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Monday, November 22, 2004

Ain't no riot/Like a De-troit riot/'Cause a De-troit riot/Don't. Stop.

Or so goes the swelling chorus about the truly shameful melee at the Pistons-Pacers game last Friday. The Volokh Conspiracy offers typical insights. While he makes fair points, it would, however, have been nice had the commentator noted a cardinal rule for athletes saddled with unruly fans:



But more about that later.

Accounts of the brawl literally imitate the Hanson brothers' offensive into the stands in Slap Shot. Media reports indicate that Pacer forward Ron Artest greeted the first fellow five rows up with "Are you the one who threw it? Did you do it?" in between a rain of blows. The fellow, approximately 5'8" and wearing glasses that made him look like Mr. Whipple without the advanced MPB, said "no" and video footage confirms that the only thing he was guilty of was being the first guy Mr. Artest got his hands on.

I smell a quick settlement.

I have considerably less sympathy for the dumbass in the Pistons jersey who confronted Artest on the court. The only regret is that the Pacer forward was unable to land a telling blow on the idiot, who was interviewed later and had no credible explanation for why he went down to the floor.

Kiss those season tickets goodbye, buttercup. And rightly so. Actually, the Oakland County Prosecutor and Auburn Hills police are probably very interested in addressing your behavior, from all accounts. As of Sunday, 90% of the rotten fans had been identified, including the first beer thrower. Here's hoping the day's news brings word of "fan" arrests.

Moving on to the centerpiece of this post....Speaking as a transplanted Detroiter who works in the City, I humbly offer the following suggestion to those inclined to pen blanket descriptions of "Detroit fans":

(1) Take a deep breath;
(2) Stick a thumb in your mouth;
(3) Make sure your lips form a good seal around the thumb; and
(4) Blow it out your tailpipe.

We've been carrying the burden of the riot following the 1984 World Series, immortalized by the photograph of Kenneth "Bubba" Helms holding up a pennant in front of a burning vehicle (Helms tragically committed suicide in 2001). Since then, Detroit teams have won three NBA and three NHL championships, the region has hosted several games in the 1994 World Cup, an NCAA basketball tournament regional in 2000 and this year the Ryder Cup. Total number of violent incidents since 1984 as a result of major sporting events?


That's "zero," "zip," or "zilch" to the Yiddish-impaired.

Anybody besides me remember that someone got killed in the rioting--as in police-using-tear-gas rioting--following the Red Sox triumph over the Yankees this year? Has it been turned into some metanarrative about What Is Wrong With Boston?, or ruminations about The Condition of Beantown's Soul? If so, I missed it.

Anyone recall the two drunks attacking the Royals' first base coach on the field at a White Sox game in 2002? [If you said "yes," you're lying.] I can't recall hand-wringing essays screaming J'accuse! at the Windy City.

How about the riots following the second Colorado Avalanche championship in 2001? Which were rather like the riots following the first Avs title in 1996, alas. Should I bring up the Larimer Square unrest following both Bronco Super Bowl wins? Denver: Stain on the Nation? Can't recall that column.

In none of the cases should such essays have been written, of course. Because unruly fans are, and always have been, a feature of all the major team sports. They come with the territory, unfortunately.

But somehow, if doofuses (or is that doofi?) toss beer and get into scrums with athletes at a Detroit game, well, that's different. It's "Detroit, Punk City."

Get a grip. The fans deserve to be punished, but the players escalated the situation into a brawl--a brawl that says more about Mr. Artest than it does about metropolitan Detroit. I'll let Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz have the final word:

Human nature being what it is, people now will quibble about the specifics of the penalties, scream that Wallace started it and the fans got out of hand.
Here is what we can't forget. They went into the stands. What Artest and his teammates did was patently unforgivable. We may understand their reaction on a very human level; who wouldn't confront some clod who douses them with a beer? But dealing with abuse is an unfortunate part of the job.
At some level, the Pacers have themselves to blame, because they're the ones who continued to keep Artest rather than trade him. They knew he was a time bomb. They knew his peculiar brand of madness might undermine his team. But they knew he could play, and they stayed the course, no matter how many times he ran afoul of the rules.
This is not a time for Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird to be looking at Stern. This is a time for them to be looking in the mirror.
As for Artest himself, the time has come for him to use this opportunity not to promote his music, but to get himself well. The press pass does not entitle us to reach conclusions about another man's physical or mental health, but the body of evidence has grown to the point where it's apparent his problems go beyond simple immaturity and eccentricity.
A normal person does not do the things he's been doing for years.
Of course Stern took Artest's history into account with this verdict. How could he not?
The last thing Artest needs now is for people to turn him into some kind of martyr, telling him he was done wrong by the powers-that-be. What he needs now is for people to tell him he does, in fact, need some kind of help.
He's not just a talented basketball player, but he is, by all accounts, a good-hearted person. These days do not have to be wasted. These days could, in fact, prove to be his salvation.

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