Plenty of blame to go around

Originally Published: November 19, 2004
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Never mind all the apologies and acts of contrition you will hear over the next few days in the wake of Friday's Pacers-Pistons riot. They'll all be lies, every one of them.

The fact is, every person involved in the horrendous brawl at The Palace at Auburn Hills is secretly proud of himself for not taking any stuff – from Ron Artest clocking the one fan in a Pistons jersey, to the louts who drenched Jermaine O'Neal on his way off the floor with every liquid item from the concession stands.

Stephen Jackson
AP/Duane BurlesonStephen Jackson (with yellow armband) was in the scuffle, along with Pacers teammate Fred Jones and the Pistons' Rasheed Wallace (36).

They're all telling their friends what great people they are, and how many valuable lessons they imparted to all those other stupid people, whoever they might be. They all think this was a rite of passage, a test of manhood, and they all think they passed with flying colors.

They are going to spend the next few days defending themselves for their behavior, and delegating blame left and right, everywhere but themselves.

It's the players. No, it's the fans. No, it's lax security. And the one unifying theme is, "Hey, it wasn't me. I was just defending myself."

And all of it is nonsense. Nothing's going to happen, not until someone gets shot, or stabbed, or crippled.

Yes, we will all wring our hands and decry the looming end of civility in sports, but let us remind you that when Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco threw a chair into the stands in Oakland, his suspension was brief and potential felony charges were not filed.

And the same will happen here. Everyone will talk a good game, but in the end, the only thing the players, the league office, the Detroit management and the town in general will want is for it all to go away, and hope people will forget.

Which, of course, they will. This makes for swell television, and fabulous round-table discussions, but in the end, it is an embarrassment that will be handled like most embarrassing situations – with as little talking and as much sleight of hand as needed to get people on to the next topic.

What ought to happen is simple, and comprehensive. The Pacers involved get real suspensions – long, staggered and without pay. The Pistons get fined several million dollars for their security lapses, even though this was your basic unforeseeable situation. The teams play their next game in an empty arena, while paying all arena personnel as though they had worked that day, and then make sizable contributions to anti-violence charitable groups in their towns. And the fans involved are identified, found, stripped of their season tickets (if applicable) and charged with as much as the law will allow.

Now guess how many of those will happen.

Or better yet, let us answer that for you. Almost none of them.

And while you're at it, guess which two other things won't happen.

Beer sales will not be curtailed because the markup for beer is one of the great arena cash cows of all time. Beer at an arena has been elevated to a God-given right, and given that fans will cheerfully pay up to $12 for a bottle of imported, that's a God the league and its members recognize and worship devoutly.

And the other is those courtside seats. They all seemed to bother the fellows on the NBA Shootaround studio so much, and yet, they aren't going anywhere either. They may be bolted down now, but like the beer, they generate way too much money from way too many high rollers to do anything but stay right where they are.

Over the next few days, you will hear outrage, and disgust, and demands for retribution. Hey, they serve their purpose because they let everyone position themselves as victims and moralists. It's good anaerobic exercise, and everyone comes away feeling better for the experience.

But don't buy the apologies, and don't buy the vows of punishment, or remedies. This, too, will pass because too many people want it to pass.

And when nobody's looking, the Pacers and the fans will all be very proud of themselves for standing up to each other, for eagerly crossing the line that should never be crossed.

Some day, though, someone will end up dead at courtside, or rinkside, or the sideline, or in the tunnel, and then we'll all wonder how it could have come to such a horrible end.

And we'll remember this night, and how the worst riot in recent NBA history was "someone else's fault."

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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