As sports fans prepare for a weekend of turkey and football, they might wish to forget the images of the NBA brawl in Detroit now being replayed ad nauseum on cable TV.
The status of American sports as big-money, global media commodities continues to increase from year to year. Consider the new $330 million Fox Sports contract for college bowl games, and the $8 billion Fox/CBS will pay over the duration of their new NFL contract.
But the relationship between broadcasters, fans and players remains fragile. It’s a “social contract,” as NBA commissioner David Stern put it. “We patronize our athletes and our fans by accepting the fact that they should be allowed to engage in something less than civilized conduct,” Stern said.
Uncivilized conduct has been widespread this year. There have been ugly acts of violence on the field and off — at previous NBA games, college football games and during the baseball season.
Broadcasters share some of the blame for the present situation. They are quick to decry the thuggery of sports, but they also glamorize it, endlessly replaying scenes from the Detroit melee while taking millions in ad dollars that exploit the outlaw image of athletes.
Few news outlets in the wake of the Detroit brawl have focused on the real catalyst for the event: beer sales, which are a big source of profits for sports arenas.
If American sports is to earn a higher grade on the civility scale, athletes and fans who cross the line will have to face criminal charges. And broadcasters will have to recognize that they’re getting the product that they’re paying for.