SBD/11/Sports Society

NATIONAL REAX: IS SPREWELL INCIDENT A DEFINING MOMENT?

          Latrell Sprewell's attack on P.J. Carlesimo and the
     subsequent one-year suspension from the NBA by Commissioner
     David Stern continues to draw significant attention from the
     print media.  Many writers are using the story to comment on
     the state of the NBA and as an example of the attitude of
     professional athletes towards authority.  A sampling of
     these articles follows (THE DAILY):
          A GANGSTER RAP: In N.Y., Mike Wise wrote the Sprewell
     incident "shook the entire league" and is the "latest in a
     series of troublesome incidents in the N.B.A. involving on-
     court and off-court misconduct by any number of its players. 
     In particular, [it] raised uncomfortable issues for the
     league dealing with race, mutual respect and a generational
     chasm between players and coaches that, at least in some
     instances, may be widening" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/7).  NEWSWEEK's
     Starr & Samuels: "The attack heightens already growing
     concerns about the lack of discipline among the game's
     younger stars" (NEWSWEEK, 12/15 issue).  The CHRISTIAN
     SCIENCE MONITOR's Sam Walker said it "raises important
     questions about changes in society that may be reflected in
     increasingly strained relationships between NBA players and
     coaches" (CSM, 12/8).  TIME's Joel Stein: "It didn't take a
     genius to see all this coming.  Respect for the old
     establishment was clearly fading as huge salaries boosted
     egos and brash wannabe superstars began to elbow their way
     toward the inevitable post-Michael Jordan era" (TIME, 12/15
     issue).  In S.F., Glenn Dickey wrote the NBA "has a serious
     problem, the cult of the individual, and it won't be solved
     by the suspension of Latrell Sprewell."  Dickey argued
     "many" NBA athletes "are out of control ... and they could
     ruin the game" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/10).  In San Jose, Mark
     Purdy wrote, "[t]his is not a story that goes beyond pro
     basketball.  It is a story totally about pro basketball,
     which for too long has been too bloated with too much money
     and too much ego" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 12/10).  In
     Charlotte, Ron Green: "It's not the games that are eroding
     the image of the NBA. ... People are fed up with athletes
     behaving like gangsters. ... They are fed up with athletes
     who are out of touch with reality" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER,
     12/11).  In Boston, Bob Ryan: "This is a story with major
     legs.  Before it plays out, the issue of confrontational
     coaches will get a good airing out ... and the idea of
     league authority will be examined and, most of all, the
     issue of race will come to the fore" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/11). 
          SI'S TAKE: Sprewell is pictured on SI's cover with text
     that reads the "incident raises other issues that could pose
     threats to the NBA's future, issues of power and money and -
     - most dangerous of all -- race."  Analyzing the state of
     the league, SI's Jack McCallum writes when Stern "made the
     command decision to kick Sprewell out of the league for one
     year, it seemed that perhaps the pressures of dealing with a
     star-crossed first month of the season had something to do
     with his draconian decision."  McCallum adds that if the
     arbitrator shortens Sprewell's decision, "it would represent
     Stern's biggest defeat in his glorious 13-year run as the
     commissioner's commissioner" (SI, 12/15 issue).  In his
     piece, "The Race Card," SI's Phil Taylor writes, "[T]here is
     a sense that the league was trying to do more than send a
     message that attacking a coach is unpardonable ... it was
     also trying to send a message to the public that the NBA it
     knows and loves was not becoming too dangerous, 'too
     black.'"  SI's Michael Farber writes Sprewell is "just
     another in the long line of friendly reminders ... that
     sports stand at a precipice.  There's no guardrail.  There's
     no abiding sense of right or wrong, at least beyond what the
     various leagues' vice presidents for violence impose on
     yesterday's headline makers.  The industry of sports has
     gone to hell in a handbasket, but as long as a team or
     corporate logo is on the handbasket, it's O.K." (SI, 12/15).
          PR PLIGHT: In Detroit, Bob Wojnowski: "The NBA is mired
     in the biggest public-relations scandal since baseball
     cancelled the World Series.  If the arbitrator reduces
     Sprewell's punishment significantly, the league loses
     another chunk of power, and the image of players run amok
     grows.  If the arbitrator upholds the ban, Barkley and his
     cohorts will play every card" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/11).  In
     N.Y., Joe Gergen: "What began as a simple assault by an
     athlete against his coach has mushroomed into an incident of
     great consequence not only for basketball but for all
     professional sports in America."  He added the NBA has
     thrown "down the gauntlet to the players to shape up or be
     shipped out, in what may be a defining moment between
     management and labor in professional sports.  Stern believes
     the role of commissioner and the letter of the player
     contract entitles him to demand a standard of conduct on and
     off the court.  He is banking his reputation on it"
     (NEWSDAY, 12/11).  In Orlando, Larry Guest notes a CBS
     SportsLine poll that showed 69% of respondents feel more
     negatively toward the NBA this season: "If Stern is playing
     to the Court of Public Opinion, it's about time someone in
     the NBA considered public sentiment.  Too many players and
     owners don't, and Stern is gamely trying to save them all
     from themselves" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 12/11).  In Oakland,
     Carl Steward wrote that while the NBA's suspension "may be
     vulnerable," it is a "thinly veiled message to the entire
     players' association that it will deal with its image
     problems involving myriad player insurrections as strongly
     as it sees fit" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 12/10).  But in Chicago,
     Sam Smith writes the Sprewell issue "is about big money and
     who gets it, and who will have the bargaining power when the
     real fight takes place next summer" over the CBA (CHICAGO
     TRIBUNE, 12/11).  In Portland, Dwight Jaynes: "If the
     players get the punishment overturned or shortened, it will
     only serve as one more incident that will bring even more
     fans to management's side -- and against the players -- in
     the inevitable labor strife" (OREGONIAN, 12/10). 
          TIME TO TALK? In Oakland, Monte Poole wrote that
     Johnnie Cochran's role with Sprewell should lead Stern to
     talk with the union.  Stern "knows a fight with Cochran
     could get messy, risking further alienation.  The suggestion
     here to Stern is to consider a compromise" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE,
     12/10).  In S.F., Gwen Knapp wrote the "long-term health of
     the NBA now appears to be at stake" and called on Stern to
     "call a timeout in the hostilities," talk with the player
     reps and "reassure the players" that the one-year
     "suspension (like Sprewell's attack) was an aberration"
     (EXAMINER, 12/10).  In L.A., Randy Harvey writes Stern "has
     forgotten, as baseball's leaders did years ago, that a
     league's most valuable assets are its players. ... Stern's
     reaction, his overreaction, was to establish himself as
     judge and jury."  Harvey: "In the battle for the hearts and
     souls of the fans, the likelihood is that Stern will win and
     the players will lose.  That means the NBA loses.  I thought
     Stern was smarter than that" (L.A. TIMES, 12/11).  In
     Chicago, Jay Mariotti: "[L]ike some radical thinker with a
     hidden agenda, [Stern] went too far" (SUN-TIMES, 12/11). 
          BIG PICTURE: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins: "There's a deep-
     seated anger among athletes from hard backgrounds, an anger
     stemming from racism, injustice and the constant specter of
     violence.  Players will continue to bring that anger into
     the professional ranks" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/6).   CA-based
     sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards said, "Eventually, one of
     these kids is going to leave practice -- and he's not going
     to come back and take a swing at the coach.   He's going to
     come back shooting" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 12/6).  

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