Thursday, January 7, 2010

What kind of people are we cheering for, anyway?

The Washington Wizards are a pretty sorry basketball team—11 wins, 22 losses so far this season—but their one bright spot has been all-star Gilbert Arenas, in the second year of a six-year, $111 MILLION contract to play for the Wizards. But not after last night, when Arenas was suspended indefinitely by David Stern commissioner of the NBA.
Before Christmas Arenas had brought several handguns to the Wizards’ locker room, and on December 21 he had brandished one at a teammate, who in response, according to anonymous reports from players who were there, pointed his loaded handgun at Arenas in a spat over a gambling debt.
When the incident came to light Arenas apologized, saying it was all in fun, but recognizing that “there’s no such thing as joking around” where guns are concerned. Not for a week or two, anyway. Last night as the players were being introduced, Arenas pointed his hands, mimicking handguns, at his teammates and went pop pop pop.
Stern immediately suspended Arenas, saying “His ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game.” Stern is just right. To be fit to play big time sports a player ought to be somebody we’ll cheer for—at least some of us.  Sport can be ennobling, and some of its best are to be admired and cheered.
But it’s demeaning to cheer for players who lie, cheat, or commit crimes. Hooray for David Stern for taking this (belated) step. Let’s hope it encourages other sports commissioners and coaches to insist on behavior that we can cheer for without feeling ashamed.
Meanwhile I’m only going to cheer for people who don’t make me feel ashamed.

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