On November 19th we witnessed perhaps the lowest point in professional sports take place during a NBA game. If you are unaware of what took place, let me give you a quick run down. Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons was fouled in the process of shooting a layup by Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers. There was nothing unusual about this foul with Artest simply not wanting to give away an easy basket to the opposition. Ben Wallace turned around and choked Artest with both hands. A benches-clearing scuffle ensued between the Pacers and Pistons. Once calm had seem to have been brought back to the court, a fan lobbed a cup full of ice from the stands, hitting Ron Artest in the head. Artest proceeded to climb into the stands and issue a facial beating on the one who threw the cup. Another Indiana Pacer also went into the stands and began punching out fans. The fans began fighting back creating a mob scene with fists, chairs, and beverages being thrown throughout the arena. Finally, the players removed themselves from the stands. But some fans had poured out on to the arena floor. Ron Artest and Jermaine ONeal proceeded to punch out one particular fan standing on the court. Fans rained down popcorn, beer, and coke on the players as they left the court. The basketball game could not be finished due to this horrifying melee.
I know we have come to expect little from our professional athletes. It seems that more than ever professional athletes are in the news with felony charges ranging from drug abuse to murder. But what was said afterward by the players, coaches, and commentators was what was surprising. Many people basically said that if the fan had not thrown something, this would not have happened. Further, players have a right to self-defense in such instances. I have no doubt players would not have gone into the stands if the cup had not initially been thrown. But it seems we are missing the greater point.
Where is the personal responsibility to control ourselves? Where is the call to keep our minds and emotions in check in such “heated” situations? The players association for the NBA has appealed the suspensions of the players on the basis that the players have the right to defend themselves. You may be reading this and agree with the players association. But I would like for us to think in a different direction.
A critical error is made when we justify our actions based upon our emotions or feelings. Going into the stands is not the appropriate reaction for someone throwing a cup. Neither is taking it upon ones self to issue a facial beating on the fan for throwing a cup. I am not saying the fan was right for throwing the cup. The fan should have been removed from the game and arrested for his actions. But just because one person does wrong toward us does not mean we have the right to act wrongly toward that person. Ron Artest could have notified security of the person who had thrown the cup. He could have walked to the middle of the court to avoid any other projectiles that he may have thought would be thrown at him. He could have left the court and gone into the locker room. Rather than exercise self-control, Artest and his teammates “lost it,” acting like wild animals released from a cage and mauling the first thing in sight.
This event is the end result of our societys continued push to absolve people from personal responsibility. The more we tell people it is okay for them to act on their emotions because it is how they feel, the more we will see terrible images like what happened in Detroit. Society tells us that if something feels right, then it cannot be wrong. If this is true, then there is nothing wrong with what Artest did, since he felt like turning a fans face into a punching bag. But everyone knows what Artest did was wrong. The NBA has suspended Artest for the rest of the season (73 games) without pay. Realizing his actions were wrong is the first step for us to realize that feelings do not and cannot justify our actions. God has called us to not respond like animals, but to turn the other cheek in such instances. Ron Artest is a thug who does not understand why he is in trouble. He is in trouble because we are called to be responsible for our behavior, even when others wrong us. We are called to be “the bigger man” and diffuse the situation, not escalate it. We are called to be civil and act as humans. God said: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17,21).