Weighing in on

the Artest mess

I have discovered over the years that the life of a columnist is akin to the expression "feast or famine." Some weeks the deadline races at me like a runaway locomotive while writer's block has me tied to the tracks. And there are other weeks where there is not enough time or space to address all of the issues that plague our society.

Then there are the weeks when all of the interesting stuff happens when I'm on vacation. So if you'll allow me, I'd like to catch up.

Ron Artest should be filing for unemployment this week. Unstable people do not belong in positions of power or influence. When someone plinks you with a plastic cup and that action causes you to lose your mind and attack the crowd, then you are not stable.

I've heard the same arguments you have. Artest was in the heat of the battle. He was already upset about something that had happened earlier in the game. And my favorite, coming from Charles Barkley, the best player in basketball to never win a championship of any sort, who said, "If someone touches me, I have a right to beat the hell out of him."

Remember, however, this is the same man who said he didn't want to be anybody's role model. My guess is that the network contacted Barkley only because they knew he was going say something silly. The former deodorant pitchman didn't disappoint.

Back to Artest. I heard about the NBA malaise before I saw it. When I saw the replay of the fight, I simply shook my head in disgust, especially when I heard that Artest would be forfeiting more than five million dollars of his salary, as he will be forced to sit out the remainder of the season.

My first thought was this. How many basketball players are out there who are almost as good as, if not better than Ron Artest, who would play this game for a lot less than five million dollars?

It's interesting to me that we have what is known as the "zero-tolerance" policy in our elementary schools, where a 12-year old child can be put under house arrest for supposedly possessing a pocketknife or a key chain (but that's for another column). Yet, when a professional athlete dashes into the crowd to beat up the guy who he thinks threw a beer cup at him, he only gets suspended and in some cases, defended.

The professional sports arena is the perfect place for zero tolerance. A grown man, who gets paid millions of dollars to play a high intensity sport, should know better.

Some said last week that it was as ugly as it gets. If could have been uglier. What if Ron Artest was a hockey player and he went into the stands with his stick. Or if he played football and snatched off his helmet and started swinging at an unruly fan who attacked him with a half-ounce piece of plastic.

And I realize that fans are partly to blame in this situation. But that's what security is for. The ultimate responsibility lies with the athlete.

Professional sports needs to draw the line. Call it conduct unbecoming of an athlete. If found guilty, bounce the offender out of the league. Nobody is irreplaceable.

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