Ugly displays of ‘fandom’ underline need to show restraint, respect in college athletics

mendozafanspiritSaying it was a bad weekend for college basketball fandom would be a vast understatement.

Saturday, Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart garnered a slew of national attention after he went into the crowd to shove a Texas Tech fan at a game in Lubbock, Texas. Sunday, Big 12 officials announced that Smart would be suspended for three games.

Later Saturday evening, an ASU student spat on members of the University of Oregon coaching staff moments after the end of a close game at Wells Fargo Arena.

 
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The incident seemed to be the aftermath of a play in the first half in which Oregon senior guard Jason Calliste hit the deck hard and felt he was fouled. Calliste walked off the foul near his bench and had an exchange with an ASU fan in the student section before an assistant coach pulled him away.

It was an ugly incident that was overshadowed nationally by Smart’s actions, but it certainly hit Sun Devil Nation close to home.

Both incidents underscore the need for fans to reassess their roles and actions, especially in college athletics where the players are considered amateurs and where the reputation of a whole university is at stake.

Purchasing a ticket to the game buys you a seat in the arena, not the right to verbally accost or spit on the other team’s players and coaches.

Spitting on another human just because he is on the other team is the second-worst thing a fan could do, and ASU athletics did the right thing by banning the student from games at Wells Fargo Arena.

Hopefully the student, and any others like him, will learn from the incident and realize that our university doesn’t need anymore bad press and that our sporting events don’t need people acting like animals and potentially deterring fans who are there to enjoy the energy and support ASU.

Actions like these will give opposing teams the incentive to question our whole operation and ultimately lead to a situation that we are all familiar with from elementary school where one or two bad seeds ruin recess for us all.

Meanwhile, the absolute worst thing a fan can do is yell a racial slur at another human because he is on the other team, which is exactly what Smart accused the Texas Tech fan of doing just before Smart pushed him.

Jeff Orr, the Texas Tech “super fan” who instigated Smart, said he did not utter a racial slur but admitted to calling Smart a “piece of crap.” A video may or may not confirm Orr’s claims, but Orr has voluntarily agreed not to attend another Texas Tech game, home or away, for the rest of the season, according to a statement on Texas Tech’s website.

“Mr. Orr has admitted to directing an inappropriate phrase toward Marcus Smart. Texas Tech has been able to verify that statement independently through video provided by Texas Tech Sports Broadcasting. At no point on the film can a racial slur be heard,” the statement read.

So he is exonerated just because he isn’t that terrible of a person? Not in my book.

Orr, who has been caught on video making crude gestures to other players, was called out by former Oklahoma State guard John Lucas III and Dick Vitale, among others, and his voluntary suspension, as well as his apology, just isn’t enough.

Texas Tech should have reacted the same way ASU did and permanently banned Orr from games at United Spirit Arena. A move like that would’ve sent a clear message to super fans like Orr, who, based on his repeated actions, has no business being at college sporting events in the first place.

Of course Smart was wrong to go into the stands, but his actions aren’t the issue here, and in light of the situation, I can’t say I blame him for acting out. I also certainly can’t say I would have acted differently.

Frankly, Orr probably got what has been coming to him for years and he is probably lucky it wasn’t worse.

What is for certain is that fans, even super fans, need to realize that their actions reflect on a whole community. This rings even more true in college sports, and our athletes and universities deserve better.

Maybe when college athletes start getting paid, this will be a different conversation. But until then, they are amateurs and deserve better than to be the subject of your ire.

Reach the reporter at npmendo@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NPMendoza