. It's difficult enticing people to the games. Alienating the fans who do show up is not good promotion. Salesmanship trumps sportsmanship.
And having a rabid crowd is a source of pride for most schools.
Rowdy fans are not a new phenomenon. Missouri's Antlers have been a pain to visiting teams and the Mizzou administration since the mid-1970s. Heck, when I was in high school in Norman in 1978, the principal disbanded a group called Section 7, a group of rambunctious students who chanted untoward things (but not vulgarities).
It's all about what you allow. Most places don't set limits. Some do.
Did you see Desmond Mason's response after Smart said Orr used a racial slur? Mason said he heard racial slurs every time he played in Lubbock. But he never heard them at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas has set a standard.
Back in 1995, KU and OSU played a season-ending game that would determine the Big Eight title. Kansas smothered Bryant Reeves, Big Country didn't even score and the Jayhawks won going away.
Late in the game, the KU students started chanting “Reeves has zero! Reeves has zero!” Not vulgar. Not personal. Just sort of the truth.
Kansas coach Roy Williams stood up and motioned for the students to cut it out. Williams and Kansas practiced a standard of sportsmanship.
These days, the Big 12 just talks about it.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.