Friday, 03 February 2017 10:47
It’s a Game, Not a War
On January 26, the Louisiana Tech basketball team had to finish its game against the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) with four players after a fight broke out late in the second half. The fight started when UAB’s Hakeem Baxter threw a punch at Louisiana Tech’s Jacobi Boykins. After the benches cleared, there were mass ejections for both teams leaving only 10 total players. UAB won the game 79-70. In 1967, when I played for the New Mexico Highlands University Cowboys basketball team, my team and our opponents from Saint Michael’s College of Santa Fe, NM were involuntarily involved in a brawl that broke out between the fans. Saint Mike’s is now the College of Santa Fe, our arch rivals. In the heat of the game words were flying across the floor between the two student bodies. I’m certain there was a good amount of the consumption of alcohol on both sides. Suddenly, toward the end of the first half, the stands emptied onto the floor. The players were not part of this brouhaha, as one of my teammates, Charlie B, picked me up and dragged me to our locker room, as both teams ran to the locker rooms. Charlie was 6’6” and weighed about 240, I was only about 165, so I was easy to pick up and carry off. In the aftermath, when both teams came back onto the floor, only the non-student body fans were left in the gym. Originally there were about 3,000 fans at the beginning of the game, and on our return maybe there was a modest 500 to 600 “adults” left to watch the finish. It’s a memory I will always have, it was scary and unforgettable, and it comes up occasionally in conversation with friends. As tensions fly and emotions run high on the athletic playing field, athletes, coaches and inebriated fans often stretch the limits of acceptable behavior. Whether they found themselves involved in a competitive scuffle to protect their pride or were backing up teammates in need, these individuals (or teams) found themselves resorting to throwing fists during a game. The rules and social guidelines that drive the routine masses daily don’t seem to apply to the world of sports. Chewing ears, like Mike Tyson did when he chewed into Evander Holyfield’s ear in a 1997 championship fight for Heavyweight Division of Prizefighting. Or the chucking of helmets and swinging them as if they were battle axes, like during the 2006 Miami Hurricanes game, which the ‘Canes’ won 35 to 0 against cross-town rival Florida International University. Things just got out of hand when two linemen started pushing and swinging their fists as one of the worst brawls in NCAA college football evolved. This stuff would be frowned upon in the streets of normalcy. Yet these are only teasing appetizers to a meal of pure athletic madness that arises during heated moments. The vocalization of “those classless degenerates,” the fans, who flood arenas with every scuffle. The passionate and ruthless competitors constantly clawing for that extra inch with adrenaline-filled emotions. Melees can only be expected. Sometimes, however, a two-person bout, like what happened in Miami, becomes a stadium-filled fiasco. There are those fans who can’t get enough of this stuff. In my experience, it was the inebriated student bodies creating havoc, which turned into pandemonium. As a coach, I’ve been in games where the tension was almost frightening. Being down on the floor having opposing fans, or student bodies yelling disrespectful comments at the team and coaches, as emotions run high, was always a concern, and this was high school. I recall, back in my early years in Saratoga as the boys’ varsity basketball coach, we just upset a ‘Class A’ rival (The Big 10). Getting on to the bus was worrisome for me. As we pulled out of the parking lot, we were pelted with a shower of stones and ice from some irate fans. It was scary, and since there were so many windows on the bus, it was concerning for me and my assistant coaches. One window was cracked, but we survived the onslaught of raining projectiles as we drove back to Saratoga. It was reported the next day to that school’s administrators, but we never heard anything about what was done. This occurred during the mid-seventies before cell phones. When emotions fly high, some people lose their sense of normalcy and a crowd can become a two-headed monster that can breathe its destructive fires. This type of thing happens at practically all levels of athletic competition. What can happen is people get hurt. A game becomes like the battlefield and in battles there will always be collateral damage. A sporting event, a game, sometimes assimilates that battlefield, and some sports more than others have that in their nature. The physicality of football, lacrosse, hockey and even basketball are good examples of people battling against other people for the victory, and emotions can get the best of players, not to mention the fan base. Believe it or not, baseball, which in general is mostly a non-contact sport, has had more fisticuffs than most sports. Pitchers have known to “headhunt” batters, fans have thrown bottles at umpires, and fights among players break out because of disrespectful language. The history of early baseball has recorded killings of umpires and players because of disorderly fans who lost control of their senses. Their emotional rage turned criminal and people paid with their lives, because of a game. Maybe 2 or 3 years ago, on opening day of Major League Baseball, during a game between California rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, a couple Giants’ fans killed a Dodgers fan because he was wearing a Dodgers shirt. Unfortunately, things happen because of people’s uncontrollable emotional ties to their favorite team. It’s a sad story for our country when people fall victim because someone else has a loyalty to the opposition. When will the line be drawn, and understood that a game is a game, winning or losing isn’t the end-all, the sun will rise the next day and through the grace of God there will be another game to watch and a team to support. Not everyone can win, it’s the nature of team sports. Enjoy, because it’s entertainment—and remember: it’s a game, not a war.