The end of the Cincinnati-Xavier men’s basketball game was not pretty. It was a perfect example of how a sports rivalry should not be played, with endless trash talk and, in the end, balled fists and bloodied faces.
It was an ugly scene and embarrassing for both schools and college basketball as a whole. Let’s make sure we’re all in agreement with that before we go any further.
Really, though, all the bold lecturing that’s going on in reaction to the incident is nearly as embarrassing as the incident itself.
Nobody sounded dumber than Xavier guard Tu Holloway. Understandably miffed that Cincinnati players had insisted in the media during the week that Holloway, one of the best players in the nation, would not start for Cincinnati, Holloway joined teammate Mark Lyons in chirping at the Bearcats all game long.
“We’re a tougher team,” Holloway said in the postgame news conference. “We’re grown men over here. We’ve got a whole bunch of gangsters in our locker room. Not thugs, but tough guys on the court. We went out there and zipped them up. That’s what we said we were going to do, zip them up.”
Holloway is getting rightfully slammed, of course, although judging by their actions just about every Xavier or Cincinnati player put in Holloway’s position would have said something similar. Holloway just happened to be the one with the guts to face the media afterward.
“It’s an attitude that’s the problem. One that suggests nothing matters more than defending your honor,” writes Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty. “That the true test of a man’s character is his ability to go gangster on anyone and everyone, when he feels he has been ‘disrespected.’ Even if it means embarrassing yourself, your school and the best intra-city rivalry in the country.”
Daugherty hits the nail on the head with the idea of “disrespect,” which can be so broadly defined, virtually anything can become an excuse to start throwing ‘bows. But while the wording was different, was the spirit of Holloway’s comments any different from a hockey player inciting a fight or a baseball pitcher plunking a feared slugger? Brawls are not uncommon in those sports, and the themes — defending a teammate, sticking up for personal honor, showing which team is tougher — are often the same as the one from Saturday’s debacle.
When those brouhahas happen, there’s not the moralizing and hand-wringing there is when a bunch of guys in shorts start throwing haymakers. In baseball, we usually joke about “bench-clearing staredowns.” In hockey, heck, it’s just part of the game.
This is not to defend the Xavier or Cincinnati players or to condone Holloway’s explanation, but instead to bring attention to the same warped logic that makes level-headed fans roll their eyes when a batter charges the mound or an enforcer starts a fight to “inspire” his team on a flat day. Decades ago, the folks who run organized basketball decided these obnoxious displays of bravado were unecessary and even harmed the game.
That’s why Saturday’s brawl was an embarrassment — because this is one sport that has supposedly determined that it’s above that sort of the nonsense. The nonsense, however, made a triumphant return Saturday.