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Marcus Smart Is Being Judged Too Harshly

Marcus Smart did a bad thing. That doesn't make him a bad person.

Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Marcus Smart listens as head coach Travis Ford (not pictured) address the media at Gallagher-Iba Arena
Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Marcus Smart listens as head coach Travis Ford (not pictured) address the media at Gallagher-Iba Arena
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When we heard the story about Marcus Smart's run-in with a fan, several things came to mind: his recent chair stomping and his recent flap about flopping among them. But mostly what we thought of was the profiles we read before this happened, the ones which spoke of a young man who had overcome so much and who had struggled with profound anger before putting his emotions under control as he rose to basketball greatness.

We believe there's a lot to Marcus Smart, and that judging him by this would be a real  mistake.

Let's be clear: he was wrong to put his hands on a fan. That can only lead to serious trouble and cannot be accepted no matter what the situation is. His punishment is deserved.

But after that, let's also consider Smart's mindset and his provocateur, one Jeff Orr.

How to put this delicately...Orr already has a reputation. Indeed, there are videos from the same game where he is making rude gestures to Smart's teammates. John Lucas III knew immediately who he was and tweeted about him. He's neither well-liked nor respected by opposing players or fan bases.

Clearly he's not as bad as Harvey Updike, another Texas born wacko who poisoned the trees at Auburn's Toomer's Corner.

But he's bad enough.

He graduated from Texas Tech in 1983, which should make him somewhere around 50 - plenty old enough to know how to behave in other words.

And like most sports fans, certainly including us, he has yelled bad things at the opponents. Unlike most of us, though, he did it up close and personally, and Smart, for whatever reason, lost control.

The rumors which flew around before (and possibly after) the press conference had Orr  saying something racist.

That, too, is nothing new. Desmond Lee said he heard the N word "every time" his team visited Texas Tech.

And it's not just something that happens in Texas. There is a fairly well known Duke fan who has used racist language when he's unhappy with some Duke athletes. A number of people have heard it; many more are aware of it. We don't know if the university or program is, but a lot of people are. He's a well-known schmuck.

Orr says he called Smart "a piece of crap," which is fairly dehumanizing, but denies using racist language and there is no evidence that he did. A piece of crap is bad enough though, particularly from a grown man to a 19-year-old kid. How would he like to have his children addressed like that? All Smart was doing was playing a game.

Still, it doesn't justify physical retaliation, which begs the question: what's up with Marcus?

This is a guy who not long ago seemed to have beaten all his demons, who had his anger firmly under control. He was being praised for being wise beyond his years.

Now? Now he's 19, vulnerable, and apparently not nearly as in control of his anger as he thought he was.

Worse, he's being vilified for a very brief loss of control.

It brings to mind Richard Sherman, who so startled the nation after the Seahawks beat the 49ers to move on to the Super Bowl when he went off on Erin Andrews about the Patriots.

To us, it just seemed like a bizarre WWF moment in the wrong sport, but inevitably it took on larger cultural overtones.

It also brings to mind the Michael Vick case, which for many was bizarre, with a lot of whites wondering how anyone could say, as many of Vick's supporters did, that "it's just dogs."

But context is everything, and what kind of got missed was an unspoken corollary, which was "they're this upset about dogs? What about what happens to us?"

And you know, that's a very different thing than what was generally reported, and it deserved to be discussed more than it was.

As for Sherman, a lot of people stepped up and said that this is an intelligent, thoughtful man who shouldn't be judged by one moment in time.

We think that's true for Smart, too. He's shown too much intelligence, too much of an ability to look beyond the selfish to be dismissed now. He has a lot left to say and to do.

What we do hope is that his team and friends and family realize that his anger, which was successfully managed for a long time, is getting the best of him and needs to be not just managed but resolved.

We can judge the public act, but we certainly can't see the private heart. Smart's basketball talent puts him in the public eye, but we so rarely take the time to understand those who entertain or compete for us. We prefer, it seems, to consume them and then to say how terrible it is when they self-destruct.

For someone who is just now 19, he has already shown great intelligence and judgment, although clearly not this past Saturday. We hope that he continues to cultivate those aspects of his personality and finds a way to master his complex emotional life before it masters him.

After we're done being upset with him, can we all agree that he is as deserving of compassion and forgiveness as is anyone else? There's nothing wrong with Marcus Smart that a bit of time and growing up can't take care of. In the old church phrase, we should hate the sin but love the sinner.

In the end, after he comes to terms with his emotions, Smart is going to be something else.  But he will need to deal with whatever is eating him inside.

That - and his formidable potential as a man - should be the takeaway from all of this. Let's give him a chance to reach it.