When it comes to sports, basketball fans probably share the most intimate experience with the players they go to watch. Spectators sitting in the front row are just feet away from the playing surface with no wall or glass to separate them from the action…or the players. And when passion flares, there aren’t those extra few seconds to consider the consequences of one’s action. A prime example, from a decade ago, was the formerly named Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers going into the stands in reaction to a drink being thrown. The resulting incident led to criminal charges against ten people, both fans and players. The emotion that players compete with and that instantaneous access to fans poses a constant risk. This basketball season we have seen multiple cases. About a month ago, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart shoved a fan in the front row after derogatory comments were directed his way. He was suspended for three games for this incident. But, it’s not always the players exhibiting poor instant reactions.
This past week, a UC Santa Barbara fan who looked entirely too intoxicated to be attending a game, ran onto the court after Hawaii head coach Gib Arnold received a technical for arguing a call. The student confronted the coach before running back to his seat, from which he was promptly escorted by security. The school said they would not release details of his punishment. Let’s hope it is adequate.
Because something needs to be done about the increasing incivility at sporting events. And while it’s a problem in all sports, at every level, the coming of March Madness reminds us that basketball is the sport that provides the most opportunity for trouble. As things stand, it’s only a matter of time before we see an incident as ugly as the Ron Artest situation happen again.