Where Are the Role Models?

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27, 2004 — -- We all saw the fists flying, but how many of us saw the children? A television camera caught them standing in the middle of the chaos: a young black boy, maybe 10, hugging and comforting a younger boy. The smaller child's face was contorted with fear and big tears were flowing down his cheeks.

Later you could tell from the video that they seemed to be part of a family. An older man joined them with yet another child, who looked to be about 3 or 4 years old. They all had been in the center of the fight-fest that broke out at the Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons game.

You can just imagine that the boys had probably been having a great time, excited to be at a professional basketball game. They were sitting in the "good" seats, close to courtside. They had probably eaten hot dogs and popcorn and marveled at the huge, tattooed men dribbling and dunking the basketball. Like many kids their age, they may have wanted to be just like those players when they grow up. Suddenly, with the game almost over, they became eyewitnesses to what sportscasters are now calling one of the ugliest incidents ever in U.S. pro sports.

It was a pretty shocking sight: Indiana Pacer Ron Artest clambering into the stands, knocking over everyone and everything in his way, all to get his payback from a Detroit Pistons fan who threw a drink at him. It led to a five-minute fracas between players and fans. Fists and chairs were flying. Punches were being thrown. Nine people suffered injuries.

It was no longer basketball. It was "basketbrawl."

Plenty of Blame

OK -- the fan should not have thrown the cup at Artest. The man accused of throwing it has a criminal record. Fans can get out of control. (Don't forget that "fan" comes from the word "fanatic.")

But Artest? Should he have gotten so angry that he embarrassed himself, his team and the whole NBA, to get back at this guy? Artest is a multimillionaire. A lot of people have said that for his kind of money, he should know how to exercise some restraint.

What went through the minds of those little boys seeing adults behaving so badly? Many people are questioning whether the NBA players we see today ought to be role models for young people.

Many are young, straight out of high school and the "hood." Their handlers show them how to master the game, but not civility and respect for others.

Many have grown up in a hip-hop culture and have embraced the "thug life." Where are the Michael Jordans, the Magic Johnsons, the Kareem Abdul-Jabars?

I have encountered so many young African-American males who want to become professional basketball players. Not only because they love the game, but because they love the lifestyle. Their "heroes" can play ball, but they also have multimillion-dollar salaries, big cars and houses, and beautiful women at their beck and call. They go to fancy parties, travel with "posses" and wear their bling-bling off the court.

Little Remorse

Artest is being punished by the NBA. He is suspended from playing for the rest of the season, 73 games, and he will lose $4.9 million of his $6.2 million salary. It's a pretty high price to pay for getting angry.

When he finally made himself available to the media to discuss his side of the story, Artest showed little remorse. He tried to spend as much of his interviews as he could promoting the CD his record label is releasing soon. His record label? He wants everybody to hear his girl R&B group and he held up the disc for the television viewing audience to see.

As troubling as all that might be to most Americans, here's something that may be even more disturbing: As Artest left the radio studio where he had been interviewed, he was met by a group of young people chanting, "We support you, Artest," and "Go Ron, go." I have a hard time believing that. Can you? I don't think the little boys can either.

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