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Blame the Fans Too: I have little patience for spoiled-rotten professional athletes, especially in the NBA. Yet after this weekend's fiasco in Detroit, I have even less patience for unruly sports fans.

In this column, the Miami Herald's Dan Le Batard nails it:
It was ugly and awful and historically staining, and now, it will get worse as the media machine cranks up, and the wailing begins about how our millionaire athletes are spoiled, entitled and out of control.

But the fans are more to blame for the riot in Detroit than those players are. Not to make this too playground childish, but, Mommy, they started it.

Ron Artest doesn't lose what little is left of his mind and charge into those stands if some dope doesn't hurl a cup and hit him in the head first.

It is lazy to say it is the responsibility of the athletes to remain rational, calm and professional in these instances. But you might not remain so rational, calm and professional if someone came into your emotion-and-intensity-soaked workplace and hit you in the head with something. And you might not remain so rational, calm and professional if you saw an angry mob surrounding your scared friend in a fight, either.

Don't make the rules different for the athletes than you would make them for yourself.
The athletes involved, including Ron Artest, will all receive substantial penalties -- as well they should -- but the thuggish Detroit fans involved should suffer too. Any fan who threw a beer or rushed the court should lose their season or package tickets. Marc Stein of ESPN.com also suggests the NBA learn from Europe's experience in dealing with unruly soccer fans:
In soccer-playing countries, the natural response to the deplorable behavior of Detroit's unruliest fans would be to lock out every single fan on March 25, when the Pacers make their next visit to the Palace.

Just last week, selected members of England's national soccer team were racially abused by Spanish fans in what amounted to an exhibition game. FIFA, the sport's international ruling body, is threatening to force Spain to play its next home international match -- a real World Cup qualifier -- behind closed doors, with only members of the media allowed in as witnesses.

It has already happened in this season's Champions League. The opening group match for Italy's AS Roma, against the Ukraine's Dynamo Kiev in September, was abandoned early after Swedish referee Anders Frisk was injured by a coin thrown from the stands. AS Roma's next home match, against Germany's Bayer Leverkusen, was played without fans in the stands.

Such measures have never been taken Stateside, but the Pistons would never forget the message. Not only would its home-court advantage be wiped out in a late-season matchup with its fiercest rivals, but Detroit would also lose the six to seven figures of revenue it generates from every home game.
Professional athletes who lost control should be punished with fines and suspensions. But when spoiled fans instigate and provoke athlete reactions, they should be punished too.
David Stern Is a Coward. I know of no other way to describe the NBA Commissioner's complete failure to impose any sanction designed to redress the actions of unruly fans in Detroit. Today David Stern announced severe, and warranted, suspensions of the NBA players involved in the Friday's courtside riot in Detroit. Yet Stern announced no measures -- indeed, could not even bring himself to directly condemn the actions of the fans -- addressed at the misbehavior of the guilty fans. No penalties were assessed on the Detroit Pistons organization for insufficient security; season-ticket holders who assaulted players did not have their tickets revoked, nor were any such measures recommended by the Commissioner in his statement. All David Stern offered was empty platitudes about how tyhe league must "redefine the bounds of acceptable conduct" for fans and players alike.

Note to David Stern: If fans get to assault players without any penalty, the league is not "defining the bounds of acceptable conduct." Rather, the message of Sterns actions is that wealthy folks who spend lots of money on courtside seats can act like juvenile thugs because they are the NBA's "customers" without fear of penalty -- while players who act to defend themselves merit no mercy.

Again, I believe the player suspensions were warranted, but Stern's failure to act more even handedly was cowardly. I hope Stern realizes this and takes measures to address fan behavior and player safety forthwith. After today's announcement, I am not betting on it.
Is David Stern A Coward? I've reveived lots of heated e-mails on my basketbrawl posts. Was I too harsh on David Stern? I don't think so. Stern acted quickly and forcefully against the offending players — as he should have — but did not condemn the fans' behavior in his prepared statement nor did he indicate his support for any sanction for the fans involved in the fracas. What message does that send? Of course it will take time to identify specific individuals, but it would have taken Stern no time to condemn assaults against players in unequivocal terms. Instead of addressing the fan misbehavior Stern talked about the need to "redefine" fans' obligations and sanction those who violate the new standard — as if it was ever okay to storm the court or throw stuff at players. He talked about reviewing the procedures at all NBA arenas, but that hardly contemplates any action directed at the Pistons organization for failing to keep things under control.

