It would be easy to say that the Washington Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas is an idiot, a manchild who has not come close to growing up. But that overlooks troubling issues and many unanswered questions.

Understandably the hammer had to come down on Arenas, who was suspended indefinitely without pay by NBA commissioner David Stern on Wednesday, ironically on his 28th birthday. Arenas was suspended for admittedly bringing several handguns into the team’s locker room, storing them there, and perhaps according to some accounts, pointing one of them at a teammate.

Now, according to a report in the Washington Post, that teammate, Javaris Crittenton, also brought a gun into the locker room and actually loaded it in front of several other Wizards players.

Some questions: Why did it take so long for Wizards’ management, coaching staff and players to acknowledge the incident that happened last month in front of numerous witnesses? Where was the coach and general manager in all of this? Why did the NBA only suspend Arenas and not Crittenton? What about the thousands of dollars in gambling on the team plane that apparently precipitated this?

That said, Gilbert Arenas showed his immaturity in numerous statements, tweets, and ill-advised actions on the basketball court over the last week. Arenas initially made jokes about the incident. Only when the authorities got involved did Arenas, team and league officials appear to take what happened seriously.

But before we get all crazy about this, the fact is no one was hurt – thank God for that. So let’s not lose perspective about what’s really at stake and the much larger issue of players feeling that they must be armed wherever they go, apparently not understanding the consequences of their actions.

This is not just a Washington Wizards issue and it is not just a sports issue either. This is also about a society that often cherishes the right to keep and bear arms without proper controls in place. And it is about foolish young men who despite wealth and fame feel empowered to do whatever they want, when they want, without concern for decorum and decency.

And yet – we fans often cheer these guys on if they play for our team, but vilify them when they play for the opposition. The hypocrisy is appalling.

The Reverend Al Sharpton was harshly critical of the NBA, African-American leaders and others who he believes have tolerated the behavior of boorish, foolish athletes for far too long. He called for a harsh penalty to be levied against Arenas. While I do agree with Sharpton that more has to be done to police players, all of us need to take some responsibility for this too.

The athletes we cheer on one moment and revile the next, take most of their cues from us – the fans.

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  1. Silk32 says:

    Somewhere former NBA Deputy Commissioner, Simon Gourdine, must be shaking his head right now. Not too long ago the NBA was considered “too black” and “drug infested” to ever reach mass appeal. Current players have reneged on their obligation to be ambassadors for a league built by Dr. Jr, Bird, Magic, and Jordan. For the best write-up of the Arenas situation go here:

  2. David–This is the first time I have ever vehemently disagreed with one of your conclusions. Our money makes athletes rich, but I don’t see ANY evidence that the players take their cues from us. With specific regard to Arenas, we have laughed at his cleverness and enjoyed his personality. How does that make us responsible for encouraging his current behavior? If he can’t understand the difference between goofy and guns, why are we to blame? I can’t imagine that any fans have told him that carrying around guns is good…and I am sure a lot of people have warned him about his immature behavior and the need to take more responsibility for his actions.

    I am also sure that someone told him WHY the Bullets became the Wizards and why management might be particularly sensitive on this point. This is the first crisis since Mr. Pollin died, so cut the family a little slack. On a related point, there is an argument that the league acted appropriately. Even when there is a clear violation of the collective bargaining agreement, they should defer action until the authorities have completed questioning. Otherwise there is a substantial risk that they will disrupt the investigation. It is Arena’s on-court gestures (more than the tweets) that made it untenable for them to defer action. Your friend, Steven

  3. Fred E! Kaye says:

    Well, well, well Burnett, I agree with you on many of these points. First of all, hypocrisy; fans laud these players and then vilify them at the sight of an incident.

    Some other things to consider:
    While it is appalling, and probably impossible to stop, I think it is NOT the right or place of the media to make commentary about this. Especially local media. No one knows the entire story, so why comment on this. Just report the fact and move on to the next story please. Nevertheless, local NBC4 sports reporters were giving their own commentary on how “stupid” they thought Arenas was. That is NOT their place! Plus, they were hailing him a few days earlier before the incident. How fickle the media (and spectators) are.

    Next, I think there is a bigger issue here: the subtle, yet intentional way the media is focused on the Black athlete. Now, don’t get me misunderstood. Wrong is WRONG. I do not support violence of any sort, with or without guns. But I am saying that the media is now dictating who is prosecuted and how harsh the penalty. Since most of the media is largely white controlled, I can only view it as nearly racist. Examples: Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, and now Gilbert Arenas. There is a general outrage by the white media concerning how the Black athlete behaves, yet when similar incidents occur from white athletes, their is a blind eye thrown to the incident. Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, and even Andre Agassi committed all kinds of acts on the court that were viewed as insulting, threatening and improper. What of the white golf greats who threw clubs in the water and even cursed while on the course? And basketball is riddled with white boys of yesteryear cursing and fussing in the refs face. Baseball has too many incident to enumerate.
    Yet, it is the Black athlete that is increasingly showcased as being savage and untamed (as if to subtly say: we are unfit to play organized Sports).

    Even other Blacks committed crimes worse than these. However, I think the prevailing attitude of the media and white America today is one of non-tolerance. Therefore, the Black athlete must wise-up and realize that the bar, the standard for Blacks is different. Black athletes of the past would NOT last one season today!
    Remember Dennis Rodman and his “crotch-kicking incident;” remember Charles Barkley and all his antics; remember Allen “please don’t choke me” Iverson? What about Michael Irvin and all his drug problems (on and off-the-field); what about Darryl Strawberry? SOme athletes wouldn’t make it one week in today’s environment.

    It is my belief that today’s white-controlled media are furious at the wealth that Black athletes are now generating, (and sadly: flaunting on YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter and more…) thus, white controlled media focus the microscope tighter now than ever before. League owners, Commissioners and even spectators are being hood-winked by allowing the media to control their feelings and emotions about these recent events.
    Athletes are people too (regardless of how much money they generate …and how stupid their actions appear).

    Finally, I also believe the punitive damages levied by Commissioner Stern are biased and unfair. In a world where one knows what legal ramifications are facing them, why not the same in the NBA? Why indefinitely?
    Indefinitely until what? I think the Commissioner is too powerful. I would have been more comfortable with him saying the penalty is 2 weeks or 2 months suspension. Even pot-head Michael Phelps was given a duration of suspension. To tell someone you are gone forever is not fair. It strips a person of their livelihood. No one goes to a court of law in the US and is told you will be held indefinitely (except at Guantanamo Bay). Even a murder is given a sentence of time whether it be 30 or (sadly, 300 years). Criminals know their duration of punishment. If Arenas is being punished, for how long?

    There are some serious problems with how our media report incidents of misconduct involving Black athletes, and there are serious problems concerning how sports leagues determine the punishment of Blacks.

  4. DavidBurnett says:

    @Steven Grossman
    Good points Steven! I am not necessarily blaming fans, but … we as fans cheer and applaud these athletes all the time even as they do the most outrageous things, the more bizarre the better. How else do you explain for instance the extremely professional and dignified San Antonio Spurs constantly considered boring and drawing low TV ratings while the buffoons, clowns and criminals get all the attention from fans and media. We need to prop up the good guys with ratings and encouragement too often though we don’t. Thanks again for reading Steven.