The case of Marcus Smart

Texas Tech fan—who goes by Jeff Orr, and let’s keep repeating this name until he lives on in infamy until oblivion—said something to Marcus Smart during a game between his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders and Smart’s Oklahoma State Cowboys a week ago.

Jeff Orr said something to Marcus Smart, and the sophomore responded in kind by shoving him. As a result, he wassuspended three games. In this story, those are just about the only three certainties—that someone said something to Smart, that he shoved that someone, and that he’s been suspended three games. And the way that you react to this might tell us a whole lot more about yourself than you think.

But first, let’s establish what is not clear in this case. We don’t know why the sophomore guard of Oklahoma State decided to shove the fan. We have one suggestion, as well as another, but there’s nothing definite—and no one but Smart, the fan himself, and maybe a few of the people at the game who surrounded them, know what was, or wasn’t said. But it does appear that this fan said something and that that something ticked Smart off.

What did the fan say? You’re a piece of crap? You know that’s not true. Because when is the last time you’ve said that? When is the last time you’ve heard someone say it? You know that the odds that he said that are very low, because nobody says that in 2014. So if Jeff Orr says he said that but actually didn’t, that means he’s lying. And said something much worse.

But of course, let’s deal in facts. We don’t know that he’s lying. Maybe Jeff Orr really did say that Smart was a piece of crap. Even if that’s what he said though, why did he say it? Why did he say anything? Yeah, because fans do that, and they’ve paid to attend this sporting event, and yada, yada. Still, why did he say it? It’s groupthink. It’s easy to be the big boy at the dance when you have your whole posse with you—the odds  that he hears you, that he singles out what you said from what the others in your group have said ,are very low. Therefore, you feel confident and maybe you push the limit of the acceptable and good taste just a little bit. But what happens when you’re face-to-face and all alone? Then you realize you shouldn’t have said anything. You realize that you shouldn’t have said anything, because he can definitely hear and single you out.

Smart was suspended three games, and maybe you think it’s too harsh. This means that you believe in standing for the right to stand up for yourself. You may believe in anarchy, too, and that the only rule should be that there is no rule. Truthfully, it’s a little scary if you genuinely think so. Of course, that’s the extreme, but we fall closer on that continuum to that first option than the alternative. But there’s something to be said for the person who believes in being him- or herself unapologetically, and consequences be damned.

Oh, because there were consequences—that three-game suspension for example and, soon enough, questions about Smart’s character, maturity, etc. All good stuff, right? Sigh.

The alternative, of course, is that you believe Smart got off easy. You believe that he should be sent to boarding school—or is it the Navy?—for what he did, because putting your hands on fans is the capital sin of the professional athlete. You’ve heard that Smart didn’t use Jeff Orr as a punching bag the same way that Stephen Jackson once did with another fan in Detroit, but you say that this isn’t the point. It’s a matter of principle, and principles should be infallible. Smart committed the capital sin—hitting a fan—and he must pay. But three games isn’t a proper punishment, because what Marcus Smart did was assault apparently. You think that this further reinforces the notion that Smart is a petulant child who needs guidance.

That’s where others counter that suspending him for—let’s be real—what is a minor incident doesn’t guide him anywhere. And around and around that debate goes on.

The alternative to that alternative is somewhere in the middle, though it’s really likely more 80 per cent of the former and 20 per cent of the latter. I’m of that group that thinks that the three-game suspension is precisely and exactly enough. It was a dumb and silly mistake that Smart made, and he’s paying for it and maybe the next time this has a chance of happening he will have learned his lesson. But Jeff Orr also made a dumb and silly mistake, and who’s teaching him anything about anything? It’s sad that we’re expecting more of a 19-year-old than a 55-year-0ld grandfather. ConsideringJeff Orr’s past, when will he learn? Now considering Smart’s past, it’s telling that he showed restrain. Maybe he‘s learned. Or he hasn’t, and we must send him to boarding school, teach him some dinner table manners and how to be a man? When he’s 19 years old?

No.

Smart was dumb to shove Jeff Orr. It was stupid and immature, and he feels silly and apologetic. Because he knows that this is exactly what Jeff Orr wanted. But Smart shoved him, yes, and it’s precisely and exactly the only thing that he did. He didn’t punch him. He didn’t pile-drive him or hit him with the FU. He shoved him, just like you may have shoved that annoying bro during high school. And because that’s what it looked like (i.e. high school), three games of suspension is about right.

If you send every stupid sucker for every petty mistake he or she commits, soon enough there’s no place anywhere for the real criminals. Smart isn’t a real criminal, he’s just a teenager who reacted poorly. As teenagers tend to do.

Now of course, I might be judging you harshly in either case. But I’m really not doing anything different than what you are doing. You are judging him—you’re saying that he deserves to be deeply punished for something that, oh by the way, you would never have done, of course not. But you’ve done it in high school, or in the schoolyard, not on national television and in front of thousands, and that much is true. Never have 20,000 people watch you shove someone, or do anything else really—because Smart may be better at basketball than you are at anything.