Nov. 22, 2004

Throw the book!

The big story of the weekend had nothing to do with politics — at least not directly — nor with war. It concerned a wild brawl at the end of the Pistons-Pacers basketball game last Friday in Detroit and the National Basketball Association’s quick response.

If the NBA is smart, it will treat this batch of suspensions as the opening salvo of a more determined effort to clean up the league. According to Jeff Benedict, author of “Out of Bounds: Inside the NBA’s Culture of Rape, Violence & Crime,” professional basketball has more felons per capita than any crime family in America. He says 40 percent of the American players in the NBA during the 2001-02 season had police records involving a serious crime. Basketball players seem to have a special flair for wife beating, which the league seems to tolerate, but quite a few have managed to get mixed up in after-hours fisticuffs and other varieties of petty and not-so-petty crime.

Rather than moaning about a single brawl, why not establish firm, retrograde standards. For instance, anyone convicted of a felony may not play, and anybody with two or more convictions or plea bargains during a career is suspended for life. This sort of thing would clean up the sport in a hurry, and make it possible for dads to take sons to games without having to carry both a program and a criminal-procedure law book.

As for bad fans, authorities in Oakland County, Michigan seem to have the right idea. They have identified most of the fans responsible for instigating and/or participating in the melee, and are preparing to throw the book at those responsible.

The incident isn’t the end of sports as we know it — as some hysterics have claimed — but it may be enough to persuade sports team owners to stop running criminal enterprises and insist that athletes at least behave like adults during their playing careers.

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