The Marcus Smart Outrage: Taking Up for the Player
Sometimes, fans are losers too.
"There is such a thing as manners. A way of treating people. These fish have manners! They have manners." -- Jerry Maguire
It's times like Saturday when Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart probably wishes he had just cashed in his chips and been a top five pick in last year's NBA Draft.
In case you missed it (good luck), in the waning moments of Texas Tech's 65-61 upset of Oklahoma State in Lubbock on Saturday night, Smart fell down near the bottom of the baseline stands in United Spirit Arena after a hard foul on a Texas Tech player.
What happened next dominated Twitter, television, and casual conversation for the next 12 hours (which is about the normal shelf life for outrage in today's microwave popcorn society):
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ESPN color analyst Tim Welch's disgust at the end of the clip was a de facto opening salvo for the flood of sanctimony that then rained down upon Marcus Smart. He should be suspended...how is he not removed from the arena....did we learn nothing from Ron Artest?
Marcus Smart was suspended for three games (three highly crucial games for the Cowboys, considering their season is spiralng out of control right now) for this shove, and for the sake of maintaining a future bar to where a player putting his hands on a fan remains strict taboo, I understand his being suspended.
But in life, there are words, and there are "fighting words," and in the unhinged heat of a game (especially one that a player is about to lose), when a player is hit with "fighting words," our personal bar of expectations for that player's self-restraint should be adjusted accordingly. And yes, by "fighting words," I mean things of a deeply personal or even racial nature.
At this point, if you don't agree there are such things as "fighting words," then you'll agree with nothing I say from here on out. If you do agree there are "fighting words," understand the following about the fan in question, a Waco man by the name of Jeff Orr:
1. Orr is considered a renowned Tech super fan, to the extent that he travels from Waco to Lubbock (oftentimes by car) for most of the Tech home games and many away games as well. The school's website even did a feature on him a few years ago. In the feature, Orr said of his infatuation with Tech sports: "This is my hobby. I don't hunt, fish, golf or any other normal guy activities. I just sort of follow the team around."
(Side Bar: As "super fans" go, I can't think of any who have experienced a more disproportionate amount of success versus miles traveled than a Texas Tech super fan living in Waco the last couple decades.) 2. If you're looking for internet priors on Orr, well here you go (pay attention right until the very end):
So, in this video at least (and I will make the stretch to say this behavior was not a one time thing), Jeff Orr is THAT guy -- make eye contact with players, stand up and make obscene gestures regardless of those sitting near you, hide behind the invisible barrier that restricts players from punching you in the mouth for saying whatever you feel like --- THAT guy.
Let's face it, for Marcus Smart to get up and walk into the stands to physically confront a fan, considering the number of hostile venues he's played in over his two seasons with the Cowboys, whatever he heard had to be highly inflammatory, possibly personal. In the aftermath, the only certain thing those that were outside the ten foot radius of the fan and Smart know is Smart pushed the fan. We can see that. It's visual.
In the wake of the incident, the ESPN announcers for the game (Anish Shroff along with Welsh) completely and unfairly put the entire blame and burden of the incident on Smart, without even raising the possibility that Orr could have said something over the line, a huge fail on the part of the announce team. (Deadspin has the incident and the nearly four minutes of the broadcast afterward up on their website.)
Welsh's outrage in particular is so myopic and narrow minded, saying he doesn't care what was said, saying that Smart "attacked" Orr (without knowing what verbal "attack" Orr may have unleashed first), and hyperbolically called Orr "elderly," as if Orr had a cane, wheelchair, and colostomy bag.
(Thankfully, and as is usually the case with anything college basketball and ESPN, Jay Bilas was able to rationally and sanely discuss both sides of the incident on SportsCenter around 20 minutes after the game, calmly saying that we need to know what was said to fully assess the situation. Thank you, Jay Bilas.)
After the game ended and Orr's identity was revealed (which between YouTube and Twitter, took about four minutes of sleuthing, tops), the conjecture as to what exactly he said became its own brushfire, with an internet game of "telephone" having Orr saying everything from the n-word to "Go back to Africa."
Orr even had one of his own buddies allegedly dime him out to Doug Gottlieb of CBS:
Text convo from my Tech friend w/Orr- Orr is Tech's biggest fan-everyone knows him, he goes to every game pic.twitter.com/1ZlN6gAdz3
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) February 9, 2014
IT WAS YOU, FREDO!
By Sunday night, both parties had issued statements on the scuffle. From Smart:
"I want to apologize to the fan, whose name is Jeff Orr. I want to apologize to him. I want to apologize to my teammates, to my coaching staff, Coach Ford, my family, Oklahoma State University. This is not how I (conduct) myself, this is not how this program is ran. This is not how I was raised. I let my emotions get the best of me."
Through the Texas Tech athletics department, Orr issued the following statement (and yes, a major college athletics department is issuing a statement on behalf of a super fan, welcome into the rabbit hole):
"I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere apologies to Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Men's Basketball program," Orr said in a statement. "My actions last night were inappropriate and do not reflect myself or Texas Tech -- a university I love dearly. I regret calling Mr. Smart a 'piece of crap' but I want to make it known that I did not use a racial slur of any kind. Additionally, I would like to offer my apologies to Texas Tech fans that have been embarrassed by the attention this incident has created."
For what it's worth, this first person point of view video of the whole dustup surfaced Sunday night, and if you adjust your hearing accordingly, you can possibly arrive at a place where a muffled "piece of crap" is barely audible:
Of course, Tech folks were passing this video around like they were Richard Kimball discovering the incriminating pictures of the one armed man inThe Fugitive
Either way, whether it's standing up to make an obscene gesture or calling someone a "piece of crap" (if that is what was said), if you're a middle aged man hurling insults at 19 year old kids, you're a loser.
Too often, a very small sector of fans see their ticket to a sporting event as some sort of immunity to decency, a coupon to act like a jackass. Call it "arena courage." I have a ticket and this ticket gives me the right, no, the DUTY, to act like a complete and total jackass. (If you're wondering who uttered that phrase...Homer Simpson. So there you go.)
Arena courage is the cousin of keyboard courage, less anonymous and only slightly more accountable. Well, it shouldn't be that way. Acceptable behavior in a sports arena differs from acceptable behavior in everyday society, I get that. But there are words that cross the line in every venue.
If Jeff Orr said any of these words to Marcus Smart, he should have his right to watch games revoked the same way Smart will have his right to play games revoked.
Words matter, and in this case, they should.