the sucker punch

11/21/04

The sports world is abuzz with the brawl/riot that took place between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, and if you haven’t seen the pertinent videos, you can find some here (although the small screen doesn’t quite do it justice). When I first saw it, it made me actually a little sick, probably from some holdover desire for every game to be like “Hoosiers” or perhaps one of Dean’s random wins over Koach K.

Everyone’s trying to figure out who to blame – Pistons fans, Ron Artest, etc. – but the smarmiest judgments came from the sportscasters, who not only condoned the beating up of random fans, but also tut-tutted with endless disgust, saying it was the darkest night of NBA hoops any of them had known.

Frankly, I think that’s a bit disingenuous. I have never turned to the NBA for rational discourse, treatises on how to behave, or good basketball, for that matter. I’ve hated the pro game since I was a kid, because college was always more exciting. I’d rather watch Boise State play Montana than to sit through another Laker game.

The Pistons/Pacers brawl, to me, is the essence of the current American character. There is so much free-floating anger in this country that I’m surprised a massive arena riot hasn’t already taken place.

The last four years have shown us that when it comes right down to it, we are not protected. We are on our own. There were no parachutes or magic slides out of the World Trade Center, there is no flu vaccine for your pregnant wife, and the power will fucking go out for half of America for days on end. Don’t expect there to be a safety net, because there isn’t one.

Now, I’m repulsed beyond reckoning that a 6’6″ athlete weighing 250 is rushing into the stands to beat the living shit out of a 5’9″ schlub because he might have been the one to throw a plastic cup of beer. But the Pacers, at that moment, were in a situation that appeared to have no safety net, and then they made a decision: to beat up everyone they could get their hands on.

I think Tessa’s theory is correct: the number of violent murders with guns in this country is not the cause of a culture of fear (which was Michael Moore’s hypothesis in “Bowling for Columbine”), it is because we are a culture that says, from the very top, that it is okay to kill our own.

The death penalty sets a subconscious precedent from above that sets in motion a wanton disregard for life all over. It’s like having a parent who is a pathological liar; chances are you will be too.

The Pacers aren’t just from poor neighborhoods where fighting was a regular survival technique – they’ve taken their cue from the highest sources in America. Our current administration has reacted to every threat by killing hundreds of thousands of people who happened to be in the wrong country when the towers came down. The litany of our international thuggery gets longer every day.

Now, I’m not saying George Bush was unleashing his inner monster through the body of Ron Artest on Friday night, but I am saying that this country is full of blind rage at a world they can no longer control.

And this is the basic difference between some Americans. Some use their basest emotions, which they misconstrue as some sort of inner truth, and unleash unchecked punishment on anyone who doesn’t appear to agree with them. Others, on the other hand, would have walked out of the gym. You get hit with a beer? You’re mad, but you don’t throw roundhouse sucker punches at people a foot shorter than you.

Alone, surrounded, and feeling the pangs of a world without a safety net, I’m trying to be the latter. I’d like to formally withdraw.

0 thoughts on “the sucker punch

  1. Sean Williams

    Just for the record, Ron Artest has been hit three other times with objects thrown from the crowd. He is as crazy as the day is long, but, like when Shaq threw a terrible punch at Brad Miller, when you are hounded game after game it can be a little much to take.
    Not to poo-poo the whole thing, but remember that the level of gentlemanly behavior in modern sport is an enormous step up from not only the ancient world, but even early America. And we’ve got a long way to go before we’re responsible for murdering a player for missing a goal or even the sort of day-to-day hooliganism of English football.
    I agree that our culture is sliding away from intelligence and toward base reactionism, but we have a long way to go before we’ve given up on societal gentleness.

    Reply
  2. Piglet

    Ian, please post this as a diary on Daily Kos, or else let me rip it off and post it there, with or without a link to this page.
    I know sports like I know North Dakota (my first knee-jerk reaction was, “Blue state team v. red state team? Of course, Indiana must be to blame for whatever happened”), and normally ignore your sports-related entries. If this one held my interested, it will probably be a recommended diary.
    Oh yeah, and this is one of those insights of yours that is so on-the-spot perceptive and wise that it keeps me coming back through all the Tarheel and cute-family entries that, um, appeal to people other than me.

    Reply
  3. Merkin

    “The Pacers aren’t just from poor neighborhoods where fighting was a regular survival technique – they’ve taken their cue from the highest sources in America. Our current administration has reacted to every threat by killing hundreds of thousands of people who happened to be in the wrong country when the towers came down. The litany of our international thuggery gets longer every day.”
    Probably the dumbest paragraph you’ve ever written (perfect for Daily Kos), though the competition in that category is mighty fierce.

