Marcus Smart crossed a line Saturday night, and there’s no coming back for him.
The Oklahoma State point guard and highly touted NBA prospect fell into the stands after chasing down a driving Texas Tech basketball player and fouling him. No. 19 Oklahoma State had just turned the ball over trailing by two with six seconds left, and it appeared that the Cowboys would suffer an upset at the hands of the Red Raiders.
Smart then found himself a few steps away from the front row of a hostile environment at Texas Tech’s home court in Lubbock, Texas. As Smart rose to his feet, he seemed to hear something coming from a fan in the front row. Smart appeared to banter with a fan before moving closer to the front row.
That’s when Smart did a very unwise thing.
Smart shoved the fan with the full force of both of his hands, pushing him back into the crowd. Smart headed back toward the court before teammates rushed over to pull him away. He then turned and pointed back at the fan while being pushed away by his teammates. Smart received a technical foul and refused to leave the floor even after the game ended with Texas Tech fans storming the court, pleading his case until the end and ultimately being dragged off by team officials.
Interaction between players and fans has always been a tricky task to tackle. Fans cheering for their favorite team, chasing players down for autographs and yelling support for their team almost always works well for both parties involved. The difficult decisions come with regard to fans and their team’s opposition.
Some fans won’t boo the opposition because they think that it’s going too far. Some refuse to boo a specific player, while some boo but won’t say anything negative about players. Of course, there are also those fans that choose to yell profusely at players with whatever language they choose. Where should fans draw the line? Is booing a player acceptable? What about telling a player that he’s no good?
Regardless of where you believe the line should be drawn for fans, one thing is certain. For athletes, responding to fans with negativity, let alone physical violence, is not an option. Ron Artest took that route a decade ago when he charged into the stands to attack a fan and a whole team’s – even a whole sport’s – reputation was stained for a couple of years.
I’m not going to try to pretend like I understand what Smart was going through. He’s in a difficult stretch of the season, one that has seen his team fall from No. 5 in the nation to No. 19, and his performance has fallen right along with it. He watched Saturday as his teammate fumbled away Oklahoma State’s last hope for winning a game that the Cowboys really should have won. We also have no idea what that fan said.
But nothing could justify Smart’s actions. We place athletes on a pedestal and although the treatment they receive might not always be fair, tearing back at fans is only tearing away their own foundation and ruining their own reputation and their team’s reputation. Fans and athletes exist in a symbiotic relationship in which each should support the other and neither should take to the extreme and bring the other down.
For fans, there’s absolutely no need to tear down these athletes that work hard day in and day out to perfect their craft. Just because they’re on the opposing team does not mean you can berate them – you certainly wouldn’t appreciate it if it were your team’s player experiencing that treatment on the road.
Like Colin Kaepernick and Richard Sherman demonstrated in Beats by Dre commercials, athletes need to tune out any negative talk by choosing to ignore it. Ignoring the negative talk shows maturity – let your game do the talking.
Marcus Smart now faces hordes of questions about his character that will surely affect his draft stock in addition to a three-game suspension that will see him miss part of the crucial finish to the Big-12 conference season because he failed to remain calm in reacting to an opposing fan.
Fans and athletes can’t operate without each other and neither side should take to verbally or physically attacking the other. When fans do cross the line, it’s important for athletes to stay above the trash talking to avoid tarnishing their own integrity as well as the integrity of their team and their sport.
In a shocking plot twist, it actually turns out that Michael Peterson was the fan at that Oklahoma State-Texas Tech game that incited the brawl. Ask him what he said at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu or by Tweeting at him @mpetes93.