On Marcus Smart, Jeff Orr, Freedom and Redemption

It is not the critic who counts - Travis Hale

The story now belongs to The Machine. Unfortunately, it often doesn't stop its slow churn until a life is destroyed.

This is not an impassioned plea designed to tug at your heart strings so you'll feel sympathy for Jeff Orr.

I don't know Mr. Orr. Last Saturday night was the first time I'd ever heard his name or seen his face. It's been a few days since the incident and I feel strongly that the actions taken by Mr. Orr were stupid and pointless. He injected himself unnecessarily into what should have been a great win for the Red Raiders. In fact, he robbed many fans of the euphoria they deserved to feel in the days following a big win.

Marcus Smart is a competitor. With six seconds left in the game he could have packed it in and let Jaye Crockett score on a breakaway dunk, knowing the game was all but over. But he didn't.

Smart hustled back in an attempt to block the shot, fouled Crockett and crashed into the cameramen camped under the basket support. It was at that moment Mr. Orr felt it necessary to call Marcus Smart a piece of crap. And it was at that moment that Marcus Smart turned, walked towards Mr. Orr, and shoved him.

It was completely pointless and uncalled for by both men. But as a fan, I can't imagine ever reacting the way Mr Orr did. As a lifelong Red Raider, it was embarrassing.


But that doesn't mean Jeff Orr deserves to have his life destroyed.

In the minutes following the incident Jeff Orr (age 52, white) and Marcus Smart (age 19, black) were sucked into the vortex. The Media Machine built from a 24 news cycle,Twitter, Facebook, speculation and innuendo pulled both men in.

Early on, The Machine calculated the numbers and determined racism harbored deep within Mr. Orr was the obvious cause of the incident.

Deadspin has a fantastic, if not terrifying, timeline of events detailing the creation of a racist act out of whole cloth via Twitter in the hours following the game.

It makes perfect sense that a game played in Texas against a team from Oklahoma would have a news station in Kansas City, Missouri break the news that Mr. Orr told Smart to "go back to Africa."

I assume this same news station was as vigilant in covering the homophobic and overtly racist actions by "The Antlers" as they have been removed from several Missouri Tigers games so far this season. The Antlers are credited with this incredibly creative and hilarious cheer while Southeastern Louisiana players attempted free throws during the season opener:

"Raise your hand if you thought Hurricane Katrina was a good thing"

Funny, but I don't remember ESPN turning the actions of Missouri basketball fans into a "national conversation."

But never fear, ESPN's own Stuart Scott (age 48, black) immersed himself in the most recent, egregious display of horrible fandom late Saturday night and into early Sunday morning.

Perhaps it was to make up for the lapse in coverage of the verifiable racists in Missouri, or perhaps he just smelled blood in the water with an already injured Jeff Orr, but "Twitter Verified" Stuart Scott weighed in. In the process he forever tarnished Mr. Orr.

No sorrow though in this business. The Machine churns. Mr Scott has a duty to provide made up news to his 440,000 followers. It's part of the job.

So The Machine was whizzing. This vile racist from that hick redneck West Texas town had to be torn down in order to save civilization. Marcus Smart was fully justified when he heard such terrible things. Now it was time to prove it.

On Sunday morning ESPN rolled out it's normal programming and the story was heating up. Racism was at the heart of the story now which meant that each lead-in to Sports Center got a full five minutes devoted to the story, and it was evolving quickly. Fewer basketball analysts were brought on set to discuss Marcus Smart and more time was devoted to trying to decipher exactly what vile things Mr. Orr had said to cause such a reaction.

Late Sunday afternoon Texas Tech released an official statement which included video of the incident. The University also released a statement from Mr. Orr, who profusely apologized and admitted to calling Marcus Smart a "piece of crap." The video and audio clearly validate Mr. Orr's claim that he said nothing racist. But The Machine refused to accept the findings.

Surely, there was something else there, right?

On to Monday.

Mike & Mike In the Morning is ESPN's launching pad for the day. The loveable, ex-jock (age 51, white) and the nerdy, but affable (age 46, white) hosts set the tone. The stories they cover often carry the day and lead to new story angles for ESPN to dissect and discuss as the day progresses.

On this Monday morning they were pissed. How could an old man be allowed to talk down to a player like that? We've all seen fans like that right? He is disgusting. Maybe he didn't say anything racist out loud, but you know what he was thinking. What exactly does "crap" mean anyway? He's 52 years old, talking to a kid like that. And Texas Tech promoted him as a "Super-Fan." Ridiculous.

The tone was set. The racism angle was slowly fading, but a new outrage was emerging. ESPN was in charge now, and the rest of the country would take notice.

