Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Why Do NBA Fights Generate More Media Attention?

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/6684862/6684863" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The National Basketball Association received quite a bit of criticism recently when players from the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets traded punches on the court. There are a number of reasons that NBA fights earn more attention than fights in baseball or the NFL. One of the reasons is race.


The image of the NBA has been tarnished lately by brawling, not doping. Commentator Frank Deford says there are a number of reasons why pro basketball gets singled out for criticism.

FRANK DEFORD: About, oh, once a month or so, a baseball batter gets hit by the pitch and goes after the pitcher. The players from both teams swarm onto the infield and grope around. Everybody goes tut, tut, and life goes on. Football players regularly scuffle. And hockey! Hockey players are supposed to fight.

But when basketball players brawl, as they did a few days ago in Madison Square Garden, it's a cause celeb. Why? Why do we look at basketball any differently than the other sports? Well, let us count the ways.

First of all, basketball is the most intimate game. The fans are only a few feet from the action. Even if a fight doesn't spill into the seats, the potential is there.

Basketball is also the most graceful of games - balletic at its best. Sure, the giants who play are fierce and rugged. They clash and collide. But fury is not a bi-product of the action, so when rage boils over it is out of joint and calls more attention to itself.

However, not withstanding these genetics of the entertainment, it would be naïve to pretend that race is not a major factor in the issue. Had it been ten white guys who got into it at the Garden, you can be sure that the fight would not have occasioned nearly so much fuss.

The NBA rosters are dominated by African-Americans with foreigners a second large component. To many white fans, this establishes a tacit distance, even as the players perform in actual proximity.

Moreover, while many of the black players do fit into the stylish gentleman's mold that Michael Jordan exemplified, others appear to some whites as threatening ghetto types. Is this fair? No.

I know this might sound silly, but I would submit that nothing feeds that perception so starkly as the long, baggy shorts that basketball players have worn now for many years. This rapper-style look is off-putting to many of the sports fans and the sponsors that the NBA is trying to reach.

Of course, it drives the NBA to distraction that it suffers out of proportion for its players' sins. The Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL have had eight of its players arrested this season. However, this criminal epidemic hasn't been taken as a serious indictment of the team, let alone the league. And while the NFL is also predominantly African-American, white fans don't seem to notice that so much. Football players, you see, are distant numbered, padded, helmeted gladiators.

It's generally been forgotten, but a basketball court used to be enclosed in netting or wire mesh. Basketball players were known not as hoopsters, but as cagers. We're not going to go back to that, but many people do feel that they need to be separated from the players and the NBA has to figure out how to dispel the gnawing, uncomfortable effigy.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from