As I watched the video of the brawl at the end of the Cincinnati-Xavier game on Saturday afternoon, a brouhaha that I learned of after being sent literally dozens of links to it on my Twitter timeline, I had an epiphany regarding "offensive" occurrences like this fight.
I am not offended by it. I don't condone it, I don't want my sons to sucker-punch somebody, but I clicked the links with morbid curiosity and have since gone back and watched the donnybrook several more times because it was so surreal. It was a train wreck, and a violent one. Is there a place for it in basketball? Of course not. Did I add it to my YouTube favorites? Um...maybe.
I also realized that typically the portion of the sequence of events surrounding an offense like this isn't the violation itself, but the reaction afterwards by the parties involved, foremost in this case being Cincinnati's head coach Mick Cronin.
Allow me to explain:
First, in case you haven't watched SportsCenter at all over the last two days, here is the backstory to and the video of the fight. Cincinnati and Xavier play every season in the "Crosstown Shootout." It's about as tense an intra-city rivalry as you'll find in basketball, and with the advent of Twitter, the players can now talk trash to each other in social media before the game (which apparently several did).
Xavier is the better team this season. They are ranked eighth in the country, and not surprisingly they spent most of Saturday afternoon rolling up the Bearcats. With only a few seconds remaining, the tension reached a head and led to this (fast-forward to about the 0:35 mark for the fight)...
If you're keeping score at home, the major parties involved:
First shove: Dez Wells, Xavier (on Cincinnati's Ge'Lawn Guyn) First sucker punch: Yancy Gates, Cincinnati (on Xavier's Kenny Frease) First sucker kick on a dazed, fallen player: Cheikh Mbodj (on Frease) First open facial wound: Frease (not a good afternoon the big fella) First player to leave the bench: Everyone, both teams (tie)
After order was restored, the referees (who, according to Cronin, had been turning a blind eye to trash talk all afternoon), realizing there is no 23-point play for Cincy to tie things up, decided to cancel the final 9.4 seconds of the game.
After the game, at a time where the last thing an 18-22 year old needs is an open microphone, someone at Xavier decided it would be a good idea to give Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons (both major instigators all day long) an open microphone. What then occurred, predictably, was lots of "we got disrespected" rhetoric. Observe:
Money shots from this sequence:
Holloway: "We grown men over here. We got a whole bunch of gangsters in that locker room."
Wait, what? Did he just admit to having gangsters in the locker room?
Holloway (caveating): ....not thugs, but tough guys on the court."
Ah, phew. I thought maybe you guys were thugs or something. It sure looked like you were. Thanks for clarifying, Tu.
Lyons: "You seen the score. Of course, they're gonna try to get some retaliation some way, somehow. They tried to do something but it don't work like that...."
Lyons left out the small detail that Xavier threw the first shove.
This all brings us back to the part that truly offends me, the reaction afterwards by those in positions of authority, and the now famous post-game comments (which now qualify as unequivocal doublespeak) from Cronin. To gauge the reaction on Twitter at the time of his presser, Cronin's comments were the most unifying since Bush's post 9/11 speech before Congress. Never have so many pasty sportswriters been so in lockstep with a coach on a single issue. Mick Cronin was everyone's hero. Here is his press conference:
- "The fact is, guys are here to get an education. They represent institutions of higher learning. Xavier has been a great school for years. We are trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati. I go to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio and created Benadryl. I think that's more important than who wins a basketball game."
- "If my players don't act the right way, they will never play another game at Cincinnati. I just told my guys, I'm going to meet with my AD and my president, and I'm going to decide who's on the team going forward. That's what the University of Cincinnati's about, period. I've never been more embarrassed."
- "I made everybody take their jersey off, and they will not put it on again until they have a full understanding of where they go to school and what the university stands for and how lucky they are to even be there, let alone have a scholarship, because there's a whole lot of kids that can't pay for college and don't get to go to school."
By Sunday afternoon, the hero had fallen.
Apparently, in Cronin's world, "never play again" means "play shortly after the conference season begins." On Sunday, Cronin handed down six-game suspensions to three of his players, including Gates, whose sucker punch on Frease now has an Ohio prosecutor pondering criminal charges.
Yes, a violent assault on the court which may wind up being deemed an actual crime, in Mick Cronin's and the University of Cincinnati's world, is enough for you to miss games with Wright State, Radford, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Chicago State, Oklahoma and Pitt. That's it.
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It really makes you wonder what exactly Mick Cronin's "right way" involves.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.