In episode eight of the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Cersei Lannister gave pop culture one of its most popular phrases. Turned into a prisoner in her own home, the most powerful woman in Westeros was done playing politics as she felt diplomacy was no longer an option. She went with the nuclear option.
I’m not suggesting that pro athletes go on a murdering spree that leaves bodies in the streets, as Cersei Lannister did in her quest for control and political power, but I wouldn’t have a problem with athletes knocking these idiot fans out that have been crossing the line. If someone came into your job and called you the N-word, spit on you, poured popcorn all over you, threw water bottles at you, or came after your family, then defending yourself and your loved ones would be the right thing to do.
So, then why do we hold athletes to a different standard? And don’t say it’s because they make millions of dollars, either. As if your salary dictates your humanity. Because if a fan crossed the line with Mark Cuban or Steve Ballmer like they have with these athletes, I can assure you they wouldn’t be thinking about their billion-dollar portfolios as spit was flying at them.
In 1995, Vernon Maxwell left the bench and went into the stands to punch a white fan that had crossed the line with his words. And in 2004, the infamous “Malice at the Palace” took place after a white fan launched a drink at Ron Artest. People were arrested. Players were fined and suspended. And soon after, a dress code was implemented to “clean up” the game. But, guess what also happened after both of those incidents? Fans quickly got the message and acted accordingly. Nature tends to find a way to correct itself.
If you’ve paid attention to the myriad of crazed fan incidents over the last few weeks then you’ve realized the race is a part of the situation that is consistent, but yet, ignored in the conversation. Something about Black athletes taunted, poked, prodded, and spit on like animals at the zoo is a scene that’s beyond infuriating. And when it’s done by other fans of color, it just emphasizes the negative way that Black bodies have historically, and currently, been viewed.
2020 – and 2021 – have taught us many things. But, the ongoing lesson has been a masterclass on white fragility. Stuck in house for over a year, we’ve seen how things have played out when certain white people couldn’t be served at restaurants, be mean to ushers at the movies, be belligerent drunks to bartenders, couldn’t yell racially incentive things at sporting events, and were told that they had to wear a masks in public and on airplanes, all while their favorite “politician” lost an election he tried to rig in his favor, while the streets were on fire as America burned due to police brutality protests for weeks.
In case you forgot, they got so mad that ”their rights” were being “taken away” that back in January they even tried to take over the government and kill elected officials and their vice president. Those same people and their friends and families have finally been allowed to go back outside. And the events at stadiums and arenas over the last few weeks are the fallout. And as you can see, all of that kneeling for racial equality and chanting of “Black Lives Mattering” really pissed them off.
They aren’t mad at Naomi Osaka for breaking protocol. They’re pissed that they can’t grill the Black and Asian girl that wore face masks last summer with the names of Black victims on them.
That misguided and unnecessary hate and vitriol often leads to cowardice acts. Because if you were on the street you wouldn’t dare dump popcorn on Russell Westbrook, spit on Trae Young, or throw things at Kyrie Irving and Immanuel Quickley. These people wouldn’t say any of the things they say in private – or in the stands – directly to a Black person.
Because these are the types of people who have never been able to take a punch. They wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight. There’s a reason why they only do these things when there’s a barrier between them and the people they’re antagonizing. That’s why every now and then they need to be reminded that there are physical consequences for their actions. Because sometimes, two wrongs can make a right.