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The Good Press - Issue #59: Play

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The Good Press

June 2 · Issue #59 · View online

A newsletter of observations about life, sports, and/or anything else that comes to mind


Full crowds at big games have been electric, but the atmosphere’s been somewhat dampened by unacceptable fan behavior, with the performers rightfully fed up

Hello and welcome to another edition of The Good Press, a newsletter of observations about life, sports, and/or anything else that comes to mind.
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Kyrie Irving prefers to have his play do the talking (Photo: AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
Kyrie Irving prefers to have his play do the talking (Photo: AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
Play
Last Sunday, the Boston Celtics hosted the Brooklyn Nets with a full capacity crowd for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 17,226 screaming fans got loud, trying to provide homecourt advantage in Boston’s TD Garden.
Unfortunately, much of the talk after the game was not about on-court play but about regrettable fan actions, which has become an increasingly common phenomenon that has put a damper on the enthusiastic crowd atmosphere.
Celtics fan arrested for assault after throwing a water bottle at Nets star Kyrie Irving after loss
A suspect was arrested after reportedly assaulting a Boston police officer during the Celtics game
Popcorn-Dumping, Streaking, Spitting & Fighting: Fans Behave Badly All Over Sports This Week
The ugliness of fans attacking players is particularly problematic | by Etan Thomas for The Undefeated
Notably, Sunday’s incident in Boston wasn’t unforeseeable.
Before the trip to Boston, Nets star (and former Celtic) Kyrie Irving spoke about his trepidation about how Boston’s TD Garden crowd would receive him in his first games back since he went from fan-favorite to rival foe.
“I’m just looking forward to competing with my teammates,” Irving said last Tuesday, about the return to Boston. “Hopefully we can just keep it strictly basketball, [and] there’s no belligerence or any racism going on, subtle racism and people yelling [things] from the crowd. But even if it is, it’s part of the nature of the game and we’re just going to focus on what we can control.”
After a Boston fan threw a water bottle at his head following an emphatic 141-126 Nets victory, Irving and teammate Kevin Durant did not hold back.
“Fans have got to grow up at some point,” Durant said, about the water bottle incident and other fan incidents this week. "I know that being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic has got a lot of people on edge … but when you come to these games you’ve got to realize: These men are human. We’re not animals. We’re not in the circus. You coming to the game is not all about you as a fan. So have some respect for the game. Have some respect for the human beings. And have some respect for yourself. Your mother wouldn’t be proud of you throwing water bottles at basketball players, or spitting on players, or tossing popcorn. So grow … up and enjoy the game.”
Irving went one step further, harkening back to his initial trepidations.
“[It’s] just underlying racism, and treating people like they’re in a human zoo,” Irving said, after enduring a harsh reception by Celtics fans after he left Boston on bad terms. “Throwing stuff at people, saying things. There’s a certain point where it gets to be too much. You see people just feel very entitled out here … As a Black man playing in the NBA, dealing with a lot of this stuff, it’s fairly difficult. You never know what’s going to happen.”
In the NBA playoffs alone this week, a Philadelphia fan threw popcorn on a visiting player, a Knicks fan spat on a visiting player at Madison Square Garden, three Utah Jazz fans allegedly racially abused the family of a visiting team’s player, and a fan in Washington D.C. ran onto the court during play, causing the game to be delayed. All of those fans have been banned from their respective arenas, as has the Boston fan, who was charged with assault.
But banning fans after the fact isn’t enough, as Irving alluded to throughout the week. Booing former star players is fair game, but this is beyond the pale.
In Other Words
Let’s be grateful for the entertaining play, but let’s not take this for granted.
Last season, we almost didn’t have sports to watch at all, after the pandemic that put the whole world on notice, and also after a summer of civil unrest in America, including NBA player protests that led to postponed playoff games.
Let the players play.
Fans are not a monolith. The vast majority of sports fans who packed arenas this month seemed to be enthusiastic and on their best behavior. But the uptick in these fan incidents is concerning to leagues and especially players.
“We know how passionate [Boston fans] are about Kyrie in particular,” Durant said. “They’re still upset at him. That’s no reason for them to act childish.”
