The shove heard 'round the college basketball world. That may be the best way to describe Oklahoma State basketball star Marcus Smart's physical retaliation for a Texas Tech fan's classless verbal abuse late Saturday evening.
Less than 24 hours later, Texas Tech supporter Jeff Orr admitted, "my actions were inappropriate." Smart similarly observed, "I let my emotions get the best of me."
Nevertheless, Smart has been suspended from the reeling Cowboys for OSU's next three games, Orr has volunteered to stay away from his beloved Texas Tech basketball program for the rest of the season and a lot of folks are justifiably wondering what this says about the state of sportsmanship in college athletics.
"It's certainly a learning tool," University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics director David Blackburn said Sunday. "And that includes both athletes and fans."
Exactly what Orr said to so rile Smart may never be known. Smart reportedly told Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford that it was racist in nature. Texas Tech released a statement that extensive replaying of video footage revealed no such abuse and that no one sitting near Orr heard such inflammatory words.
In that same statement, Orr -- an air traffic controller from Waco, Tex. -- said, "I regret calling Mr. Smart a 'piece of [manure], but I want to make it known that I did not use a racial slur of any kind."
Still, something seriously offensive appeared to upset Smart, who after falling under the basket while attempting to block the Red Raiders' game-winner, and with his back to Orr, swiftly swung around to face the fan, then ran a couple of steps toward him before pushing Orr in the chest with both hands.
After that, while his Cowboy teammates attempted to pull him back to the bench and referee Doug Sirmons hit him with a technical foul, Smart continued to yell and point at Orr.
"Just can't let that happen again," Smart said during an OSU press conference Sunday evening. "This is a lesson I'll have to learn from. The consequences that are coming with it, I'm taking full responsibility. No finger pointing. This is all upon me."
The words sound sincere. But they also sounded sincere when he apologized for letting his teammates down in a game against West Virginia on Jan. 25, when he kicked a chair after picking up a foul in the first half against the Mountaineers. He said then that nothing like that would happen again and now it has, only much worse.
But only Smart and Orr truly know what was said, and maybe Smart thought he heard something he didn't. After all, he was already angry over the Cowboys losing their fourth straight game and fifth in six outings.
He could have been a lottery pick after a stunning freshman season last year, but came back to help his teammates have a big season. Now that big season is imploding, along with Smart's reputation. Whatever Orr said, any negative message was probably enough to trip Smart's temper.
Still, there are bigger issues and questions here. Does a player ever have the right to confront a fan? Does a fan have a responsibility to display a certain degree of sportsmanship? And when either line is crossed, what is proper punishment?
"You can't control what someone says, but you can control how you react to it," said UTC men's coach Will Wade a few hours before Smart's suspension was handed down. "Fans need to show proper etiquette, too. But you can't react. That's what they want you to do."
Asked what punishment he would deliver a Moc in a similar circumstance, Wade said, "He'd be suspended, and for more than a game. Probably two or three games."
Yet Wade also understands how rude, crude and disturbing fans have become, especially with social media making it so much easier to research opposing players' personal history.
"It's definitely exacerbated it," Wade said. "You can learn so much about these guys now, then use it against them. It's more personal now, more hurtful."
What to do about it is less certain, though Blackburn was quick to say, "A donor gift doesn't give fans the right to do whatever they want."
So here we are, society's civility seemingly spiraling downward as swiftly as the Cowboys season, the joy of winning apparently only matched by the joy of rubbing it in, victory no longer its own reward.
This is in no way meant to excuse Smart's actions. He's probably lucky he's only suspended for three games instead of the rest of the season. As one Oklahoma journalist observed, he could have been charged with assault. But it's also instructive that Orr is something of a serial heckler, if one is to believe the Tweets of several former Big 12 players, including former Texas A&M Aggie Bryan Davis, whom Orr once taunted with an obscene gesture.
Tweeted Davis: "The same guy that talked crazy to me for 4 years ... but you should never put your hands on a fan."
Wade said he will address the issue with his Mocs this afternoon. Blackburn is contemplating preparing a message on fan behavior to be aired on McKenzie Arena's video boards prior to UTC's Thursday night game against Western Carolina.
If he does, he might want to copy the words of Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder, who sagely said on Sunday, "Some things are more important than winning and losing. The respect you have, that takes a lifetime to build, can be gone in a blink of an eye."
Be ye the observed or the observer.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
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