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NBA commissioner David Stern was outraged by his players. He suspended Artest for the rest of the season, costing him some $5.5 million in lost wages. Indiana's Stephen Jackson, who accompanied him into the stands, was docked 30 games, and Jermaine O'Neal, who clocked one fan from a running start, got 25. (Anthony Johnson, another Pacer, got a five-game rest; Detroit's Wallace, whose shove of Artest set off the chain of events, was iced for six.) The NBA Players Association has appealed Artest's suspension as unreasonable. Oakland County, Mich., authorities are reviewing game and security tapes to determine what charges may be filed against Pacers and fans, although it's not likely that anything beyond a misdemeanor will result. Lawyers for injured fans like Mike Ryan, a 5-ft. 9-in. pilot who was clocked by Artest, are already putting on the full-court press.
But Stern wants the fight to set off a national debate about what he calls the "social contract" between fans and players, which seems to have been voided. "Over the years, at all sporting events, there's developed a combination of things," says Stern. "First, the professional heckler, who feels empowered to spend the entire game directing his attention to disturbing the other team at any decibel level, at any vocabulary. Then, an ongoing permissiveness that runs the gamut from college kids who don't wear shirts and paint their faces and think that liberates them to say anything, to NBA fans who use language that is not suitable to family occasions."
How did fan behavior become so vile? Practice. In cities like Boston, New York and Philadelphia, fans are notorious for their raucous behavior. Emotions in Yankees-Red Sox games get so high that during the closing innings of the sixth game of this year's play-offs, when police had to ring the field, veteran fans scarcely batted an eye. In Philadelphia, fans frustrated by the team's awful play once famously booed Santa Claus during half time. Behavior at Eagles games got so bad that officials seven years ago set up an on-site court in Veterans Stadium--with a jail--to handle the worst offenders. Eagles president Joe Banner says the jail only "moderately improved" behavior at the Vet; it took a move to a new stadium, with a high-tech security system equipped with 100 cameras to spot trouble, to quiet things down, at least for now.
Baseball was birthed by brutes, on the field and off. Games in the late 19th century and early 20th century were filled with violence, from Ty Cobb barreling into second base with spikes flying to crowds storming the field. Still, fans pretty much calmed down until fairly recent times. In a 2002 game between the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals, a father-son combo leaped out of the Comiskey Park stands and for no apparent reason attacked Kansas City first-base coach Tom Gamboa. This year, another fan at Comiskey tried to tackle umpire Laz Diaz. "There is no question--you can ask any coach on any team, they would concur--that the anger in the voice of this small percentage of fans has escalated," says Gamboa. "I have no idea when this started, but there are some people now, when they pay for a sports event, instead of watching it, they feel like they're entitled to partake in it."