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.