Artest turns Palace into a castle of horrors

Santo Caruso

Sometime during the 10,000 consecutive hours of NBA fight night coverage, I had to take my distance learning class. The topic was the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Gharib, and in my late night haze the issues, as issues so often do, blurred.

Both sights (the pictures from the prison and the tapes from Auburn Hills, where most of the fans should be in prison) had the same surreal quality. I see these photos of naked men with hoods covering their faces, and I can only imagine what they were feeling. I watch as Stephen Jackson (the only player whose suspension was completely merited) went flying into the stands, and I put myself in that drunken fool’s place as he is clobbered.

Every day those soldiers surround themselves with death. Not natural death, not anticipated death, but terrible and supposedly “justified” death. How don’t they snap? How come more Marines don’t go Private Pile and blow their brains out in the bathroom? With mass killing devices like machine guns and tanks as the current medium of battle, there is no longer the noble fight of sword and shield. And they aren’t fighting Orcs and Goblins, but rather, other people who just believe something different from them. How can they get up and continue to kill everyday?

Detachment. They have to separate themselves from what they do, remember that they do so for country and freedom and liberty. Distance themselves from the gory nature of their work, and that is why every member of the armed forces across the globe deserves all of the accolades they are given. This is why many Vietnam veterans returned with mental incapacities. After fighting for so long they returned to nothing but hatred from those whom they fought for. This must be what it is like to be an athlete on a national level.

I say national because professional isn’t the correct term. Even collegiate athletes have to separate themselves, but not from what they do. They have to keep what is being constantly shouted, written, and dumped on them at all times a part from their game. A sports star’s life is open to the public, and during a game, every horrible thing to happen to them will be brought up by some drunken fool 10 rows from the floor. What did Joe Jurevicius hear during games after his baby was stillborn? Or Ray Lewis when he was indicted in a murder charge? Or Sammy Sosa after the corked-bat controversy? Remember what some zealous Villanovans said about Jameer Nelson at last years ‘Nova/ St. Joe’s game. I’m not judging, just commenting.

For one second, picture yourself standing at a free throw line. The game is well in hand, but still somebody is screaming about how your mother died, how your father was a drunk, how your sister is a whore, how everyone you ever loved will leave you. The basket looks like a Dixie Cup, and you feel like you’d rather spike the ball off that moron’s head. Yet, during just about every game players manage to avoid dragging a fan onto the court or field and giving him the worst beating of his life.

So I wasn’t shocked when this happened, especially not in Detroit (Philly is overrated, and Detroit fans are one step above soccer hooligans, and only because they have not killed anyone yet). I am more surprised this does not happen more often. Even after Artest entered the stands he didn’t start throwing punches until he got back to the court. After that it was more about surviving the erupting anarchy than getting back at the fan.

The analogy reconnects here. Those soldiers were blowing off some steam, venting, trying to maintain some air of humor in a situation devoid of it. They made a mistake and should be punished. The players dealt with the chants and the boos, but as tempers flared on the court, the lobbing of one eight dollar beer set off a ticking bomb. As popcorn, soda, beer and chairs rained down from the crowd, chaos took over the “Palace.”

Artest was by no means innocent. His lukewarm, hard foul set off Ben Wallace, and then he smartly stepped away (My friends and I voted Ben Wallace the basketball player we’d least wish to fight. His reach alone would wreck you). Unfortunately, he incited thplayers and the crowd by lying smugly on the scorers table. It was not the smartest move, but he had at least separated himself from the already volatile situation. Then a fan crossed the line. Then he erased the line. Then Stephen Jackson obliterated the line.

The players should be punished. There is a written law (and an unwritten commandment) that athletes do not engage with the fans. But Artest’s suspension is too harsh, Jackson’s too lenient, and all of the rest excessive as well. Plus, the possibility of facing both law suits and criminal charges is more than any of these players deserve. The crowd started it, continued it, and all responsible parties should be held accountable for their actions. It is unfair for these Pacers to potentially lose millions of dollars because they defended themselves. If a player got seriously injured, what would he sue the fan for? Three hundred sixty-five days of the year, they manage to maintain a higher standard, while fans act nearly that rowdy all of the time. As a fan, I was more ashamed than ever. And I was at the game when some Eagles supporters cheered as Michael Irvin was injured.

A little over a week after this travesty, Allen Iverson made one of the most exciting plays I have ever seen. Stealing an inbounds pass with 3.9 seconds left in overtime against the Wizards, he layed in the winning score as time expired. Pulling on the word “Sixers” on his jersey, and barking at the crowd, the much maligned Philly fans embraced him. He waded into the stands, eliminating the barrier that divided the unwashed masses from the superstar. He also showed us what it could be like, if they did not have to keep themselves separated from the boo-birds.

As the college basketball season starts, there will be nasty cheers direct at innocent players. Try to remember by signing on to play, these people are not committing to being demoralized for 40 minutes. Stick to the “Safety Schools” and the “Overrateds” and leave the personal tragedies out of it.