For the next few minutes, your name is John, OK? And you are a coach. And you have been losing. And you are walking off the court. And this is what you hear:
“Hey, John! You suck!”
“Hey, John! I saw your wife last night and I — her!”
“Hey, John! You can —- my —, you —!”
How do you like it? What are you thinking? Are you thinking, “I make a lot of money, so I don’t hear any of this”? Or are you starting to seethe?
“Hey, John! Your mother is a — sack of —!”
“Hey, John! You look like a — load of —!”
You want me to keep going? Because I can. In nearly 20 years of sports writing, I have heard all the above. I have seen bottles thrown. I have seen batteries tossed.
I have heard the n-word, the k-word, the w-word and the c-word. I have listened to 20 minutes’ worth of curses from gurgling spectators with beer spilling down their shirts.
But I have almost never seen a fan held accountable.
On the other hand, when a player responds, down comes the hammer. And when a coach loses his cool and yells back? Good night.
So it is that Dan Issel, veteran coach of the Denver Nuggets, is in the hot seat, because a heckling fan got to him the other night, and he responded with an insult of his own.
“Go drink another beer,” Issel retorted, “you —ing Mexican piece of —!”
Was it dumb? Of course. Should he be punished? He should be, and he was. The outburst cost Issel, long-respected for being a community good guy, a four-game suspension and more than $112,000 in lost salary. It embarrassed him before a national audience.
He apologized profusely in a press conference, to the fan, the team and the community. He called his actions “un-Christian and uncaring.” He choked up twice and finally left, too humiliated to finish.
Yet to some this is not enough.
They want him fired.
Use the n-word, lose your job
Well, OK. Let’s fire him. After all, he did use the word “Mexican.” Can’t do that. So out he goes.
Just one more thing. Along with firing Issel, we get to fire the fans as well.
Any fan who screams the word “Mexican” or “black” or “Irish” or “Jew,” has to lose his job. Any fan who uses the n- or k- or c-word is fired, too. Any fan who picks on the fat or tall is out of work. And anyone who curses is instantly unemployed.
You know what? Half the stands would be empty.
Don’t believe me? Check your history. In 1934, during the World Series, Detroit fans threw tomatoes at Cardinals outfielder Joe Medwick. In 1961, a fan got onto the field to taunt Cleveland’s Jimmy Piersall. In 1986, at Yankee Stadium, someone threw a knife — a knife? — at California’s Wally Joyner.
In 1991, a Cleveland fan taunted Albert Belle about a “keg party” after Belle had finished alcohol rehab. In 1995, a Meadowlands fan threw a hard-packed snowball that hit an equipment man in the eye. Last January, an Indiana fan called Allen Iverson “a monkey” and “a n—.”
These incidents came to light only because there was, in most cases, retaliation. You have no idea the litany of insults, racial slurs, sexual taunting and bald-faced profanity that fans get away with night after night.
And what’s the justification?
“They’re rich. They can take it.”
Wealth doesn’t make them immune
Well, no, they can’t. And no, they don’t have to. You don’t like rich athletes? Don’t pay their salaries. Stay away from the TV and the stadiums.
But nowhere on the ticket does it read “this is a license to behave like a moron.” And if being rich makes you target practice, when everyone should be cursing the President and Oprah.
We should get this through our heads: Their egos and their wealth do not justify our pathetic behavior. When you behave like an ass, it’s on you, not them.
I do not condone what Issel did. A coach knows better. As a public figure, he must bite his lip.
But fans don’t just get to flap theirs. Not without limits. Ask yourself: Have you ever seen a player or coach start an argument with a spectator?
After the Denver incident, someone asked the fan — a guy named Bobby — how it happened. He said Issel heard him screaming and singled him out.
“So I said something smart back,” Bobby said, “and he cursed me.”
Notice how we never hear what the “something” was. I promise you, “smart” is not the adjective.
“What do you think should happen to Issel?” Bobby was asked.
“Oh, he’s gotta go,” Bobby said.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Mitch will do four holiday book signings of “Tuesdays With Morrie” to benefit the Sept. 11 victims. They will be at the Barnes & Noble in Shelby Township (7:30 tonight), in Ann Arbor
(1 p.m. Saturday), in Northville (7:30 p.m. Tuesday) and in Troy (7:30 p.m. Wednesday).