So what does it mean when ESPN is in charge? Let me explain.

Bill Simmons (age 44, white) is a man I've long admired. Years ago he started a little blog about Boston sports and now he's one of the major players at ESPN. Bill Simmons is the face of ESPN in 2014, but his reach goes beyond the Mothership.

In 2011 he launched Grantland (an ESPN Internet Venture) and hired a ton of talented writers. He gave them editorial freedom, and challenged them to take risks.

Last month Grantland published a story entitled "Dr. V's Magical Putter." It was a piece about the inventor of a new golf club. Sadly, the publication of the story led to suicide by the subject.

A story in The Hollywood Reporter describes the tragic events that unfolded:

The story in question centered around Essay Anne Vanderbilt, known to friends as Dr. V., an inventor who built a "scientifically superior" golf club.

In the course of reporting the story, writer Caleb Hannan revealed that Vanderbilt was transgender, and the way in which that was handled in the piece sparked the scandal and led him to be accused of being bigoted and having a distorted view of what it is to be transgender. Vanderbilt tragically committed suicide on Oct. 18, 2013, after she accused Hannan of "hate crime" in an email.

I point this out not as an indictment of Mr. Simmons (whom I continue to admire) but as a warning. In our desire to get the story out and get more eyeballs and get more readers and get more fame, where are we going and what are we doing to those human beings that are part of the story? What are we doing to those people that get sucked into The Machine?

Those with the vision of Bill Simmons control the story in the media today. Jeff Orr is caught and we watch as he flops, struggling for air.

*****************

So, back to the story. Mr. Orr is caught in The Machine but the story has subtly changed.

The narrative has now made a remarkably nimble pivot from "overt racism" to "an old rich man disrespecting a kid."

By now the national media has picked up on the story and are feeding The Machine. Even though the audio is there for all to listen to, panelists scramble and fall over one another to try and discern exactly what was said by this 52 year old white man who shouldn't even like basketball.

Yes, we kinda know what was said, but what did it really mean? And this is a 52 year old white man by the way. You see it's critical to point out Mr. Orr's age and race in every mention.

On Monday night the story escaped the weathered grip of sports and entered the national conversation. Bill O'Reilly (age 64, white) took a brief respite from inviting guests on to talk about how great his last book was, and then talking about how great his next book will be, to discuss the incident between Messrs. Smart and Orr.

He was appalled, and demanded an immediate reduction in penalty for Marcus Smart, partly due to the age difference between the two and the outrageous behavior from the obviously out-of-control 52 year old white fan. Here's the video:


Oh, crap I'm sorry. That was actually O'Reilly in March of 2012 describing how chanting "Where's your Green Card" to a hispanic basketball player is cute and funny. He also went onto explain how people should witness a sporting event in New York if they really want to see some taunting going on.

Forgive me while I wrap my head around this, but I'm getting closer. We're not worried about the racial things, although we just were a few days ago. Now the story is about how mature, experienced people talk to young kids?

Ok, got it.

But then I came across this. Noted ESPN commentator Mark May (age 54, black) tried to embarrass Johnny Manziel (age 21, white) by tweeting this to his 86,200 followers last summer:

Our friends at Good Bull Hunting (1 year old, maroon blog) had a great story eviscerating Mark May for his privileged, out of touch conduct toward a now 21 year old struggling college athlete. It's a must read. But it adds to the confusion. I guess there are times when older men can attempt to embarrass younger men, but only if you do it via social media to entertain thousands of followers.

Unfortunately I (age 40, white) fed The Machine during the mayhem on Saturday night. We're all vulnerable to The Machine.

Stuart Scott's tweets are still sitting out there for the world to see, and so is mine above. The difference between he and I is I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize for mine.

*****************

To Marcus Smart: I hope you have a chance to read this. You are a tremendous talent and I wish you the best. I added the same Roosevelt quote to a picture I took of Tim Duncan before a game a few weeks ago. Looking at the quote, it reminded me of the struggles you've faced recently. I hope you have an outstanding career in the NBA.

To Jeff Orr: I know your heart is in the right place. I'm glad you are a supporter of Texas Tech and hope that continues for years to come. I wish you and your family the best.

To The Machine: At some point it's got to stop. These are real people with real lives that get caught in the churn. Jeff Orr won't attend any more basketball games this season and will focus on picking up the pieces after yelling four words in a crowd of 15,000 during a basketball game.

Marcus Smart was suspended for three games, which will undoubtedly hurt his team. His first game back? Yes, it will be a game against Texas Tech. I assume that ESPN and the rest of The Machine will be there to cash in.

And churn.

When I write I often listen to music. Tonight I've had a fantastic selection from Bob Marley, singing songs of freedom and redemption.

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