WASHINGTON — Tom Wolfe has done it again. He has written a novel full of the blood and gore, the preposterosity and pomposity of the age. I Am Charlotte Simmons is about the excesses of college life. It is particularly good on the imbecility of college sports, specifically basketball. Wolfe depicts fans that are witlessly agog about the players. And he depicts players teetering on the brink of megalomaniacal madness. It is a vastly amusing book and highly instructive. Now out of nowhere the National Basketball Association has come forward to give Wolfe’s book a tremendous boost.
Last week’s mayhem during and NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indianapolis Pacers was populated with fantasticos that only Tom Wolfe could dream up. In fact he already has. Many of them are right there in the pages of I Am Charlotte Simmons. Wolfe even has the bizarre rap music that one of last week’s NBA rampagers adores done to delightful effect. I personally sing his songs in the shower — Wolfe’s, not the rampager’s. You will too.
But back to the mayhem of last week — it was not only in the NBA. As if to remind us of Wolfe’s college-centered novel, the beasts on the field at a Clemson vs. South Carolina football game also gave themselves over into a free for all against each other, the police, and any innocent fan who got in the way.
Actually the mayhem in Detroit was more spectacular and more Wolfean. There the fans were not innocent. Some heaved drinks and other materials at players, players who were already acting up. That inspired the players to act even more egregiously. They charged into the stands, cold-cocking fans and getting more debris showered down on them. People were hurt, but so far as I could see from the tape no one was very badly hurt, which is odd. Some of the punches thrown by the NBA “stars” looked pretty powerful. Is professional basketball going the way of professional wrestling with more theater than muscle?
The mayhem in Detroit probably had a few innocent victims, but from the tape I saw it appeared that all sides were in the wrong. The fans acted like animals. The “stars” acted like animals. Even officials seemed ignoble. In suspending the players NBA Commissioner David Stern declared, “The line is drawn, and my guess is that won’t happen again — certainly not by anyone who wants to be associated with our league.”
Well, good luck Commissioner Stern, but my guess is that this sort of anarchy will indeed continue not only in the NBA but in collegiate sports such as football and basketball. The reason is that civilized standards of sport have been suspended for so long that they have been forgotten.
The “fans” I saw in Detroit had no idea what is properly expected of spectators at an athletic event. They are not the participants, and frankly they should only be marginal to the event. They are watching an athletic event, not participating. Their cheers might hearten their team and dispirit their team’s opponents, but the “fans” are not the athletes competing. In fact the potty lumps of humanity that I saw taking the punches from the NBA’s finest did not look as if they would pass for athletes at a tiddlywinks tournament.
The athletes that rampaged in last week’s football game and the NBA game also are completely oblivious to the standards of fair play and sportsmanship that govern sport at its best. This is because neither in college sports nor in professional sports are such values promoted. Doubtless there are coaches and athletes who strive to make things better, but they are overwhelmed by the idiotic coaches and athletes who spread the poppycock of “win at any price.” Among other things sports, at least sports as conceived by the ancient Greeks who began organized sports, was about noble values, “the virtues” as the Greeks called them. Winning was prized but only if the rules were adhered to. The fans and the athletes who rampaged in Detroit would find such talk epicene, if they knew what epicene means.
Well, tough guys who think they win by thwarting the rules ought to take their game out to Iraq or Afghanistan, where the play is rough too. There the tough guys who make their own rules, of course, are not on our side. They are very rugged, but time and again they have been getting beaten by the tough guys who do play by the rules, the tough guys that represent the “Coalition forces.”