In twenty-five years of playing organized and disorganized basketball, I probably was involved in a dozen fights on the court. Call it a natural side effect of playing under the hoop, banging bodies, taking (or giving) a stray elbow and then having tempers flare. In none of those dust-ups did I ever face felony charges, mandatory jail sentences, and the prospect of a ruined life for my ill-temper.
But now players from the University of Cincinnati and Xavier, storied cross-town rivals, are staring at the prospect of criminal charges after an ugly brawl took place at the end of Saturday’s game. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters released a statement that his office is considering a series of charges that could include assault and battery or disorderly conduct. No one condones fighting on the court, but the idea that college basketball players could go to prison speaks to the worst kind of hypocrisy and the most twisted traditions of the city of Cincinnati, a place with a history of institutional racism that would make Mississippi blush. [NEWS FLASH: JUST ANNOUNCED THAT NO CHARGES ARE BEING FILED AGAINST THE PLAYERS.]
Cincinnati has spent the last decade trying to heal after the police shot and killed an unarmed African-American 19-year-old named Timothy Thomas in 2001 which led to the largest urban riots in the United States since Rodney King and the LAPD crossed paths in 1992. The Cincinnati riots were an expression of bottled rage against a police department that saw, between 1996 and 2001, fifteen African-Americans died at the hands of Cincinnati police.
Given this history, and given Deters own history, we should look at this threatened prosecution, with a very suspect eye.
Let’s start with the obvious fact that hockey brawls, no matter how brutal and no matter how many teeth end up on the ice, don’t end with participants behind bars. There is a different reaction by the press, by a school’s administration and clearly by law enforcement when it’s young black men throwing the punches. This is a racist double standard that has the potential now to ruin the lives of the young men involved.
Myron Metcalf, the African-American college basketball journalist for ESPN started his column this week by stating, “I guess I’m wired this way. But my first thought about Saturday’s Xavier-Cincinnati melee centered on race. My initial response disregarded the pending suspensions or the blood spilled or the trash talk. Instead, it was simply: ‘Dang, young black men fighting on national TV.’ I wondered if other African-American viewers had the same reaction.”