It seems like the topic of violence in sports gets brought up three of four times a year. In the last 12 months, two events stood out:
University of Oregon's LeGarrette Blount punching out a Boise State player after a loss. Blount was initially suspended for the entire season, before being reinstated toward the end of the year.
Then, one of the more crazy video montages I had ever seen popped up on YouTube. It happened in a women's soccer game between BYU and New Mexico.
In a pretty random situation, New Mexico's Elizabeth Lambert took "playing dirty" to a whole new level. Her actions in the game involved elbows, hair-pulling, shoving, and kicking. Media outlets described it as a cat-fight having MMA qualities.
All of this leads up to the latest media circus. Baylor's Brittney Griner decided to take matters into her own hands in response to a rough play from Texas Tech. Griner was entangled with a Tech player under the basket, then roughly thrown to the side. She responded with a right hook that sent shock-waves across women's basketball.
Unlike Lambert from New Mexico, Griner is a star. She has video all around the web of her dunking exploits. At 6'8'', she is a monster down low. She has two triple-doubles, including 24 points, 11 blocks, and 10 rebounds against Iowa State last month. She has a career ahead of her in the NBA.
I wanted to put together a couple thoughts about violence within the context of sports. There aren't a lot of solutions here, I just wanted to bring up some things that have come to mind.
There is a stark difference in the way the media handles fighting from gender to gender.
As ESPN's Jalen Rose said, if DeMarcus Cousins would have punched a Georgia player, you would have never heard the end of it. Kentucky would have had to suspend him for the season, just because of the pure outcry.
Dick Vitale's head would have exploded.
But, Baylor's Griner gets a two-game suspension?
She punched another girl in the face! If that happened outside the arena, she could have had charges filed against her.
I understand the thought of giving somebody a break because they were in the "heat of the moment." The problem is that this sets a horrible precedent for the NCAA. Two games is NOTHING. If they want to curb violence in college athletics, you have to drop the hammer on people when they mess up.
This isn't a condemnation on Griner, but the NCAA. I don't care if it was the Pope that threw a punch, two games is a joke.
Do you penalize the action or the result?
I'll close with this one, because it's my favorite thing to discuss about fighting/violence in sports. Should the governing body of a sport respond to the action itself or the result from that action?
Let's take a look at the Baylor situation. What if Griner would have swung and totally whiffed? Let's say the Tech player went all Matrix and dodged it. The punch was still thrown. Would she still have been punished for two games?
Let's look at it from the other side. The punch is thrown with the same intensity, but the Tech player turns a bit sooner. The Tech girl is knocked unconscious and drops to the floor. She hits her head on the ground and severe damage is done. You better believe Griner is suspended for longer than two games.
But either way you look at it, Griner's actions have not changed at all. The punch was thrown with the same intensity and purpose, only the result changed in each scenario. So you have to have a set punishment for throwing a punch, regardless of outcome. Her intent was to do harm, she's just lucky the harm she inflicted wasn't too severe.
A good example of this was from the Todd Bertuzzi incident in 2004. We all remember what happened. Bertuzzi was trying to prod Steve Moore into a fight. When Moore didn't respond, Bertuzzi took a horrific cheap-shot on him.
Moore suffered three fractured vertebrae in his neck, a grade three concussion, vertebral ligament damage, stretching of the brachial plexus nerves, and facial cuts. His hockey career was over.
Bertuzzi eventually pled guilty to assault causing bodily harm and given a year probation.
Why do I bring this up?
What if the incident happened, but Moore dodged part of the blow, or his body fell to the ice in a different position? If Moore would have skated away, Bertuzzi would have been suspended, but never criminally charged with anything. The outcry happened not only because of the action, but mainly the horrible result.
In the end, I guess it's up to each sport to regulate their own punishments for fighting. The problem is that each institution seems to be reactionary, rather than proactive. If they were serious about curbing violence, leagues would suspend players harshly for any altercation. By starting a dispute, you are turning the situation over to variables you can't control.
A punch is a punch, regardless if you miss.