They used to joke that "I went to fight and a hockey game broke out." In the last few weeks, it seems like the fight comes before the sport in football and basketball, and baseball as well. The whole culture of athletics needs someone with a whip and a chair to bring some order back to the scene.
Even before the 6-foot-7-inch brat known as Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers started throwing punches at fans in Detroit, sports fights were breaking out all over. In mid-September, Texas Rangers relief pitcher Frank Francisco threw a metal chair into the audience, breaking a female fan's nose. The National Football League saw a fight break out between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers before the game even started. A college football game between South Carolina and Clemson the day after the Pacer-Piston melee devolved into punching and kicking. So we can't even take any comfort in the notion that the debacle in Detroit was just an isolated incident, just one nasty cocktail of too much fan-consumed beer and too much millionaire-athlete ego.
In the old days, parents could take their children out to the ballgame for the excitement of sitting in the stands and rooting faithfully for their team. In addition, if they were lucky, they could tell their grandchildren that they watched Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky or John Riggins play with their own eyes. Cal Ripken Jr. would faithfully sign autographs for fans, mainly children, in the parking lot after the Baltimore Orioles game was over. Athletes were urged to take their role seriously as role models and heroes for the young. They could argue that they shouldn't be -- but they were. And they are.
Today, taking your son or daughter to a major sports event might require a helmet and earplugs. Too many players aspire to create gangsta images and cover themselves with tattoos, record nasty rap albums in their spare time, and push and kick a cameraman or two just to maintain that bad-boy image. Too many obnoxious fans use the game as their public soapbox for reprehensible behavior, spending hours either taunting the opposing team with profanity-laced epithets, or screaming at their own players and coaches for ruining their behind-the-bench dreams of a championship. Parents fear even asking politely for a fan to tone down the gutter language in front of their children for fear of getting a fist in the face.