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SPORTS WATCH : Foul Play

March 26, 1993

One might be inclined to dismiss the fights and disturbances that sometimes occur at sports competitions with an offhanded remark about boys being boys or even cynical jokes ("Let's keep the fighting where it belongs--in hockey").

But there were some very troubling elements in one such event this week, the brawl that broke out at a professional basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Phoenix Suns. Not just the sheer size of it--virtually every player and coach on both teams got into the fracas--but the fact that one player wearing street clothes leaped in from the bench. Under almost any other circumstance, that young man would have been charged with criminal assault--and maybe he should have been in this case.

National Basketball Assn. officials have shown they understand the seriousness of what happened by imposing suspensions and/or fines totaling almost $300,000 on most of the participants. But even stiffer penalties may be called for, given the frequency of such fights. Local basketball fans surely recall the terrible brawl earlier this season at a UC Irvine-Cal State Fullerton game. Some fans even joined in that one.

No, this is not funny at all. How much longer will it be before U.S. sports are plagued by dangerous fans like the hooligans who have turned some foreign soccer matches into blood baths? Sports violence should be cause for serious reflection on how we play our games and teach children to play them. Fighting doesn't belong in any team sport--even hockey.

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