“Sixth Sense” Could Teach Pros and Fans Some Valuable Lessons In Decorum And Interaction

By Gregory Moore
Updated: February 17, 2005
Mamie "Peanut" Johnson
Derell “Poncho” Hodges

SAN ANTONIO – The story was ripped from the headlines of 2004. Follow the scenario if you will. A brawl breaks out between two teams during the NBA season. There are injuries and lawsuits. A player is suspended for the rest of the season. Sounds like the Nov. 19th episode between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons doesn’t it? Well there’s a twist for the television version. A fan is killed and a player is on trial for murder. What’s the difference between reality and make believe/ Try a very fine line when it comes to the hit drama series Law and Order. If Wednesday’s episode was too real for some viewers it should have been. For every athlete that had a game that night, the others should have been watching and taking notes. It should have been family night at somebody’s house. If there was ever a time for professional athletes to get in touch with the rest of us, tonight was the night for such a perfect opportunity but sadly it may have been missed. It’s sad because there are lessons to be learned from the episode. For those who missed the episode, I want to give you a synopsis and then possibly some of my own thoughts and opinions on not only the episode but what can be learned from it.

ATHLETES NEED TO REALIZE THAT THEY ARE INDEED ‘SPECIAL’ When you watch the episode you don’t really get a feeling that it’s about a professional ball player. On the outset its just another murder and as the investigation goes along it spawns from a simple murder to possibly homicide over a gambling debt, back to murder because of a bad business deal, then to manslaughter because of a person being ‘pushed’ over the edge. For athletes, being in this type of scenario is all too real. Remember Benny and Brian Blades? O.J. Simpson? Okay how about Rae Carruth? How about the tragic death of Fred Lane? In other words you get a good idea of just what kind of trouble a high profile athlete can get himself into.

I have long been a proponent for the colleges and pro leagues to really have a good initiation into what they will be getting themselves into. High profile college athletes are jut as prone to the pitfalls of their professional counterparts today more than ever. Thanks to the Internet and the electronic media as we know it, it is very likely that instead of the fictitious character Silas Enwood being charged, we could have some kid from Arizona, Cal State, Michigan or Syracuse facing these very same charges. Instead of some fictitious 42-year-old white man, we could have a cheerleader, a fraternity brother, classmate, or complete stranger be the victim. And if you don’t think that college players are prone to such criminal issues just go back to the days when Nebraska was known as the house of thugs in the mid to late 1990s or just look at today’s’ sports page and you’ll see several players kicked off their team because of improper behavior that is both immoral and criminal in nature.

If the truth is really to be told on this page, athletes need to wise up and realize that they are special but that makes them the targets of all kind of illegal and immoral situations. Falling into drugs, prostitution, score fixing and other lascivious activities is easy when you have a $75,000 game check coming to you. What would you do with that kind of money just falling into your lap? The demons that come with that cash flow are numerous and treacherous and you would be hard pressed to not feel empathy for any athlete caught up in a game of some sort outside of the court. However that is why these athletes have to be especially careful about what they do, where they do it, and how they do it. Once you become well known, your every move is almost tracked like an endangered species. You are expected to act and behave in a ‘professional’ manner when you are professional athlete. Hard thing to do when you have a beer poured on you when you are lying on the scorer’s table. Nevertheless decorum is the name of the game and athletes just have to learn how to deal with the situation no matter how difficult it may be.

GETTING CAUGHT UP IN A CRIME NO GAME So let’s expound on the Nov. 19th situation a little bit and interweave Law and Order’s episode with the real thing for a moment. I remove Poncho Hodges who played Enwood in the show and replace him with Ron Artest from the Pacers. Let’s say that Artest not only goes into the stands but actually hits someone and they go into a coma and that person dies. That’s called a one-punch homicide folks and it happens. Now let your mind wander for a moment and you can quickly come to the conclusion of seeing a famous basketball player being led away in handcuffs. That’s how the episode from Dick Wolff’s show played out on Wednesday night. No Ron Artest isn’t in jail and fortunately for him and anyone else associated the maximum punishment has been just ninety days in the county pokey for those who will be going there. However Hodges makes the case seem real and maybe it is because Hodges, who is 6’8” and a former pro ball player himself, played the role so well. Yet I can take him out the picture and put other athletes in his place during this episode. And that is what makes this storyline so real; it has happened before and sadly it will happen again.

