In 2004, the National Basketball Association and sports altogether hit an all-time low. After Ron Artest fouled Ben Wallace in the final seconds of a blowout game in Detroit, a vicious fist fight broke out amongst the players. When an angry fan then tossed a cup at Artest, the Pacers star jumped into the stands, punching two fans -- one square in the face -- and setting off an all-out brawl.
Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season, losing an estimated $5 million in salary. He was also charged with assault, and sentenced to one year on probation, 60 hours of community service and a $250 fine. Artest made all that money back in his next season, plus some. He has since earned over $40 million.
The fan, on the other hand, who threw the cup and punched Artest in defense, spent 30 days in jail, two years on probation, and was banned from ever attending another Pistons game.
Years later, Artest changed his last name to World Peace.
Eight years after the infamous brawl he induced, World Peace brought some irony to his new name. After putting his team ahead with a slam dunk, World Peace pumped his chest, and blatantly elbowed Thunder's guard James Harden in the back of the head. Harden fell the the ground, the game was stopped, and World Peace was ejected. Harden was diagnosed with a concussion.
World Peace is lucky: he could have seriously injured Harden. Regardless, he will once again slip loose from this criminal act with nothing more than a measly suspension. Any money he loses he will remake in the next few weeks. And when he does something like this again, we will all act surprised. My question to the NBA: what exactly are you waiting for?
Sadly, World Peace is not alone in representing the developing epidemic of violence in sports. The New Orleans Saints are being criticized for their bounty scandal, in which players were paid bonuses to target opposing players on the field. In 2006, Albert Haynesworth of the Tennessee Titans raked his cleats across the face of his defenseless opponent, who needed 30 stitches to close the wounds.
If a normal citizen engaged in any of these actions on the street, they would be prosecuted. But when athletes act up on the field, they are immune from criminal law, and handed slaps on the wrist that do little more than please the public.
This is especially disheartening considering the reality that athletes, more than any other group of adults, serve as role models for much of America's youth. Not only do many kids aspire to be like, say, Metta World Peace, but they often try to emulate the exact actions of their heroes on and off the field.
Come to any Little League game in New York, and you are guaranteed to see eight and nine year-olds putting their hands in the face of the umpire as they ready their at-bat, just like Yankees' star Derek Jeter does. Similarly, go to a high school basketball game and you will see many players pump their chests and taunt the opposition, just like World Peace does.
The extreme sense of competitiveness and win-at-all cost mentality being promoted by professionals makes stories like these all too common: In 2005, a T-ball coach offered $25 to an eight year-old player to throw a ball at the face of his teammate -- an autistic player with poor skills -- in order to keep him out of the game. Not only does this present serious safety concerns, but it also degrades the positive aspects of sports -- exercise, teamwork, enjoyment -- that make youth sports a valuable tool for development.
World Peace and other professional athletes are lucky: they have incredible talents and are showered with rewards. Coupled with the fact they serve as such significant role models, it is reasonable to at least hold them to the same standards as ordinary Americans. If the NBA said to World Peace, "Do this again and we will kick you out of the league," he would never act out again, and those valuable aspects of sports could finally be restored.
It's about time people realize it is not OK to elbow your opponent in the head or punch a fan in the face. And it's about time Metta brings some World Peace after all.
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