Russell Westbrook found himself in a heated verbal argument with a fan during Monday night’s game against the Jazz in Utah.
Buying a ticket to a game does not give you the right to be a jerk. Nor does it serve as an excuse for your boorish behavior.
Obvious as that should be, the reminder is necessary after events of the last few days. A Utah Jazz fan has unsuccessfully tried to remove all evidence of his existence on social media after old posts showed he might not be as innocent as he claimed to be in the heckling that provoked Russell Westbrook’s profane tirade Monday night. In England, a fan will spend the next 14 weeks in jail after running onto the field and punching Aston Villa’s captain during a Premier League game Sunday.
This isn’t that hard, people. Yes, sports are meant to be fun and games provide a brief respite from the worries and concerns of everyday life. But the norms of common decency don’t cease to exist when you walk through the doors of an arena or stadium.
It is one thing to boo an opposing player or team, or even engage in some lighthearted trash talking. When you make it personal, however, or use racist or homophobic language, you’ve crossed a line. When you run onto a field or court, or put hands on a player, you’ve committed a crime.
“As men, what do you expect us to do? Shut up & dribble?” Oklahoma City Thunder forward Patrick Patterson said on Twitter after Monday night’s game. “No one is held accountable for their actions except for us. Fans are protected in every way possible but not us.”
It’s easy to say Westbrook should have kept his cool, tuned out the Jazz fan who was taunting him. After all, this isn’t the first time he’s been the target of opposing fans. It isn’t even the first time he’s been heckled and jeered in Utah.
But how would you feel if someone came into your workplace and screamed at you relentlessly? Or told you to “Get down on your knees like you used to,” as Westbrook said the fan did? That’s inappropriate in and of itself, and it’s downright offensive when it’s said to a black man by a white man.
Of course the fan, Shane Keisel, tried to claim he’d meant no harm to Westbrook. That he’d been talking about Westbrook icing his knees.
Or … not. In a Twitter post last spring, Keisel called Westbrook a “piece of classless (expletive),” and said that somebody needed to “kick his (expletive deleted).”
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There were other posts, widely circulated, in which Keisel appeared to use racial slurs. But it appears now those posts were doctored.
While there’s no video of Keisel yelling at Westbrook, Patterson and Raymond Felton, who was sitting near Westbrook on the bench, corroborated Westbrook’s account of what was said, including the words that were used. You decide who’s more credible.
“There are a lot of great fans that like to come to the game and enjoy the game. And then there are people that come to the game to say disrespectful things about me, my family,” Westbrook said after the game.
“For many years, I’ve done all the right things. I’ve never done anything to hurt or harm anybody. I’ve never been in any trouble, I’ve never fought a fan,” he added. “ … I’m just not going to continue to take the disrespect for my family.
“I just think that there’s got to be something done, there’s got to be consequences for those type of people that come to the game just to say and do whatever they want to say. I don’t think it’s fair to the players. Not just to me, but I don’t think it’s fair to the players.”
Not fair to other fans, either, who don’t go to games to hear people around them cursing or using offensive language in hopes of getting a rise out of someone famous and having their own 15 minutes of fame.
Arenas and stadiums might be far removed from the playground, but the same rules still apply: Be kind, play nice. That goes for everyone.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.