Commentary

Sparks' Parker deserved two-game suspension

Originally Published: July 27, 2008
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

In one of those weird karmic things, both Detroit and Los Angeles scored 61 points in WNBA losses on Thursday night. Sure, both were bound to lose, considering those games came hours after the league handed down suspensions and fines to five players on each team. But really, it is a bit bizarre they'd end up with the exact same anemic point total that night.

Candace Parker
Johnny Vy/Getty ImagesSome observers think Candace Parker was let off too lightly, mostly because she is the league's designated "golden girl" and there are different rules for her than for everybody else.

Not everything, though, was all even between the franchises involved in Tuesday's fracas at The Palace at Auburn Hills.

By the way, I have found myself trying to think of different words for "fight" in writing about this. You know … brawl, melee, incident, altercation, tangle, tussle. And "fracas" really is my favorite. It suggests less mayhem than brawl or melee, but a little more than altercation, etc. And that fits this Sparks-Shock thing.

Anyway, back to the "even" aspect of this. Yes, each team had five players punished, plus the Shock had assistant coach Rick Mahorn disciplined, but did all the punishments fit the crimes?

Detroit had nothing to complain about with how the league treated the Shock. Did Mahorn mean any harm in his contact with Lisa Leslie? Of course not. But the way things went down, he deserved some censure. And Plenette Pierson got a more-than-fair suspension with four games.

I know I sound like Pollyanna, but I sincerely hope that Pierson will look at things like, "You know, I could have spared myself this by keeping my cool."

Pierson is a skilled player, not some hockey goon. She's one of the more versatile defenders in the WNBA and she is an important part of the Shock's offense, too.

Her actions on Tuesday, though, damaged her reputation and ended up contributing to a situation in which teammate Cheryl Ford was injured and is out for the season. Pierson will be 27 at the end of August. She has a lot of career ahead of her and a chance to make better choices in the future.

Now, when it comes to the WNBA's decisions in regard to the Sparks -- and the mind-set the league voiced in a teleconference about the penalties -- I do have some concerns.

President Donna Orender and chief of operations Renee Brown spoke during the teleconference about the penalties. Brown answered the first few questions entirely and did a lot of the talking on this teleconference. I'm not sure what that was all about.

Orender is the president. I'm really not trying to be a smart aleck or disrespect anyone, but it made me think of what my home state's president, the late Harry Truman, used to say about where the buck stops.

Anyway, they did the predictable things, including overpraising the referees involved instead of saying they bear some responsibility.

Nor was there any acknowledgment that the WNBA brain trust is aware of what anybody else who watches the league has known for years: that the styles and personalities of the teams involved was a part of what caused the fight. This was the "Bad Girls" versus the "Sharp Elbow Queens." If ever there was going to be a fracas in the league, it was going to be between Detroit and L.A.

But what Orender and Brown said was to be expected. There's never going to be too much public candor from the people who run the WNBA or any other business in the world. Especially not when they are in supposedly damage-control situations.

I think the WNBA brain trust, in reality, knows that officiating is a problematic issue that has to be continually monitored, and is also aware of the potential trouble that can arise when some teams take on certain personas. Maybe privately, Orender and her staff will deal with these issues in ways that will prove effective.

What I'm not at all sure of is if the WNBA takes seriously the fact that many observers think the Sparks -- especially Candace Parker -- were let off too lightly. There are fans who think this was done mostly because Parker is the league's designated "golden girl," and there are different rules for her than for everybody else.

Is that a fair assessment? The Parker supporters say, "No, she is just an object of jealousy." Others say, "Read her lips on court. Watch her actions away from the ball. Observe her attitude."

I think, like with most things, there is truth on both sides. The league would have been better served to give Parker a two-game suspension, not one. That would acknowledge, while Pierson rightfully should bear the brunt of responsibility for that final confrontation that started the fight on Tuesday, Parker wasn't just "defending herself." She was escalating things, too.

Maybe a two-game suspension would have made the point that she could have chosen not to take that particular bait. Not to mention that Parker can choose to not bait people herself. Parker is not going to lose any respect or credibility if she takes the high road. To the contrary, she'll gain it.

In all sports -- men's and women's -- the competitors to a certain degree police themselves. In a contact sport like basketball, there are messages sent and received among players. Sometimes it's a stare, sometimes a few words and sometimes -- yes -- it's extracurricular activity that the referees miss.

Parker had a big intimidation factor going for her in college, and it's not surprising she wants to maintain it in the exact same way in the pros. But it doesn't quite happen like that, especially not in your rookie season.

Even if Parker doesn't really care much what some fans think of her, she does have to care what her peers think and how they will react to her. For professional athletes, that is a part of the game.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.