To the credit of the Boston Celtics and their coaching staff, the team won its N.B.A. semi-final series against the Orlando Magic without resorting to thuggery. That is because they ignored the advice of Boston Herald sportswriter Ron Borges, who wrote a column in Friday’s edition urging the team to physically assault, and conceivably injure, the Magic’s on-court enforcer, Dwight Howard.
No doubt about it: Howard is a very dirty player, and in the relaxed enforcement atmosphere that the N.B.A. allows its refs to adopt during the play-offs, he had gone beyond dirty to abusive. Borges’ recommendation? Mug him. Hurt him.
“Far be it from me to advocate gratuitous violence, but in the case of the Magic’s elbow-swinging cheap-shot artist, two words come to mind: Why not?”
Why not? Well, it’s against the rules, for one thing; it is potentially illegal for another. The fact that an adversary is cheating and playing dirty does not change the rules or eliminate the unethical nature of the conduct. We are talking about huge men, with unusual strength, playing on a hardwood floor. It’s a dangerous game played fairly, and a potentially deadly game played for blood. Set out to hurt someone, and there could be a serious injury. Borges’s column was a call for targeted violence in a sport. This is indefensible.
Of all the rationalizations for unethical conduct, perhaps the most seductive is “the other guy started it.” Being unethical isn’t supposed to work; how can it be fair to have to play by the rules when one’s competition is cheating? Nevertheless, yielding to this logic leads only to a downward spiral of worse and worse behavior. It’s the league’s job to enforce the rules, not the players. Bad conduct should never be allowed to repeal basic principles of fair competition.
The Celtics won, the refs did a better job in the decisive game controlling Howard, and the unethical tactics prescribed by Borges never occurred. Still, kids read the sports pages, and the Herald should consider, in this age of gangs and school violence, whether it is responsible to allow a sportswriter to advocate violence as the best way to deal with adversity.