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 is now permanently banned from Vivint Smart Home Arena for the verbal abuse that prompted Russell Westbrook’s profane tirade Monday night. Not just Jazz games, mind you. Shane Keisel is banned from EVERY event at the arena.
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.
“We all have a responsibility to respect the game of basketball and, more importantly, each other as human beings,” Jazz president Steve Starks said in announcing Keisel’s ban.
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?” Westbrook’s teammate 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.
The NBA said Tuesday it was fining him $25,000 for “directing profanity and threatening language to a fan.”
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, Keisel, tried to claim he’d meant no harm to Westbrook. That he’d been talking about Westbrook icing his knees.
But it quickly became clear that Keisel was being less than truthful. Patterson and Raymond Felton, who was sitting near Westbrook on the bench, corroborated Westbrook’s account of what was said, including the words Keisel used. In its statement, the Jazz said it had used “video review and eyewitness accounts” to determine what had happened.
There also was a Twitter post last spring by Keisel, since deleted, in which he called Westbrook a “piece of classless (expletive),” and said somebody needed to “kick his (expletive deleted).”
“The Utah Jazz will not tolerate fans who act inappropriately,” the Jazz said. “There is no place in our game for personal attacks or disrespect.”
There shouldn’t be a place anywhere for personal attacks or disrespect, but that’s a whole other matter.
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If you’re a fan who goes to a game looking to get a rise out of someone famous and have your 15 minutes of fame, you are the problem. It doesn’t matter how good your seats are or how much you shelled out for the tickets. If you can’t behave properly, then you don’t belong.
Arenas and stadiums might be a long way from the playground, but the same rules still apply: Be kind, play nice. That goes for everybody.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.