Getting caught up in the crime game as an average citizen isn’t fun and it definitely isn’t a day in the park for a celebrity or athlete. I look back at what Carruth did and continue to shake my head. Here was a young man who had the world by the tail and instead of possibly working it out with his baby’s mama, he wanted to try and play the ghetto game of killing her. Four to five lives have been ruined because of his nonsense. The baby’s mother died in the hospital and the child lost his father because that fool is in jail. Then you have Carruth’s friends who are now doing time because they got caught up in that crazy game. It is scenarios like this that rips the air out of sports fans and from family members.

For far too long athletes who have gotten a free pass over the years through school and other avenues have taken their arrogance to a new level and figured that when it comes to society’s laws, they are above those as well. Well not practicing because you are the star is one thing but to try and circumvent habeas corpus is something totally different. No amount of money in an athlete’s account will rid them of something that they may be guilty of. If anyone thinks that going to court is fun, just ask Kobe Bryant what this has done to his reputation and his livelihood since the August 2003 incident in Eagle, Colorado. It wasn’t pretty and this website had one of the first pieces about how that court case would be a media circus long before anyone in the mainstream thought of penning such a story.

However what these athletes should learn from an television episode like this is that they are not immune to anything that they believe is just commonplace. As much as they are revered on one level, they are quickly torn down when something negative happens. It’s unfortunate but that just happens to be the reality that we are facing in this information age.

WE ALL COULD LEARN SOME LESSONS FROM THIS SHOW So what can any of us actually learn from the “Sixth Man” episode? Well let me start with the sports leagues first. If I had the ear of the commissioners and other decision makers in the pro sports realm, the first thing I would suggest is a comprehensive overhaul over their rookie camp seminars. I think that a tape or DVD of this very episode needs to be shown every year to the incoming class. Next I would look at possibly extending the seminar to as much as a two-month drill for some sports. What we are talking about is a life skills course that should be taught not matter what the draft position or the impeding significance on a roster. Lectures, workshops and even classroom enactments should become a serious part of these seminars but the scenarios that could pop up need to be explored on a more in depth basis than what they currently are right now.

Turning my attention to the agents and team owners/management, I would suggest to them that they find a way to make sure that their players understand the ramifications of getting caught up in drama would do to their careers. It may sound like babysitting but what professional athletes need to understand is that they are very much a target and the more they can arm themselves with good support groups and sound judgment skills, the better off they will be. If that means that a team official has to baby-sit certain individuals, then that is price you pay for fame until you can illustrate sound judgment away from the practice facility.

Now turning my attention to the fan who spends money to watch these athletes play, let me say that part of the episode from the television show was because of a fan who was being belligerent, disrespectful and acting in a criminal behavior. I will repeat my stance on fan behavior: just because you shelled out some coin for a ducket does not mean that you can act a fool. In plain English, what I am saying is that that ticket guarantees you entrance into a venue, a seat in the row that it says you are to sit and that’s it. It doesn’t afford you the opportunity to berate a player, degrade a player or a family member, throw anything at a player or come onto the court. If anyone wants to know why the Nov. 19th fight took place or why NBC was able to make such a powerful episode on a hit drama series, it is because fans would act in exactly the fashions that I described in the above sentences. As fans, we have to learn to enjoy ourselves but at the same time respect those who we come to either cheer or boo.

While the “Sixth Man” episode ripped a real story from the headlines, it has once again brought to the limelight the defining moments of this country’s positions on athletes, sports decorum and just how far we all would go to be a part of the team. Wednesday night was a perfect time for everyone involved in this industry to sit down with family and friends and learn some hard lessons that need to be taught to us over and over again. Hopefully that dramatic episode is just one more lesson that enforces the need for all of us to respect each other and the jobs or entertainment liberties that are apart of a great industry in this country.