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Sports Flirting With Death and Disaster in the Locker Room

Jan 28, 2010 – 3:30 PM
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Terence Moore

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Harry EdwardsNo question, David Stern just got it right by telling Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton to get lost for a year without pay after their gun mess. Still, the NBA commissioner has a problem. The same goes for his counterparts in other professional sports, particularly the NFL's Roger Goodell.

Come to think of it, college presidents and those who run their frequently roguish athletic departments join Stern, Goodell and others in sitting a cocked pistol away of watching that problem evolve into a disaster.

Somebody is going to die. We're likely talking about more folks than that. For verification, there is the chilling prophecy of Dr. Harry Edwards, the professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California-Berkeley. I've known Dr. Edwards for 30 years. During that time, we've discussed everything you can imagine regarding trends throughout athletics, and rarely is Dr. Edwards wrong.

Actually, Dr. Edwards never is wrong.

So this isn't good.

"I've been telling David Stern, and I've been telling Roger Goodell for at least the last six years or so that we had better get on top of this gun thing, because we've dodged a bullet so far -- more out of luck than out of problematic awareness and approaches," said Dr. Edwards, 68, over the phone from his San Francisco Bay Area home.

Just so you know, Dr. Edwards has spent more than four decades involved with everything from organizing that black-fisted Olympic protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City, to authoring books on African-American athletes that are used as part of the curriculum at colleges, to becoming the confidant of owners, coaches and commissioners of professional sports leagues.

"Somebody is going to wind up shooting up a locker room ... It's happened in courthouses. It's happened in schools, fast-food places, post offices, mortuaries, weddings, office buildings."
- Dr. Harry Edwards
Which brings us to Dr. Edwards' Mother of all Warnings to high-powered sports honchos, and remember: He predicted the following long before Arenas and Crittenton threatened to play their real-life version of High Noon around Christmas in the Washington Wizards locker room.

Said Edwards, repeating what he told those sports honchos in the past and adding that he believes it even more so now, "Somebody is going to wind up shooting up a locker room and a bunch of folks in a franchise. It's happened in courthouses. It's happened in schools, fast-food places, post offices, mortuaries, weddings, office buildings. You name it, and it's been shot up. And this passionate, heated realm of human involvement that we call professional sports has managed to dodge this bullet up to this time.

"That has been the case, even though in the two biggest sports of basketball and football, their core population comes from this environment where a guy would have been safer in a war zone than in the streets of his own community."

Dr. Edwards' words bring sense to the nonsensical in sports. That's why this thing involving Arenas and Crittenton strangely makes sense. First, you have the otherwise nonsensical description by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Kavanaugh of what he said occurred last month after Arenas and Crittenton argued over a card game during a Wizards team flight. According to Kavanaugh, Arenas spoke of shooting Crittenton in the face and blowing up or burning his car. Then Crittenton spoke of shooting Arenas in his surgically repaired knee.

Two days later, Crittenton brought a supposedly unloaded handgun from his apartment to the Wizards' practice, because he said this week during a court hearing in Washington that he feared Arenas.

Crittenton had reason to fear. I mean, his punk of a teammate who was looking more unstable each day said he would shoot him in the face. And here's why these are scary times. In the past, a player threatened in this way would go to the authorities -- or at least to ownership, management or coaches. Now the NBA is deep into its hip-hop mode, with the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony even going so far a few years ago to appear in an underground DVD to promote not snitching.

You handle your own business.

You don't let somebody punk you.

Even if you're mostly a mellow person, which is the way that the majority has described Crittenton, you do exactly what Crittenton did after he carried his handgun to practice that day: You react with your emotions instead of your brains.

Consider, too, that those closest to Crittenton (right) say he has a tendency to strike back whenever he feels bullied. So this definitely wasn't good: When he arrived at his locker, he discovered that Arenas continued his transformation from self-proclaimed "goofball" to wannabe gangster by placing several guns -- supposedly unloaded -- on a chair with a sign that said, "Pick 1." In response, Crittenton knocked the guns on the floor, grabbed the handgun out of his locker and flashed it at Arenas.

None of this is good. Not what occurred in this situation, and not what is on the verge of occurring elsewhere.

The truth is, nothing that Stern just did to Arenas and Crittenton will make others throughout sports get the message. More than a few youth these days -- especially those with fame and money -- don't care about the old truism that you should learn from somebody else's mistakes in order to keep from repeating them. So we're destined to see these types of dangerous (and eventually fatal) showdowns involving athletes continue for years, decades, maybe a generation.

And before we continue, let's make something clear: Although Arenas and Crittenton are black -- along with a slew of others from the "core population" that Dr. Edwards described earlier -- this isn't a black thing.

This is an everybody's thing.

"When these sports leagues and teams are looking for solutions to this problem, they most certainly can't make this a racial issue," Dr. Edwards said. "What I keep telling them is that Jonesboro, Arkansas, wasn't black. Columbine wasn't black. The thing back at Blacksburg at Virginia Tech was an Asian. The guy who went in and killed his coach in Iowa was white. It's just that when you have a gun issue in sports that is embedded in a society which has 200 million guns in private hands -- including two million bought since the last presidential election -- you have a major gun problem in sports that you've inherited from all of society."

Thus the reason for pessimism, where you have former NBA player Jayson Williams heading to prison for the shooting death of his limousine driver. Former NFL player Rae Carruth already is in prison for orchestrating the murder of his girlfriend.

You've had collegiate players either die from bullets or come close to doing so, stretching from Duquesne to Baylor. Maurice Clarett even went from running Ohio State to a national championship to sitting in the slammer after accepting a plea deal for robbery, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and resisting arrest.

All of that is in addition to the gun-related deaths of former NFL stars Sean Taylor and Steve McNair.

Even so, there is a solution for making this epidemic throughout sports less volatile, and according to Dr. Edwards, Stern can lead the way for his peers through his response to Arenas and Crittenton.

In fact, Stern already has started with just his season-long bans.

"He needs to create a ladder for these kids to work their way back into the league, and it should be a steep ladder," Dr. Edwards said. "You have to understand that they're never going to get back to where they were. They'll never be able to expunge this from their resume or their obituaries. But they will be able to go around to high schools and college and the rookie symposiums for the NBA and say, 'Hey. Guns are no joke.'

"We have to take advantage of this situation involving these two young men, because it's not just a case of, 'Well, just ban them for life!' Anybody who says that has no clue of what they're dealing with.

"We're a long ways from being out of these woods."


This is a forest. In fact, this is the sporting world's version of the Amazon dressed in sneakers, spikes, cleats and skates.

Filed under: Sports