Oklahoma State player Marcus Smart recently received a three-game suspension from his college basketball team for shoving a Texas Tech fan named Jeff Orr. The shove came after Orr said something to him when Smart went out of bounds under the basket while making a play. The focus since then has been on whetherOrr used a racial epithet - Smart said he did - or whether Orr only said "something he shouldn't have" - Orr's words.
It has since come to light that that Orr, a middle-aged man, considers himself a "super-fan" of Texas Tech. A photo of him directing an obscene gesture at opposing players has surfaced from another game and a number of players have indicated he has a lot of negative things to say to opposing players from his seat under the bucket. Smart's shove raises a question that isn't getting enough attention at all levels of inter-scholastic athletics:
Why do we allow grown men and women to scream at and insult school-age boys and girls just because these students play sports?
Is it because it's always been that way? Why should kids signing up for their high school or college teams have to agree to take verbal abuse from adults as part of the deal? Some seem to think that as long as Orr didn't use the n-word, anything else he felt like saying to Smart is "fair game," and Smart has to take it. But why? It's been pointed out that there is next to nowhere in the world where Jeff Orr can curse at or insult Marcus Smart to his face and feel he can get away with it, except where he was, under a basketball hoop.
Some have made much of the fact that Orr is white and Smart is black. But white student- athletes get heaps of abuse as well. J.J. Reddick of Duke was notoriously hated during his career, and Ohio State's Aaron Craft seems to be getting the full treatment this year. The question is not so much about race as about why the discussion revolves around punishing players and protecting fans, instead of protecting the young people actually involved in the competition?
There is no reason why athletic contests between young kids, high schoolers, or even college students should create a safe place for people to heap abuse on the players who are, after all, just playing a game, for free, for their schools. Comments and taunts directed at student athletes don't have to be racially-motivated to be out of bounds. When Marcus Smart shoved the loud-mouth jerk under the basket, he was telling all of us that if we aren't going to protect him while he plays, he'll do it himself, and I think he had every right to do that.