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By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
There have been few fights in college basketball history that can match last year's Xavier-Cincinnati brawl — the shockingly bloody free-for-all, which was precipitated by a series of cheap-shot fouls by the two bitter, crosstown rivals, became an immediate worst-case scenario for purists of the game. College basketball altercations rarely reach beyond "hold me back" posturing and some random pushing; it's usually remedied by a couple of technical fouls from the officiating crew. In the Xavier-Cincinnati game, however, the refs lost control of the game in the second half, and after some particularly heated trash-talking and hard fouls the violence finally erupted in the game's final minutes.
It didn't reach the level of the infamous Detroit Piston-Indiana Pacer brawl from 2004 — the "Malice in the Palace" assault, when the Pacers went into the stands and started beating fans — but it was still a frightening spectacle. Cincinnati center Yancy Gates cold-cocked Xavier player Kenny Frease with a hard right that sent Frease to his knees and eventually to the hospital, where he received seven stitches. For a few moments after the punch the arena was pure anarchy, with the violence threatening to spill over into the stands. Eventually a platoon of coaches and trainers and even-tempered players managed to corral the provocateurs and the teams finally escaped to their respective locker rooms, as the referees declared the game final with nine seconds still remaining on the clock.
Amazingly, in an incredibly bone-headed decision, the Xavier staff allowed two of the players to speak at the post-game press conference, and their responses were predictably disastrous. Star point guard Tu Holloway, one of the instigators of the fight, actually bragged about the altercation, claiming that he and his teammates were "gangstas" who would "zip up" (i.e., body bag) the Bearcats players both in the game and in the brawl afterwards. When pressed about what provoked him, Holloway mentioned that one of the Cincinnati players "disrespected" him on local radio and on his Twitter feed, claiming that Holloway wouldn't even make in on the Bearcats' starting five. Of course, it should be noted that the thoughtful Holloway qualified his most inflammatory statement, saying that while his teammates were "gangstas" they weren't "thugs." Apparently there's an important distinction there that Holloway wanted to impress upon everybody. Gangstas, not thugs. Okay, we got it. Thanks a lot.
So here we go. A cataclysmic, horrific brawl, all because of a Twitter post. It's the kind of thing that makes you hate sports, and I'm not talking about the violence. I'm not sure when all this began, this nonsense about "disrespect" and the constant, ridiculous monitoring of what numbskulls are posting on their Twitter pages, but the sad truth is that pro and college athletes are now starting to resemble bitchy high school mean girls who are always fretting about what is being said about them on social media. We're right at the start of the 2012 NFL season, and already I'm exhausted by the childish "twitter wars" and non-stop gossiping and name-calling and overreacting. I recognize that the NFL is king and wildly popular, but most of this year's "stories" have nothing to do with the games themselves, it's all Tim Tebow and Jay Cutler's pouting and stir-the-pot commentaries by doofuses like Skip Bayless and Jim Rome. Colin Cowherd, ESPN Radio's popular talk show host, often claims that sports are "soap operas for men" and unfortunately I think he's all-too-accurate. It's like the NFL and the NBA have been reduced into becoming some horrible, third-rate episode of "Gossip Girl" or "The Bachelor," where the protagonists are always keeping an ear to the ground to keep dibs on any discouraging word from their rivals.
I've never been a "man's man" and I have no tolerance for macho rites, but I have to admit that even my latent testosterone kicks in a bit when I start hearing grown sportsmen gossiping and acting like teenaged cheerleaders. Good God, man, I want to say, Shut up. Shut up and play the game. I know it's a mildly misogynistic stance to believe that men shouldn't gossip, that that's what women do, but in the ultra-macho world of professional athletics, that's what I want to think — in the heat of battle (and all that), men should stoically rise above the pettiness of bitchy rumor-mongering and shut the hell up. But they don't.
And it's not limited to sports. There have been numerous studies from the last decade (including a famous one from Britain in 2009) that show that indeed, men probably gossip more than women. The British study found that 55% of men gossiped at work, compared to 46% for women. David Sales, director of BT Conferencing, says that "it's men who are more likely to gossip the day away, dispelling the myth that women are the only ones who like to spend hours chin wagging." In professional sports it's reaching epidemic proportions, with seemingly every major star engaged in some tacky display of thin-skinned reaction and provocation. Sport should be a nice diversion, a necessary respite from the hassles of daily strife, but the stupid dramas so well documented by the media cheapen the experience, make it seem more like the drag of everyday life.
Anecdotally, I have to say that my personal work experiences reinforce the findings of the various studies. Most jobs that I've had, it's been my male co-workers who are the biggest gossip offenders. More times than I'd like to remember I've grumbled about the old "fish-wives" in the office, always referring to the passive-aggressive men who are constantly cataloguing the various dramas and spats that pile up during any eight-hour shift. Perhaps there's something positive to be said about all this, something about having your pre-conceived notions of traditional gender behaviors being dashed, but the whole notion of gossip is too depressing to find any silver lining.
But anyway. There are more important things to think about. My beloved Packers are playing the Seahawks on Monday night, and just this week an agent for the Packers' Jermichael Finley claimed on Twitter that QB Aaron Rogers wasn't "a great leader." Skip Bayless, on ESPN's First Take, agreed. Stephen A. Smith, Bayless' foil on First Take, disagreed. A wide receiver for the Packers then defended Rogers. A Packers blogger then defended the wide receiver. Another blogger defended the previous blogger. And on and on. . .