Many have asked what Stern could have done. He could have condemned the fan bahavior is unequivocal terms. He could have called for sanctions against offending fans by the Pistons organization. He could have stated his clear support for legal action against offending fans. Stern did none of those things. He did nothing that would risk offending the NBA fan base by reminding fans that they too have responsibilities. Again, what message does that send? (The folks at ArmchairGM have an idea.)

Meanwhile, it seems that local authorities and portions of the Pistons organization are doing their jobs. Authorities have identified the man they believe initially assaulted Ron Artest (Yes, dear readers who suggested otherwise, throwing a cup of beer at someone's head does constitute an assault, as local prosecutors noted) as well as the fan who allegedly threw a chair. (He could face a felony charge.) Pistons Tim Wilson said that offending individuals will be barred from the Palace permanently, and security has already increased. Local police also continue to gather evidence that will be turned over to prosecutors. According to news reports, legal charges will be filed -- most probably against fans and players alike — in about two weeks or so. I'm waiting for Stern to make a clear public statement in support of these actions. As yet, there's nothing of this sort on the NBA web site, nor have I seen anything equivalent in news reports.

A final note: I've had the privilege to sit front-row courtside at several NBA games. It is an amazing experience(even if the game today is not what it used to be). Basketball is the only professional sport left in which fans can get that close to the players. It is a privilege to have such an opportunity — and it comes with the responsibility not to act like an ass or a thug. Some Detroit Pistons fans did not get this, and they should bear the consequences — legal and otherwise.

Am I a Coward?

One reader e-mails re: my basketbrawl posts, "For you to call anyone a coward, while you hide behind a pseudonym, is a joke." Guilty as charged. I suppose I'm as wary about tenure as Stern is about alienating his fanbase.

Basketbrawl Litigation The NBA Players' Union is appealing the suspensions of Indian Pacers Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O'Neal. Under the rules, the appeal goes directly to David Stern, so they are asking that it be handled by an arbitrator. Once Stern refuses, can a lawsuit be far behind? Stern's already getting phone calls from Jesse Jackson.

Meanwhile, some Detroit fans have already filed lawsuits against these three players, the Indiana Pacers and the Palace. More suits — against the Detroit Pistons organization, and the NBA itself — could well follow. Those who want to make a little money without incurring legal fees can help the police track down the chair thrower. There's a $2,000 reward. Readers could use that money to buy the cup on E-bay.

Pacers to Face Criminal Charges According to this report, both unruly fans and several players for the Indiana Pacers will face criminal charges for their conduct in the November 19 basketbrawl. The fan who threw a chair may be in the most serious trouble. Prosecutors say they are likely to file elony assault charges against him.

Insofar as any indictments against players focus on actions taken off the court, I think that they are justified. I do not think that local law enforcement should seek to prosecute players for any actions taken by players on the court, however. Nor would I be sympathetic to any tort suits filed by fans injured by players on the court. I feel this way for two reasons. First, I believe that fans who ventured onto the court during the fracas assumed the risk of injury. Second, I think that players could reasonably perceive Detroit fans coming onto the court as a threat. Therefore, they could argue that their actions against fans on the court were made in self-defense.

Meanwhile, it appears the Indian Pacers franchise could save over $7 million due to the extensive suspensions of Ron Artest and other players involved in the brawl.

Basketbrawl Update: There will be an arbitration hearing this week to review NBA Commissioner David Stern's suspensions of Indiana Pacers players involved in the Nov. 19 brawl in Detroit. The NBA contends that there is no legal basis for the hearing, however, and has apparently filed suit in federal district court to prevent a negative arbitration ruling. See also here.

Meanwhile, kudos to the Detroit Pistons organization for taking swift action against fans identified as hooligans, barring two season-ticket holders from the arena indefinitely. Local prosecutors are also getting ready to bring charges. One of those who may be in trouble is Piston center Ben Wallace's brother.

Ten Charged for Basketbrawl: The Detroit Free Press reports this morning that Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca will files charges against ten individuals -- five Indiana Pacers players and five fans -- for their respective roles in the Nov. 19 melee in Detroit.