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Marcus Smart should make you rethink the issue of fan interaction and race in sports

Marcus Smart should make you rethink the issue of fan interaction and race in sports

If you’re a sports fan or avid news watcher, by now you know about or heard about Marcus Smart. He’s the guard for the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team who has been suspended for three games by the Big 12 Conference after shoving Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr during a game.

“Mr. Smart’s actions were a clear violation of the Big 12 Conference’s Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct Policy,” Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement Sunday. “Such behavior has no place in athletics, and will not be tolerated. I appreciate the efforts of Oklahoma State University athletics director Mike Holder in addressing this matter, and believe this is an appropriate response to an inappropriate action.”

Before you continue, it’s important for you to watch the clip:

 At a  press conference, OSU head coach Travis Ford said Smart made a mistake, but that his character is not in question:

“I know Marcus Smart. I know his family. I know what he stands for, and I know he made a mistake. But that doesn’t keep me from loving Marcus Smart, supporting him, loving him. Part of our job is to help him learn from this so it doesn’t happen again.”

Marcus Smart immediately followed with an apology to Jeff Orr and the team. He took full responsibility for his actions:

“This is not how I was raised,” Smart said. “I let my emotions get the best of me, just can’t let that happen again. It’s something I have to learn from … the consequences coming with it, I’m taking full responsibility. No fingers are pointed. This is all upon me.”


“I feel like I let my teammates down. These guys mean a lot to me. Not to be able to be out there with them, it hits me in my heart. I have a lot of people that look up me, a lot of little kids. I truly apologize. This is not me.”

I’ve had a chance to read alot of blogs and comments from various sports writers and media outlets since this incident, and one thing is for sure, this incident, once again brings the issue of fan interaction and–race in sports to the forefront.

First and foremost violence of any kind is unacceptable. That being said, to take a position that racially charged statements don’t warrant a response is ignorant. Until you have lived in and walked in and experienced racism, that commentary should be kept to yourself.

Let me first define racism.

Racism is a systemic practice that affects groups socially, economically and ultimately morally and spiritually. It is a system that is so deeply woven in the fabric of our society that even arguing against it draws ire –primarily from perpetrators of it and bitterness and hatred from its victims. Racism exists in all races and ethnic groups. Truth be told, we are all affected by it and have been guilty of it. Racism is more that just saying “nigger” or kike or gook or dego or cracker. It’s a deeply held thought about the value or rightful position of an individual or group based on color or ethnic makeup.  

“But they say it, so why do they get mad when it’s used against them?” That argument,  on it’s surface, is a valid one. However, it is one-sided logic that is used to release those who use it from guilt. Let’s take race out of it. Have you ever been mad at your parents, spouse, or child? Have you ever called them a name or even thought it? Chances are you have. If the logic of “they say it, so why do they get mad” is your logic, then you should have no problem with others calling your spouse/child/parents the same name you called them. In fact, you should tell them that they shouldn’t get mad about being called those names because, according to your logic, you saying it not only justifies its use, it makes it OK to say without consequence.

The truth is that words do hurt. There is no doubt in my mind Smart heard someone call him a nigger. It may not have been Jeff Orr, who voluntarily decided not to attend any more Texas Tech games going forward, but I believe someone did say it. That’s not a word you mistake hearing. Racial slurs are more than just “bad” words. They speak to a thought about the value of a person’s life and their position in society. 

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of the consequences from that speech. Besides, having the ‘right’ to say or do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

Now, more than ever sports fans are closer to athletes. Social media has made fan interaction constant and instant and has given everyone a space to have an opinion and assertion no matter how illogical and uninformed. The responsibility of athletes to manage fans becomes even more paramount. Athletes are already considered elite. Even at the college level they are considered to have a unique opportunity, as such the expectations and standard is raised. I agree with that. 

However, fans have a responsibility too. Trash talking from fans is nothing new. It’s a part of the game and athletes must have thick skin to deal with the often raucous language from rival fans — but there is a line. Being “passionate” about your team doesn’t give any fans the right to do and say anything. Fans should have consequences too. In most cases, bad behavior by fans is dealt with, but it’s not given the same manner of attention that usually falls on a player. 

Thug. Brute. Violent. Those are some of the words used against Marcus Smart. He’s not a thug. He’s a 19 year-old kid who made a mistake. Period. Why wasn’t the person who used the racial slur called a “thug”? Oh yeah…I forgot. That’s freedom of speech.

As we move further into Black History month, which is American history, I think we should all take a moment and reflect on our own thoughts and behavior. Before you offer an opinion about how a group should or shouldn’t react to a verbal assault, think about how you react to verbal comments that aren’t racially motivated. How do you handle name-calling? How do you feed into the ignorance?

To say that all white people don’t understand the nature of racism is as ignorant as saying that black people cannot be racist. Caucasians were a part of the Civil Rights Movement, just like there were African-Americans who didn’t agree with the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. With over 85% of college and professional basketball teams consisting of African-Americans it would be short-sided not to address the issue of race. Pro sports has a long history of racism that started at the college level, and until we have open and honest discussion about how race transcends all areas of society, including sports, these incidences will only continue to highlight what we still try and cover. 

Until we start seeing each other as ourselves, that is, we become affected and connected by the human spirit, we cannot really love one another. Heightened emotions and times of crisis reveal character, and all too often we have not “overcome” as much as we would like to think.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.

 What do you think?

Your Jersey Girlfriend,

~Angela Davis

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