Can athletes be viewed as human beings?

As documented numerous times, Russell Westbrook is an emotional player. Also well documented, Utah Jazz fans are notoriously an issue and that coming from numerous sources. On Monday night, those two well-known facts collided in near-epic fashion as Westbrook fired back at a fan at the peak of a verbal altercation.

The issue:

While sitting on the bench, Russell Westbrook fired back at a fan that was reportedly heckling Westbrook, which included racial slurs. That didn’t sit well with Westbrook, who in a postgame interview said the fan told him to “get down on your knees like you’re used to.” Westbrook replied with “I’ll fuck you up. You and your wife.”


According to the fan, Shane Keisel, Westbrook was the aggressor. Keisel stated that all he said in the moment leading up to Westbrook’s outburst was “just sit down and ice your knees, bro.”

Situations like these are big hits on social media, allowing even more people to voice their opinion, which can often be a bad thing. There are multiple sides to this story which have turned into Utah fans and their media versus Oklahoma City fans and theirs.

Off-top, NBA fans have more freedom and easier access to players than in any other sport. The way the players’ benches are set up, there’s only one row separating the bench and the first row of fans. Also, on the far side of the bench, there’s only a walkway separating the two. With that being said, you’d expect the NBA to be strict when it comes to fans violating the league’s Code of Conduct. But it’s no secret that they lack in their discipline of fans and that opens the door for problems like Monday night.

Assuming that Westbrook wasn’t randomly, aggressively popping off at fans, I think it’s clear that something inappropriate was said. As stated, Westbrook is an emotional player but he isn’t known for saying things as he said to the Utah fan and his wife.

Westbrook’s postgame comments:

Fans do need to be held accountable for their actions. Too many times fans are allowed to say whatever they want to a player, and either doesn’t face discipline, are warned by arena security or at the worst, kicked out of the game. Contrarily, if a player so much as barks back to the fan, they face discipline, usually monetary. That actually goes for any time a player voices their opinion. They get fined. Is that fair?

In Westbrook’s case, he shouldn’t have threatened Keisel’s wife. That’s a fact. But it’s easy to reason things out when you aren’t in the situation. It’s also easy to make reasonable decisions when you have time to assess the situation and think about what the athlete’s response should or shouldn’t have been. These things could be avoidable if the NBA took this issue as serious as they take NBA ‘fights’ and players speaking out on officiating in games.

This is an issue that rubs me the wrong way and always has. The players are on the court for display and entertainment and can’t speak up if they don’t want to be disciplined for it. Meanwhile, no matter what a fan says, they’ll be hit with the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. Westbrook was immediately positioned as the aggressor for saying something offensive and vulgar to the two Utah Jazz fans, while the reason for his outburst was a secondary thought. Westbrook should be disciplined for what he said but more importantly, the NBA has to address the constant problem of fans overstepping boundaries.

About Author

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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