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The two biggest sports stories this week both came from collegiate athletes. One of them sparked controversy and criticism for a young basketball player. The other — a football player was received with open arms.
Marcus Smart, a guard playing for Oklahoma State University, received a three-game suspension after shoving a fan on Saturday. Smart received a technical foul during the game but was not ejected. The NCAA issued the suspension on Sunday.
It was reported that the fan yelled at Smart, saying he was a “piece of crap.” That caused Smart, who had already kicked a chair in a game earlier in the week, to lose his temper and shove the fan.
This event sparked heated discussion on how college athletes should be judged and held accountable for their behavior. Every sportscaster I heard share their opinion said they agreed with the suspension, but they brought up the issue of how fans should act toward college players and how the players should respond to the fans.
A player attacking a fan is unacceptable, no matter what was said to him. But fans should also treat college athletes with more respect than they do at the professional level.
These athletes are in their teens and early 20s. They are playing for the first time on a national stage. They are still growing up and maturing. For a fan to call a player a “piece of crap” is also unacceptable, especially when he is just a teenager. There is no reason to verbally abuse a player on the visiting team, no matter who the opponent is or what the score is.
Smart cannot be excused for shoving this fan, but he should have been treated better.
The other story making news is the announcement of Michael Sam. Sam was a defensive end for the University of Missouri who has declared for the NFL Draft. Smart announced this week to ESPN that he is gay.
If Sam is drafted, and he is projected as a first-round draft pick, he will be the first openly gay player in the NFL. Sam has received major support from the NFL, the player’s association, and many general managers and team owners.
This has been a long time coming in the NFL. The NBA was the first professional sports league to have an openly gay player, but Jason Collins announced it near the end of his career, and he hasn’t received a contract offer since his announcement. But this comes at the beginning of Sam’s career.
Sam has been hailed for his bravery to come out, especially before he even entered the league. That is how it should be. Sam said he wanted to be honest and he wanted it to come on his own terms.
Sam reportedly came out to his team in the first month of the season. His team welcomed him in the locker room and there were no troubles. That was a hot button: How would players react if they knew there was a gay player in the same locker room as them?
What impressed me this week was the almost lack of coverage this story received. It just goes to show that the world is more accepting than ever. This story was talked about, but it was treated lightly. The big statement this made — “this isn’t a big deal.”
Sam has opened the door for other athletes to be more open. His journey can give courage and hope to other players who have hidden their sexuality from the world.
Sam recognized that the world was ready for his announcement. It is a good for all sports. In a few short years, this sort of occurrence will be no big deal at all, just as it should be.