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Marcus Smart needs to be punished, but were his actions warranted?

Feb 9, 2014, 2:44 AM EDT

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By now, it’s probably old news to you.

Late on Saturday night, Marcus Smart, the star of the No. 19 Oklahoma State Cowboys, went flying into the expensive seats after trying to prevent a dunk and give the Pokes one last chance to for overtime in a game at Texas Tech.

A fan said something to Smart.

Smart reacted by shoving him.

Twitter blew up, the video of the incident was replayed hundreds of times and, before you knew it, Smart’s shove was the biggest story in all of sports.

There’s two conversations to be had here.

For starters, Smart needs to be suspended. He has to be. There is no way around this. He went into the stands and shoved a fan in response to what a fan said to him. That’s simply unacceptable, and Smart has to accept the punishment. Head coach Travis Ford knows this. Smart, at heart, probably realizes this. The suits running the Big 12 Conference know this. Everyone does.

Basketball games, particularly at the college level, are emotional environments. The fans are sitting right on top of the court, and it’s entirely too easy for something as minor as a shove to turn into a situation as ugly as the Malice at the Palace. The point that no one is making is that a minute after Smart’s shove, the buzzer sounded and Tech won. The fans stormed the court, meaning that an emotionally charged Smart was sharing court space with Red Raider fans.

Am I the only one that realizes how lucky we were that this didn’t turn into some much, much worse?

A point has to be made. There is a line that cannot be crossed, and Smart crossed it.

But that brings me to my larger point: We cannot judge Smart, the person, on this moment.

According to reports, what the fan said to Smart to draw his ire was just about the worst thing that an older white man can say to a young black man. Multiple people at the game and within earshot of Smart claim that he was yelling, “he called me a n*****“.

If you want my honest opinion here, that fan — who has been identified as Jeff Orr, a Texas Tech “superfan” – is lucky that the only thing that happened was a shove. And to a point, I actually give Smart credit here. People are going to fly off the handle about the shove, but before you start calling Smart a thug or say that his reputation is forever tarnished, remember this:

  • Smart is competitive to a fault. He does not handle losing well, and this loss was Oklahoma State’s fifth in the last six games. The Cowboys, picked to be a contender for the Big 12 title in the preseason, are now essentially down to a six-man rotation. Their season is spinning out of control, and there’s not much Smart can do about it.
  • Smart’s played some of the worst basketball of his career during this stretch, and was caught on camera curb-stomping a chair and leaving the bench, throwing a fit in a back hallway, in a win against West Virginia last month.
  • This was the second straight game that Oklahoma State lost in the final possessions. In this one, despite Smart being the lone bright spot for the Pokes, Ford opted to go to Le’Bryan Nash on the last two possessions of the game. Neither resulted in a bucket.

With all that going on, right when he realized that he was probably going to lose yet another game, he was (reportedly) called the N-word by an old white guy … and he didn’t react by throwing a punch or physically assaulting the guy.

He only pushed him.

How many people would have immediately started throwing haymakers in that moment?

If anything, the talking point here should be directed more towards the way that fans behave themselves at sporting events.

There are too many people out there that believe that the simple fact that they bought a ticket allows them to yell whatever they want at a person just because they don’t like the colors of their jersey. Some of those things they say? They’re vile. They would get you fired if you said them in your office and beaten up if you said them to the wrong person.

Why is that OK?

Why do we allow people to turn into cretins when they’re rooting for a sports team? Two hours before Smart went into the stands, an Arizona State fan spit on Oregon players and coaches after a win. How long before this kind of behavior truly does become unacceptable.

Marcus Smart is going to pay the price for his reaction, but that doesn’t mean that what he did was unwarranted.

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