    Reply
  4. Bud

    Today’s post is powerful and disturbing, and hits on a basic truth: incidents like this don’t happen in a vacuum, they happen in a larger social context.
    What’s the real source of the violence? It certainly goes back further than 2000. Michael Moore’s suggestion in “Bowling for Columbine” is entirely plausible; ours *is* a culture of fear, and scared animals are dangerous–scared people even more so.
    But Tessa’s right that the death penalty, and more broadly, the tendency to use violence as a catch-all solution, creates a culture of violence and death. I think Moore would agree strongly. Maybe that culture of death arises from the culture of fear; certainly they are connected, and feed on one another.
    As for the safety net, we *do* have one, but in this culture our safety net consists of our family and friends.
    You are not alone.
    Always remember that we’re here, and never hesitate to call on us–we won’t hesitate to call on you. I’ve got your back, bro, yo.
    I, too, feel the urge to withdraw, including all the darker meanings of withdrawal, but we owe it to each other to hang tough, regroup, and if nothing else, take care of each other.
    We have to be strong enough, and brave, to stay in the game, and to keep playing it fairly. Only by our stubborn example can we redefine the culture the way it should be.

    Reply
  5. Karinne

    as my dad said…
    “when you’re 6’6″, in ridiculous shape, and get paid $20 million dollars to do anything (let alone play basketball)…when you happen to get hit with ice or beer, or anything for that matter, you say ‘thank you very much’ and then go get a towel.”

    Reply
  6. Piglet

    It’s on Kos.
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/11/22/19258/193
    Read the comments, if you feel like cringing. Some of them are pretty good, though.
    One person said you captured the way average Germans felt insecure in Wiemar Germany.
    But here’s my favorite so far:
    ____________________________________________
    Let’s say Ben Wallace is Osama bin Laden,self appointed avenger of the Muslim world. (In Hoops this is known as an “enforcer”.) Ron Artest
    is the USA.
    Ben takes great offense at hard foul by
    Artest (OBL’s grievances). OBL (Ben Wallace) gives the USA (Artest) a vicious shove. That’s 9-11.
    Now Artest thinks he’s the victim. He wants to kill Ben
    but there’s problems. Ben’s too big. There aren’t enough good targets in Afganistan. We don’t really want to catch OBL. We don’t do caves. Whatever.
    So USA lies down on the scorers’ bench & lets all that
    Adrenaline course into his veins. Team-mates come to help. This is their leader. The heart & soul of the team,
    even if he acts like a punk sometimes. They gotta back him up.
    USA hears someone laughing at him. Someone smaller. A lot smaller. He does an all out assault on the guy. That’s Iraq. Some of team-mates join in, even though they thought they had his back against Bin, but hey, what the hell, he’s the leader, they’ve been to war before.
    Everybody’s watching though. It’s on TV & everything.
    The whole world sees the fantastically rich, powerful,
    superior athelete of a country beat the crap out of a defenseless, unarmed schlub that had the nerve to defy
    Superman. SuperLeaderDudes’ reputation is ruined.
    OK, in reality we know USA had his sights on the schlub for a long time & was gonna take him out with some lame excuse or another anyway. It was just gonna take some “Catastrophic & Catalysing” event to get the ball rolling.
    Now he needs an excuse to save his rep. He tries to claim sclub had a weapon & was threatening him & the team. Some of the dimmer watted fans fall for that. Then he claims schlub is an abuser. Then it’s found out USA paid for sclubs’ ticket. Finally he settles on, “I was just trying to teach schlub how to play basketball”.
    Now don’t tell me I’ve just proven the ultimate weakness of analogy. I know that.

    Reply
  7. Chris

    “…I am saying that this country is full of blind rage at a world they can no longer control.”
    Perhaps you are projecting your own mental state on America. Everyone, please go look out the nearest window and report all empirical manifestations of American’s blind rage. I’ll start: outside my office window in lower Manhattan there are men in orange vests moving soil with a backhoe at the base of a nearly completed office tower located at the site of the former World Trade Center 7. There are dozens of people walking by the surrounding streets and sidewalks, apparently going about their daily routines. There is a guy with a table full of “I (heart) NY” shirts for sale to tourists.
    Keep your chins up. It’s going to be ok. Really.

    Reply

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