Many sportswriters yearn to be psychoanalysts. That is obvious in a post-Marcus Smart Shoving Some Jerk Who Was Asking For It world. If you missed the particulars, there is no need to worry. Truthfully, there isn't much of a story beyond the performance of moral outrage as coda.
In the closing seconds of a road loss, Oklahoma State star sophomore and odds-on NBA lottery pick Marcus Smart shoved Texas Tech superfan Jeff Orr. Smart reportedly told his coaches that Orr called him a racial slur, while Orr has only admitted to remorse for saying something he shouldn't have. The vagueness of Orr's admission and his general tendency for acting crazy in the stands can lead you down whatever logical road you like, but there's no controversy in saying that a grown man whose favorite pastime is taunting teenagers has some issues. None of this is being said, of course, because college basketball experts are too busy showing off their psych degrees from Hollywood Upstairs Medical College.
For example, here's C.J. Moore, Bleacher Report's lead college basketball writer, who showed great bravery in declaring Smart a "renegade" who is "out of control." Then there's Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports, who compared Smart's shove to the Malice in the Palace incident and floated the idea of suspending Smart for the remainder of the season.
Social media revealed Seth Davis and Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports to be incapable of reason, insight or anything else useful on this matter. Really, almost no one has had anything useful to say and the reason is obvious: Most white people know nothing about having a racial slur used against them.
This isn't so much a criticism of the predominantly white sports media as it is a reminder that their opinions here are devoid of personal insight. It's why the overriding mainstream narrative is that Smart made a mistake and must be punished, which is precisely the message that his three-game suspension conveys. When the action being punished is a response to alleged racism and the racism goes ignored, it only guarantees more racism. Beyond that, there is the uncomfortable matter of a black man being punished for his response to a racist provocation.
While it's easy to say that a player should never physically engage a fan, that's also a context-free standard that absolves the NCAA of its responsibility to the athletes who line their coffers more or less free of charge. Creating an environment in which players are not automatically subject to the worst brand of verbal abuse is a low bar to clear, but it's one the NCAA has shown no real interest in clearing. This makes perfect sense once the NCAA is viewed as a money-making mechanism rather than one with genuine regard for the athletes who enable its existence.
The power imbalance can be seen not just in the mainstream narrative, but by how readily Smart's allegations were dismissed. This video released by Texas Tech has already been trumpeted as proof that Orr is not racist. While calling someone a slur is generally unacceptable in this society, accusing someone of calling you a slur without incontrovertible proof leaves the door open for old biases to play out in new ways.
These were on display during Oklahoma State's press conference on Sunday, which saw Smart give a brief apology and segued into old dudes droning on endlessly about Smart being a good kid who made a huge mistake. Whatever. Smart is, by all accounts, a good person, but shoving someone for calling you a slur is about the most measured response anyone shouting a slur should ever expect. However, by the logic the NCAA demands, it is Smart's unpaid duty to surrender his dignity in exchange for the supposed honor of playing college basketball. This is both stupid and inhumane.
However, I still can't tell you what Smart should have done. Being called a slur is something of an impossible situation. Take it silently and you can feel a bit of your humanity slipping away. Respond and, well, anything can happen, but none of it will be good. I've done both and can report that being called a slur, regardless of how one responds, only leaves you with a fury so deep that nothing short of time can keep it from overwhelming your every thought. It's a brutal, jarring thing and conceptualizing a "proper" response unjustly puts the onus on the victim.
Re-watching the video of Smart shoving Orr, I vacillate between hoping to see him walk away and begging him to pop that dude in the mouth. While neither desire is fully "right," anyone who has been called a slur knows both desires quite well. Everything got too messy too fast for anyone to offer a right answer, not even the experts determined to sell you one.
All I can tell you is that the victims of racism are increasingly tired of acting out the proper response to this.