Jeff Orr is not the problem.
The problem is the people who sit within earshot of Jeff Orr, the ones who outwardly encourage or silently enable the yellow-bellied loudmouths who berate college athletes from the safety of their pricey seats.
The problem is not unique to Lubbock, Texas. There’s a Jeff Orr in every arena in America. Dozens of them at times.
They call opposing players thugs (see Memphis at Louisville, Jan. 9). They taunt exhausted, defeated shooting guards and square off as if to fight (see Kentucky at Arkansas, Jan. 14).
The well-mannered majority put up with it for some reason. Maybe they enjoy it. Maybe they are appalled. Either way, nobody is stopping it.
Ugly scenes are inevitable, like the one in Lubbock on Saturday night.
Jeff Orr is the Texas Tech superfan who provoked Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart in the waning seconds of a tight game. After trying to block a shot, Smart crash-landed just a few feet from Orr’s seat. Orr said something that prompted Smart to snap to his feet and shove Orr in the chest.
Smart reportedly said Orr used a racial slur. In a statement released Sunday by Texas Tech, Orr said he called Smart “a piece of crap.”
“But I want to make it known,” Orr said, “that I did not use a racial slur of any kind.”
In its press release, Texas Tech said “no one in the vicinity of Mr. Orr heard such a slur.” As exculpatory evidence, Tech provided a snippet of video shot by its sports broadcasting department.
Amid the garbled din, a man’s voice can be heard yelling, “You piece of crap!” That’s a far cry from dropping the N-bomb, but it’s still boorish, cowardly and unacceptable.
Hecklers like Orr drip with phony bravado. They say things they wouldn’t dare repeat man to man, face to face, away from the madding crowd.
Nevertheless, Smart clearly overreacted. He was suspended for three games.
As for Orr, Texas Tech said he “voluntarily agreed” to steer clear of his favorite team for the rest of the season. Seems fair enough – except for the fact that Orr has a long history of baiting and berating players in vulgar fashion.
Four years ago, ESPN cameras caught him giving Texas A&M forward Bryan Davis the universal gesture for “Up yours.”
Davis, watching coverage of The Shove late Saturday night, recognized Orr right away.
“The same guy that talked crazy to me for four years,” he tweeted.
Former Oklahoma State guard John Lucas III tweeted that Orr was “talking crazy even when I was in school.” That dates Orr’s obnoxious antics back to 2003.
Orr is no anomaly. His ilk is all too common. Ask any player, coach or referee.
Why do normal fans tolerate these louts?
Are they amused? Afraid? Or just soullessly indifferent?
For some strange reason, people act as though, upon passing through the turnstiles, the usual standards of public behavior are null and void. They think that purchasing a ticket entitles the buyer to voice his opinion any way he pleases – and that coaches and players should endure every insult with stoic forbearance.
It’s absurd. We set the behavioral bar sky high for players and coaches. Fans, on the other hand, are free to reach new lows.
Society doesn’t tolerate verbal abuse in other public venues. Why should a basketball arena be any different?
Actually, it’s not any different – unless the abused party is a player or coach.
People would be thunderstruck if Fan A walked up to Fan B and, without provocation, called him a piece of crap. If Fan B retaliated by pushing Fan A in the chest, they’d probably cheer.
That sort of confrontation almost never happens, of course. People rarely insult strangers who are simply doing their jobs or otherwise minding their own business. It’s not just impolite, it’s dangerous.
Outside of a sports arena or a boot camp, when is the last time you saw a paunchy middle-aged man talk trash to a 6-foot-4, 220-pound teenager?
Think Orr would’ve called Smart a piece of crap if they were at a gas station or a movie theater?
Of course not.
But thanks to the perverse ethics of arena behavior – and the enabling passivity of his fellow fans – Orr was able to insult Smart with impunity Saturday night.
In the heat of the moment, Smart pushed back. Davis had been there but not done that.
“(Y)ou should never put your hands on a fan,” he tweeted.
That is true. Athletes are berated every day by classless, spineless fans; 99 percent of them manage to ignore it. But the knuckle-draggers are tempting fate.
After Arkansas upset the University of Kentucky in overtime last month, a Razorbacks fan came on the floor and yammered at the Wildcats as they trudged to the locker room. Freshman forward Julius Randle ignored the guy. Teammate Aaron Harrison did not.
Harrison got into a verbal confrontation that might have escalated if UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua hadn’t intervened.
A similar situation occurred the previous week after Memphis upset the University of Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center. Some U of L fans exchanged words with Memphis players as the Tigers left the court. Memphis coach Josh Pastner foolishly aggravated the situation by engaging the fans himself.
The world is quick criticize Pastner and Smart for not handling themselves with Gandhian aplomb. Rightly so, I suppose. But what about the fans?
The world shrugs. Pundits cluck. Officialdom reluctantly administers an obligatory slap on the wrist. It’s just fans being fans, after all.
As if that’s sufficient excuse.
As if the hecklers wouldn’t whine like stuck pigs if a stranger barged into their office and screamed “You piece of crap!” at the most stressful point of their day.
The vast majority of fans behave like sane, civil adults. They should insist that other fans act the same way. Because all that’s required for the triumph of boorishness is for good people to do nothing.