Let’s get this out of the way first: Marcus Smart was wrong to retaliate.
The sophomore Oklahoma State star pushed a Texas Tech fan at a basketball game Saturday night after Smart ended up near the stands in the end zone trying to prevent a Red Raiders dunk.
Smart exchanged words with Jeff Orr, the Texas Tech fan, then shoved him before being restrained and slapped with a technical foul late in the Cowboys’ upset loss.
Athletics is about discipline and self-restraint. Smart displayed neither. Sports also require being reactionary, but only to things that happen between the lines, between the whistles and within the rules and framework of competition.
The incident brought to mind Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. Rickey famously made sure Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, would not retaliate to the racist behavior he was certain to face.
The logic was, if Robinson gave in to the understandable temptation of fighting back, he would lend legitimacy to everything he was trying to disprove.
Smart must have forgotten that lesson in the heat of competition. The three-game suspension he incurred will probably help him remember to keep his hands to himself from now on.
But, this too: Smart was, in fact, retaliating. He was not unprovoked.
There exists a sense of entitlement among some who attend sporting events that suggests if you fork over your own cash for a ticket, you can check your common sense, tact and civility at the door and say and do things that would, in any other context, embarrass anyone with any self-respect.
This can be seen — fortunately, usually without escalating like it did Saturday night in Lubbock — at high school games here and probably everywhere else, too.
Some fans seem to think it’s OK to pay your $5, then walk in, holler at officials all night and even heckle high school players.
Again, thankfully, this doesn’t describe all fans, but it’s no longer true that it only happens in a few places or that it’s just “crazies” who do it.
Yeah, civil discourse is at an all-time low, but anyone who spends enough time in high school basketball gyms can tell this behavior is widespread enough by this point it’s approaching a societal problem.
We don’t know exactly what Orr said. It’s been reported Smart said Orr used a certain racial slur that begins with the letter “N.” Orr refuted that Sunday, saying he called Smart a “piece of crap.” (Not that that’s much better.)
Orr also was filmed using a vulgar gesture toward a Texas A&M player during a game in 2010. Not a first-time offender.
Smart did not take questions after giving a statement at a press conference Sunday night, and Cowboys coach Travis Ford wouldn’t comment on what Smart says Orr said.
But the exact language Orr used isn’t really the point.
Smart set a poor example for young people who will at some point face adversity, be it in the form of something so minor as a fan running his mouth in their face, or whatever much greater challenges everyone’s lives eventually hold.
Orr set an equally poor example for anyone who attends sporting events in which children or youth are the principal participants, not only by whatever exactly he said, but just by the fact he thought it was perfectly reasonable to engage a 19-year-old stranger in clearly negative conversation.
This, by the way, is not a freedom of speech issue. We are blessed enough to have the concept of free speech in order to prevent atrocities like government oppression, not to allow people free reign to make fools of themselves without consequence.
At any rate, those who regularly attend youth and high school sporting events have the opportunity and the responsibility to show participants and onlookers that behavior like and leading up to Orr’s is boorish and wrong.
Let’s all try to think about that the next time we want to yell at a referee or a kid who happens to be wearing opposite colors than we are.
ZACK KLEMME can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658.