Enjoy the players playing while they’re performing because no athlete defeats Father Time in the end. Talk is cheap. Actions speak the loudest.
Maybe Durant is right when he cites fans being on edge and stressed out from social isolation and the trauma of the pandemic as a root cause of the trouble. Yet tens of thousands of fans were able to enjoy themselves while refraining from being bozos. Hopefully, these remain outliers and not the start of a sour new dynamic between performers and their audiences.
Meanwhile, over in the world of tennis, one of the game’s most popular young superstars has been unable to keep the focus on her play, either.
Naomi Osaka, the 23-year-old sensation who’s made waves on and off the court with her play and her activism, dropped out of the French Open this week after citing stress and mental health struggles that she spoke candidly about before she got a bunch of blowback from much of the tennis media.
Before the tournament, Osaka said that she would not participate in any media press conferences, citing the stress and anxiety that she feels in those settings. Tournament organizers reportedly fined her $15,000 for skipping the contractually obligated media appearances, but they also escalated things to an unnecessary degree, threatening bigger and bigger sanctions.
As Mental Health Awareness Month was winding down, the mental health of a young star athlete and major public figure felt like it was on trial in public because of an asymmetrical angry answer from tennis’s top power structure.
Breaking Down Naomi Osaka's Sad Departure from the French Open | The New York Times
As Osaka wrote in her statement announcing her withdrawal, (summarized):
“I think … the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw. … I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. … The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. … Though the tennis press has always been kind to me … I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak. … So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences. … I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press, and fans.”
Later Monday, after Osaka officially dropped out, French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton read a short pre-prepared statement saying he was “sorry and sad” and then he… refused to take questions from the media. Seriously! So much for keeping things focused on the on-court play.
Perhaps Osaka could have and should have done more in the run-up to the tournament to work things out with the powers that be in the sport to address her legitimate concerns, but the powers that be chose to be more antagonistic and retaliatory than compassionate and sympathetic in response. One of the biggest stars in tennis was vulnerable about her mental well-being, wanting to just focus on her play, and now she won’t play at all, and fans will be missing out. There were no winners here. The most important thing is Osaka’s well-being. Nobody should take that for granted.
Parting Thoughts
Last Tuesday, May 25, Major League Baseball history was made.
Not by the home team. Not by the visiting team, either. But by the third team.
The third team that participates in every baseball game is the umpiring crew, the officials who enforce the rules of the game and make the split-second decisions on key elements that make the beautiful game of baseball happen.
You can’t play the game properly without someone officiating play, after all.
The history made that night was an MLB record that will likely never be broken: the 5,376th regular-season baseball game umpired by Joe West, a record that had stood since 1941 that doesn’t even include all of the playoff games he’s umpired as well (nor the game he umpired in The Naked Gun).
"Cowboy" Joe West stands alone (Photo: Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
"Cowboy" Joe West stands alone (Photo: Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
Joe West breaks record by umpiring 5,376th regular-season game, the most in MLB history
West, who has umpired in MLB since 1976, was honored by the Chicago White Sox on his record-breaking day and cheered by fans in attendance. The popular umpire will retire at the conclusion of the 2021 season, the latest in a line of umpiring greats who have racked up decades of service.
A History of Baseball's Modern Era Through Four Umpires as the Most Games Umpired Record Falls
Congrats to Joe West (and good luck to any umpire trying to break that record).
Whether you’re a player, coach, umpire, or spectator, there’s nothing wrong with playing hard, but you must always play fair, otherwise, what’s the point? It’s always fun to win a game, whether it’s big or small. But they are just games. Try to treat them with as much or as little reverence as they deserve.
Thanks again for joining me here in The Good Press. Enjoy your Wednesday.
Till next time,
-Jon
Previously in The Good Press
Issue #58: The Speed of The Game
Issue #57: Breakthrough
Issue #56: Baseball Lives
Catch up quick: The Good Press full online archive
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