Medina Journal-Register — This past Saturday I went to sleep after hanging up some laundry and watching most of “42: The Jackie Robinson Story.” I’d seen the movie before, and I came away impressed.
When I woke up Sunday, I did my usual: made coffee and checked to see if there was anything worthwhile on Facebook or elsewhere online. Sure enough, a college classmate of mine who works for ESPN had attended the basketball game in Lubbock, Tex. in which Oklahoma State University visited Texas Tech.
In that game, OSU star Marcus Smart had an altercation with a Texas Tech “super fan” named Jeff Orr. Oh, and Orr is white. Smart is not.
While driving my kids to Sunday School, sure enough, “breaking sports news” said that Smart accused the fan of hurling a racial epithet in his direction.
Later Sunday, former OSU players took to Twitter and said they remembered Orr from their days on the court and backed up Smart’s claim as something the could have validity.
However, as of this writing, here’s what I actually know about the whole scenario: OSU was losing in the closing seconds but Smart refused to go quietly and, rushing back to defend what would have been a sure basket, his momentum almost carried him into the stands. He landed among the courtside photographers and was being helped up when the replay shows his attention was diverted by a fan behind him. At that point, the replay showed Smart turning around to shove the fan.
Now, any university that has “super fans” needs to tread carefully with them. As soon as a fan feels like more than a fan, it can be dangerous. Fans are entitled to cheer and boo since they pay good money for the chance to watch a game. But there are certain lines that should not be crossed.
Some fans, though, like the one in question, remind me of Buddy Garrity from the TV series Friday Night Lights. Garrity’s character was a booster extraordinaire. Orr reportedly is, too, based off reports that he travels thousands of miles annually to watch Texas Tech basketball games. But Garrity, for all his faults as a character, wasn’t depicted crossing the proverbial line during a game like Orr is alleged to have done in real life.
A quick side note: Um, why would someone travel thousands of miles annually to watch Texas Tech basketball? I’d understand Duke, or Kansas, or Syracuse, or UNC, or Kentucky or some other perennial power. But Texas Tech? Wow.
Coming full circle, watching “42” and then waking up to a possible racial incident in the sporting world proved to me just how far we’ve come and how far we still have yet to go.
I don’t know exactly what happened in Lubbock Saturday night, and if I were a betting man I’d put money on the “real story” never being known. It will unfortunately become a he said/he said story, and the person who will suffer most is Smart, who will likely be suspended for a few games.
As for Orr, whether he is reprimanded by Texas Tech remains to be seen. Like all high profile incidents, the people in charge have said an investigation will take place. He might lose his tickets, or perhaps worse. As of this writing, several press conferences were scheduled so we might know his punishment by now.
Smart, meanwhile, is likely going pro after this season, and I bet he’ll hear worse at the next level.
But here is what I see as the problem. When Jackie Robinson was told by Branch Rickey to keep his head down and his mouth shut, Robinson famously asked, “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for someone who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?”
Rickey responded, “I’m looking for someone with the guts not to fight back.”
Saturday night Smart fought back.
In today’s world, it’s a shame that he even had to fight at all.
Howard Balaban is a reporter for the Journal-Register. He can be reached at email@example.com.