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SALT LAKE CITY — Fan behavior at sporting events has become a topic of national discussion this week following comments made by Russell Westbrook.
Whether Westbrook is exaggerating or instigating the problem is beside the point. Fans everywhere at the professional and college levels, including here in Utah, are best served by displaying better decorum.
There have been too many instances across the country in which fans have crossed the line with athletes or coaches. At some point, a minority of fans have thought it has become acceptable to make inappropriate comments to the athletic participants.
It needs to stop. Players deserve better.
“It happens everywhere,” said Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.
The cost of a ticket does not give permission to taunt visiting players with derogatory personal comments, no matter how heated a particular game may become. A little perspective can go a long way toward preventing any unnecessary confrontations.
Obviously, this holds true for Jazz fans, who have helped create an intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams. With a noise level that can reach deafening levels, Vivint Smart Home Arena is recognized as being one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA.
Unfortunately, the actions of a few tarnish the well-earned reputation the majority have as vocal, supportive fans. It has created a bad image that the Jazz and their loyal supporters don’t deserve or want.
After losing for the final time this season, Westbrook lashed out — not at the referees or the opponent, as might be typical in this case, but at the fans.
The star point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder went after Jazz fans, ripping them for inappropriate language and behavior directed at visiting players. His comments, said in the postgame press conference in the series the Jazz won in six games, came after he had interactions with separate fans walking off the court at halftime and after the game.
“Here in Utah, man, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players with fans. It’s truly disrespectful,” Westbrook said.
“They talk about your family, about your kids, and it’s just a disrespect to the game, and I think it’s something that needs to be brought up. I’m tired of just going out and playing then the fans say what the hell they want to say. I’m not with that, because if I was just on the street they wouldn’t say anything crazy because I don’t play that (expletive). I think it’s disrespectful they get the chance to whatever they want to do. It needs to be put to a stop, especially here in Utah.”
Westbrook’s remarks came late on a Friday night, meaning they did not get much national play until the following Monday. Soon enough, they gained traction as some commentators agreed with Westbrook in saying Jazz fans went over the top.
On ESPN’s First Take, Stephen A. Smith said Westbrook’s situation was not an isolated act. He referred to previous incidents involving former players over the last 20 years
“It’s not the first time we’ve heard that about some of those fans in Utah,” Smith said on his show.
“It comes across as a very wholesome environment,” he added. “But then you go inside that arena and some of them — not most, not all, but some of them — who unfortunately stain the rest of the fan base. It’s something that the NBA may need to address.”
To its credit, Jazz management is not interested in downplaying any incidents. Team officials believe one inappropriate situation is too much and will continue to take steps to improve the game experience for all participants and customers.
Their message is simple — cheer or boo as you see fit, but keep it all within the bounds of good taste.