We don’t know yet what was said by Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr. And if it was garden-variety taunts of the kind you might expect at a rivalry game, then it’s fair to say that Smart overreacted when he shoved Orr. But if it turns out that it was a racial epithet—or anything in the ballpark of “go back to Africa,” as was initially reported by a couple of outlets—that was hurled in Smart’s direction, then the idea that he has to walk away and take it is more than a bit antiquated.
If it wasn’t racial, then Orr certainly should get a chance to clear up what he did or didn’t say—anyone should get the benefit of that doubt. So far, though, it’s been reported that he texted, “I kinda let my mouth say something I shouldn’t have.”
And that’s the point: that until the facts are in, Smart deserves the benefit of that doubt, as well.
This Isn’t the Pros
And polls show that Americans don’t favor paying student-athletes for their effort—that’s fine. But if players aren’t paid, then colleges should be treating them like the college students they are.
When Smart goes pro—and when he’s paid to play ball—then he’ll be on his own the next time that he loses his cool. But if he’s punished with more than a token suspension for what happened Saturday, it’ll look like OSU, Texas Tech and the Big 12 are letting a student—their student—be a patsy for a relatively brief moment of rancor in which that college student was providing entertainment, and taking abuse—on his school’s behalf—for thousands of paying customers.
OSU’s coaches should have brought Smart back to the locker room, instead of leaving him on the bench to be further taunted by Texas Tech fans, and Texas Tech’s campus security should have escorted Orr out of the arena, to find out happened.
If OSU throws him under the bus, though—or if this turns into a pile-on—then shame on the “fans” for demanding that players show us heart when they’re on the court, and then when they do, we don’t show them any compassion of our own.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.