Warning: This article contains racial slurs, profanity and other language many may find offensive or objectionable. If you feel this language may be upsetting to you, do not read.*
You are at your place of employment on an ordinary workday.
You work with the public, so people are coming and going frequently. You complete the duties you were hired to perform: ring up a cart of groceries, process an insurance claim, start a legal filing, examine a patient or check out a library book. You finish with the customer, client, patient or patron and wait to provide service to the next person in line.
Let’s say you were checking out groceries and the customer had grown impatient after a lengthy wait in line. When he or she reaches the cash register area, he or she lashes out with a torrent of racist, sexist, bigoted or homophobic slurs against you:
Are you a terrorist, towel head?
Come on, you fucking faggot. Hurry it up.
Can you possibly go any slower, you stupid cunt?
Go back to Mexico, wetback.
Hey, dumb nigger. Can you hurry up, please?
Once the shock wears off, you may ask: What did you say to me?
Or, you may feel completely threatened and press a button to summon security, who would kick the offender out of the place of business. Depending upon the degree of escalation, the police would be called and an arrest would be made.
In a free society, people can think whatever they want and use whatever language they feel like using within their own homes. But there are laws against harassment and assault that must be upheld in public spaces. If this kind of racist aggression would not be tolerated in a grocery store, library, bank, or office building, it should not be tolerated in sporting venues either.
Here we go again ...
Draymond Green’s recent candid comments in an interview with The Undefeated about the racial abuse he and teammates have experienced from opposing fans during games comes as no surprise. However, the information never becomes less upsetting or troubling, particularly because the league does not seem inspired to better protect players.
“I’ve gotten the N-word, all of that,” Green said, but refusing to identify particular cities where the racist abuse has occurred. “Athletes are just not protected in that regard. Maybe something like [the Adam Jones incident] will help.”
The Adam Jones Incident: The Baltimore Orioles center fielder was called nigger multiple times during a game this week at Fenway Park. A Boston fan even threw a bag of peanuts at him.
As Green stated, perhaps this latest episode of racist aggression in a sporting environment will bring about a badly-needed national conversation about racism. Obviously, if athletes are facing this trashy behavior in public settings, many others are dealing with it in their everyday lives, even though these incidents do not make national news.
But the entire gist of the national conversation must be: Don’t assault others verbally or physically.
There is no circumstance under which this kind of behavior should be deemed acceptable, which begs the question: Why is the NBA (or other sports leagues) not doing more to hold fans accountable when situations like this occur?
Failing to penalize people who engage in this type of behavior does “empower hecklers,” as Green put it. And there is a double standard about punishment, too.
So often, a player involved in an altercation with a fan is punished with a hefty fine, while the fan will face no punishment at all. Recently, Stuart Scaramucci, son of Thunder minority owner Joe Scaramucci, was allowed to guzzle beer and verbally assault Patrick Beverley of the Houston Rockets. When Beverley finally stood up for himself because arena security did nothing, he was fined $25,000.
As Warriors fans know, this is not the first time this season Thunder fans have demonstrated outrageously slimy behavior. During Kevin Durant’s first return visit to Oklahoma City to play against his former team, he and other Warriors’ players were verbally assaulted with racist insults, and a situation with a notorious Thunder fan — who had previously vandalized Durant’s property — could have easily boiled over into violence.
At the time I wrote about the racial abuse Durant faced during that game, some fans in the comments section of the article, and in various egghead tweets, accused me and the Warriors’ fan base of overreacting to the behavior of some misguided fans in Oklahoma. In other words, they minimized the overt racist behavior that occurred.
Yet, we now have another incident involving Thunder fans (the Beverley incident), the situation with Adam Jones at Fenway, and the disgraceful racist abuse soccer player Everton Luiz endured during the entire 90 minutes of a match, which left him distraught and in tears.
It has been incident after incident in both sports and society at-large. So, no, there was no overreaction. But perhaps it is time for the NBA league office to investigate the arena environment in Oklahoma City rather than just fining players who have confrontations with wayward fans.
Moreover, silence often is the loudest volume of all. That the Thunder organization has not come out to condemn either the incident with Durant or Beverley means they have no problem with it whatsoever, which is the same as condoning it.
Fine the fans
Green, who has been involved with RISE’s “Sideline Racism” campaign and even lured his teammate, Stephen Curry, into the initiative, said he believes racism will only end with education.
“I think you’re taught it,” Green said. “You’re not born a racist.”
But education takes time. So, until people evolve past their racist views of others who are different than them, there must be a society-wide zero tolerance policy on hate speech. This is actually a matter of life and death because only a few dots separate the use of hate speech from violence.
This is why words matter: words create reality.
So, if Durant, or any black male, is viewed as a nappy head or boy, he is devalued and dehumanized. When a person is not seen as human, he is easier to kill — hence, the continued rampant police killings of African-American males on a near-daily basis.
It is up to all of us in our individual lives to do a much better job than the NBA and other sports leagues regarding the words and behaviors we will and will not tolerate. Setting boundaries at least educates others that the use of slurs is inexcusable. Even if a person cannot be educated to view people equally, they can be commanded to keep their toxic hatred to themselves.
For the NBA and other sports leagues, that means ejecting fans from the arena! A second infraction could, perhaps, be a hefty, cost-prohibitive fine. And a third and final incident could be a lifetime ban from the arena.
When so-called fans heckle musicians or other stage performers, security is quick to get the offender out of there. After musician Fiona Apple had a heckler ejected from a concert in Portland a few years ago, she said, on the grounds that such behavior impedes her ability to do her job and hurts her feelings: “If anyone gets in my way, I’m going to get them out of my way.”
Why isn’t the NBA getting these toxic fans out of the way of the players and other fans who want to enjoy the game in peace?
Athletes should be given the same concern and consideration as any musician. Athletes may be strong and powerful physically, but that does not mean they are impervious to abuse. Contrary to the beliefs of some, athletes are human and should not have to put up with this maltreatment while simply trying to do their jobs.
In the past, we have asked if the NBA cares about fair play.
Now, perhaps, it is time to ask if the NBA cares about the fair treatment of its players — the league’s greatest assets — and their basic safety.
If so, it is time for the league to crack down on abusive fan behavior now, before such fanaticism leads to tragedy.
The words used at the start of this piece are words I personally do not use, and they are words I will not tolerate other people using in my presence. However, I felt it was important to use them in this piece, even though doing so made me feel sick to my stomach. I think we all need to feel sick to our stomachs about how badly humans treat each other. We all need to feel very uncomfortable. Comfort can be a form of sleep, while discomfort often is the screaming alarm clock waking us up, requiring us to change.