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The Friday Off Topic: Let’s stop excusing violence in sports

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The Tulsa — Mississippi State scene was disgusting, and it’s time we do something about it.

NCAA Football: Armed Forces Bowl-Tulsa vs Mississippi State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

“Boys will be boys.”

“It was in the heat of the moment.”

“It just shows how much they care.”

Time and time again we hear excuses such as these when fights and brawls breakout at the high school, college, and professional level.

“It’s just part of the game.”

But, after watching Tulsa and Mississippi State brawl on the field of Amon G. Carter Stadium at the conclusion of a pretty mediocre Lockheed Martin Army Bowl, I’ve had enough. Enough of excusing violent behavior under the guise of sports. Enough of the adults in the room not having control of their program and culture. Enough of glorifying the ugly side of athletics in the name of eye balls. Enough of it all.

I’m not going to link the fight video here — if you’re reading this, I assume you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, well, it’s easy enough to find. But I am going to link to the reaction by Malik Heath, previously seen slinging a Tulsa player to the ground, kicking him, and then running away like the little you-know-what that he is:

Heath isn’t a first offender, either. The junior wide receiver was arrested in August of this year for speeding 20 miles per hour over the limit, driving without a license and without insurance, driving with improper equipment and driving under the influence (DUI). He didn’t miss a game.

There was a strong reaction by TCU fans to seeing a fight like that on our field and the response in our locker room — it felt like a violation. But we have seen it at AGCS before: remember TCU vs Baylor in 2017? This brawl cost Nick Orr the first half of the Big 12 Championship game:

We see it all the time at the professional level too; whether its a sport like hockey, that has made dropping the gloves and swinging almost part of the time, or the NBA, which hosted a fight so famous it got its own name, the “Malice at the Palace” and has had several other high-profile bouts. And MLB? Well, we see the benches empty regularly, and celebrate some of the worst fights as some of the game’s best moments.

Heck, we even see it in high school, where in game and post game fighting has become so commonplace, certainly rivalries force schools to hire extra security on game nights.

I played sports for most of my youth and coached them for most of my life. I know how high tensions run, how competitive athletes and coaches can be, how physical games can get and how that physicality can bleed over from “part of the game” to violent cheap shots.

It’s a very fine line.

But it’s time we do something about it. Sports are such a huge part of our culture and such a glorified part of the development process — we need to protect the sanctity of competition and keep the violence out of it.

It doesn’t help when ESPN spends more time on fight highlights than game highlights, either.

I would love to see the NCAA adopt very concrete policies to prohibit fighting. Not the pushing and shoving that happens after almost every play, but the cheap shots, the punching, the flat-out brawls. Make it a four game suspension for anyone that throws a punch — and have it carry over to the next season. Even better, see if you can get the NFL to uphold the policy. Can you imagine teams having to decide where to draft a player that is guaranteed to miss game time the following season? Or kids losing game checks for a cheap shot in a meaningless bowl game? That would make them think. I would be fine with a one year bowl ban for a team that engages in a brawl like what we saw between Tulsa and Mississippi State — I have no problem with punishing the program for the actions of the few, because that speaks to a culture issue and needs to hurt a bit.

The problem is, young athletes like Malik Heath feel like they did something good. He waved to the crowd. He bragged about it on social media. He laughed. And that’s not okay. What he did was assault — why should we act like it’s okay because he was wearing a football uniform when he committed it?

Recently in Texas, a high school football player, Emmanuel Duron, was suspended for the remainder of the 2020-2021 athletics year and charged with assault for attacking a referee with a blindside hit during Edinburg’s matchup with Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High. Duron had been ejected by the official after committing a penalty, and took his revenge with a very scary, very violent hit. Edinburg football coach J.J. Leija was placed on probation for the rest of the school year and the school’s athletic department is on probation for the next two years, and the football team was ruled ineligible to compete in the postseason. Many people said things like “don’t punish the team for the act of one player”, but I am all for a clear and harsh message being sent to ensure things like this don’t happen again.

We are a long way from Charles Barkley’s “I’m not a role model” Nike campaign back in 1993. Athletes are role models, they are public figures, they are treated like celebrities. College athletes are marketed by their university, pro athletes use their skills to secure endorsement deals, players talk about wanting to be “brands” on draft night.

You can’t do all that and not understand that you are being watched. And if you’re going to be watched, you should be held accountable for your actions.

Now it’s your turn to chime in. What do you think should happen to athletes that participate in brawls? What is your expectation for people in sports? What did you think while watching our field get desecrated by two non-TCU teams?