Fans Pay for Players’ Mistakes

By Jason Menard

The latest NBA brawl is notable mainly because of the harsh reaction by the league. Of course, as is the case in all of these situations, the only true loser is the fans.

Think about this. The NBA’s leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, has been rightly suspended for 15 games for his involvement in a recent on-court dust-up between the New York Knicks and Anthony’s Denver Nuggets. Anthony, of course, is one of the leagues “next ones,” drafted behind only Cleveland’s LeBron James and Orlando’s Darko Milicic (originally chosen by Detroit) and before Toronto’s Chris Bosh.

The length of the suspension shows two things: one, the league is serious about cracking down on violence, even if that means suspending one if its young, marquee talents; and, two, the league really doesn’t care that much about its fans.

That’s right. By suspending Carmelo Anthony (and, to a lesser extent, the other players who received varying degrees of penalties), the league has said to the NBA fans in general – and Denver fans in particular – that it doesn’t care about providing value for the entertainment dollar. Discipline defeats customer appreciation every time.

Of those 15 games that Anthony has been suspended, 12 of them take place in Denver. With the team clinging to seventh place in the Western Conference, there’s a good chance that after 10 games without its top two scorers (J.R. Smith received 10 games off for his involvement in the fracas) the club will find itself on the outside looking in. That means you’ve got two sets of losers: the team and the hard-working, money-paying fans.

By suspending Anthony, who is already rich beyond most of our wildest dreams – no matter how wild your dreams may be, the league has done minimal damage to the player. Sure, his endorsements may falter a little bit, but they’ll come back (Kobe Bryant, anyone?) In the end, Anthony suffers little more than a 15-game break that will end up leaving him fresher in the long run – perhaps bestowing an advantage to him during the end-of-season grind.

But imagine if you’re a Nuggets fan, who has saved up all year – or longer – to earn enough to pay for a couple of seasons’ tickets. You sacrifice on other things for the right to go to the game to see one of the league’s elite players on a nightly basis – only to have that taken away from you because of one player’s selfish act.

Or what about those dedicated fans who may have planned a holiday trip to Colorado, partly to catch their beloved Nuggets in action. The value of their trip has gone down, but I don’t see anyone in the NBA offering a reimbursement.

Sure, Anthony’s the one getting punished, but why does it have to hurt the fan so much?

Like the punk kid in school who looks at a suspension as nothing more than time off of school, the NBA’s form of punishment here is ineffective at best – and punitive to the fans at worst (don’t believe me? Try asking some Indiana Pacers’ fans about their experience a couple of years back).

So what’s the solution? Simple. Anthony doesn’t miss a single game. He continues to play for the Nuggets, providing the fans value for their money. However, he does not earn any salary for the duration of his suspension – essentially working for free. And then, at the end of the season, he is compelled to perform various acts of league-imposed community service in the Denver community as a way to make up for sullying the club’s name. And the same goes for the players in New York.

The other alternative is to make players financially liable for the losses incurred by the franchise or the fans as a result of their actions. If a player’s suspension results in the loss of playoff revenue, then perhaps a percentage of the player’s salary should be returned to the club in the form of compensation.

In fact, why not open up class action suits for fans who can prove that their investment has been devalued by these actions? A season ticket holder can argue that his 40+ game investment has lost over a quarter of its value – and the player could then be responsible for reimbursing every fan who makes a claim (within reason of course). Maybe a nice hand-written note of apology could accompany each cheque.

Of course, this will never happen. For a Player’s Association that defends its members, even if they choke management (and, yes, I’m looking at you Latrell Sprewell), doing the right thing comes second to protecting its dues-paying members.

But imagine if we could hit players where it truly hurts – in the pocketbook. Heck, these guys all say they love the game so much they’d play it for free, but I have a belief that when push comes to shove money matters. When you threaten those paycheques – or make them play without pay – chances are incidents like this will drop dramatically. In the NBA – as in any professional sport – money talks. So this solution could be used in all major sports: the NHL, NFL, and MLB!

Best of all, this would only impact a small number of people, as most athletes are fine, upstanding individuals. But if you’re going to step outside of the rules, you should be forced to own up to your transgressions.

After all, it’s not the fans’ fault, so why should they be forced to pay – both literally and figuratively – for someone else’s mistakes?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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