You probably saw over the weekend that Oklahoma State basketball star, Marcus Smart, lost his cool and shoved a Texas Tech “fan” at the end of their game. The “fan” is a University booster which probably explains how he was able to be close enough to call Smart a “piece of crap” and possibly more.
Smart is supposed to be a student athlete so he got suspended for three games as a result of this even though he apologized profusely. The “fan”, was not kicked out of the game, but did apologize.
This “fan”, who was heckling a teenager, appears to be in his 50’s. He was clever to apologize quickly because if he didn’t, the 24 hour news cycle would eat him alive just a little bit longer. His behavior was pathetic, but unfortunately isn’t isolated. I was down at a top 25 school recently for a college basketball game and the fans in unison, old and young, chanted at a player about how much he sucked. You can go to other games and hear way worse stuff. Bulls great Steve Kerr was taunted about his father dying during a game in college. Heck, people heckle the President with racist slurs.
I am here to confess that I used to be an a-hole heckler. Nothing racial, but starting in high school, my friends and I would go to our school’s basketball games and heckle the other team. Our goal was to do two things: 1. Entertain ourselves. 2. Get a rise or even a notice out of someone on the court.
In our defense, we tried to be as clever as possible, making comments about uniforms and bad haircuts, etc. I think we fancied ourselves like the students at Duke University who have a reputation for saying witty things. We never did get a good rise out of anyone on the court, but we were very proud when Coach Brian James (now an assistant at Northwestern who also coached in the NBA) turned around and laughed during a game after we said something. I think back then he was just happy to have anyone at the game. And if our behavior was offensive to any parents or school officials, nobody told us. I’m not saying we didn’t know wrong from right, but we probably didn’t know where the too far line was either.
My first heckling memory was from going to Cubs games in the 80’s. The Cubs and Mets were big rivals back then. I remember people yelling at Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden to sniff the right field line. I had no idea how obnoxious that was. I was a 16 year old kid listening to adults that seemed hilarious to me. But the most vivid memory was being in the bleachers for those games. The fans would be just brutal on Lenny Dykstra. He couldn’t take it and would turn around and scream back which of course would just make things 1,000 times worse for him. To me it was the funniest thing I had seen. The fact that it turned out that Dykstra was one of the worst people ever makes it all seem ok or make more sense looking back.
After college, my friend and I snuck down to right behind the visitors dugout for a White Sox – Yankees game. It was 1997 and Derek Jeter had already won the Rookie of the Year award and a World Series title. Yet he was willing to engage me when I told my friend as loudly as I could, “How long before Jeter gets sent to the minors? Is there a more overrated player out there?” To us, the fact that he responded when he should have just been standing on deck taking practice swings was validation for how clever we were.
I never had an “aha” moment that made me stop heckling, but eventually you go to enough games that you get annoyed by people that are clearly trying too hard to be funny or act as if people paid all that money for a ticket to hear them. You also become a parent and watch your own kids play sports. If my son was able to play a professional or college sport, how would I want him to be treated? There’s also the fact that most of the people in these sports are half my age. It’s one thing when you are a college kid at Duke and saying something clever to other college kids. It’s quite something else when you are a grown man.
Some people may think this is political correctness run amok, but I hope it’s more of a maturity matter. I wouldn’t wear a jersey of a 20 year old. I wouldn’t ask a 20 year old for their autograph. Why should I tell them that they suck? It may feel ok in the group mentality of a large, rowdy stadium, but I assure you that you don’t want to be seen on Sportscenter doing it. And much like the Texas Tech booster, if that happened to you it would be a huge wakeup call.
So I’m here to say that my name is Mike. It’s been about 15 years since my last heckle. And I apologize to Derek Jeter, the 1990 New Trier boys basketball team or anyone else that I may have offended along the way.
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