Photo by Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Barnes, NBA Security, and a Race Witch Hunt

Deep breaths, everyone.

It is well known by know that Matt Barnes went all Temecula on Derek Fisher, because the latter was apparently going with the former’s ex. Since this is the NBA and all, many people have reported that NBA Security was unaware of the situation, but that it was going to look into the matter.

This is only a minor issue, not nearly as big as the reactions from some quarters might suggest. In actuality, it is a small part of a much larger issue within the NBA community.

This is a polite way of saying: race significantly affects how the people in charge of the league have gone about protecting the NBA’s image. Why do they need to do so? Because the league is primarily black. Apparently, there exists — at least by presumption and perception from NBA head honchos — a degree of unrest which needs to be squashed before anything ever actually happens.

Let’s step back for a second. The NBA is different from many other popular sports. It is not designed to be violent like football or hockey, even though it is a much more physical sport than baseball. Still, the rules for all four major sports are far different as far as how they go about punishing players involved in fights on and off the playing field.

The NFL does not suspend players for in-game fighting. It is, I suppose, an indirect consequence of asking players to regularly smash each others’ heads in. Outside of the sport — and the domestic abuse issues which have ravaged the league the past few offseasons — the league has tended to turn a blind eye towards off the field fisticuffs. Whether that is by design or not — because the sport’s players are expected to be violent, or because the public hasn’t seemed to care until very recently — isn’t something I’m qualified to speak on.

The NHL and MLB, though, have long histories of allowing fights to happen while competitions are taking place. Unlike the NBA, where players are now ejected the moment they cross a white line, those two sports own a much more pugnacious culture. Hockey and baseball have unwritten rules which require — if not making it unofficially mandatory — for as many players to get involved when something “wrong” is happening on the playing surface.

So, why does the NBA have stricter in-game fighting rules, with harsher penalties, fines, and suspensions that do not apply to the other three major sports? The answer, unfortunately, is perception — the perception that the NBA’s biggest supporters are old white males, and they are uncomfortable with violence in the NBA, and a culture they don’t understand.

That is a race issue.

Before David Stern implemented a dress code, and the “Malice in the Palace” from 2004 changed how the NBA governed its own sport, the league showcased many on-court altercations. Whether that was Rudy Tomjanovich getting blasted in the face or the multiple other scuffles which the NBA used for years as marketing tools (Larry Bird versus Julius Erving), pro basketball didn’t view on-court fights as crises. As the league became more mainstream and more marketable to larger masses in the 1980s, a crackdown on fights didn’t happen. It wasn’t until Ron Artest went crazy in Auburn Hills that a retooling of various behavioral rules occurred, a clear attempt to offset how the league could possibly be viewed.

The question must be asked: Why?

The sport is perceived as being mostly black, with players coming from various — but again, in perception — rough backgrounds, things the other major leagues actually have as well. However, the other leagues are ignored on this front because for a long time they were mostly comprised of only white — or “comfortable” — superstars.

We still ignore the issues in those other sports… if you actually consider them issues.

No matter. Major League Baseball continues to hide behind tradition and unwritten rules: “Beholders of league integrity” will either eyeball or fight a player having a supposedly unwarranted amount of fun. Brian McCann comes to mind in every situation that involves any player doing anything that is not considered “traditional” by baseball standards.

Hockey, which is as violent a sport as any that has ever been played (and was outlawed in Jason X — had to tuck in that reference), has all sorts of fights going on at all times. However, magically, fighting is accepted. In fact, as when baseball players interupt games for dozens of minutes on end whenever they’re upset by the opposing team, the flow of hockey games is often interrupted because of PLANNED brawls.

The NFL is certainly a different beast, but that’s only because its stars are less marketable. Faces being covered under helmets do not create the easiest spokespersons for companies. Outside of quarterbacks, which a large section of the masses still consider a position played by whites, many people don’t know what the best wide receivers or cornerbacks look like. The violence in which any participate in are ignored — Peyton Manning is singing horrible ad jingles, after all.


Let me be clear: I have no issue with violence in sports — not to the degree in which it exists in the NFL, at least. Honestly, it is more shocking that there aren’t MORE random acts of violence in the NFL than there are. Grown men mercilessly and constantly mauling each other seems like the type of thing that would result in a lot of hands being thrown.

The issue is with how the NBA treats its acts of violence differently. The reason why it does so has already been stated, but it bears repeating: The NBA is trying to appeal to older white males by downplaying the idea that black people are dangerous or whatever other misconceptions uneducated white people of privilege hold against athletes.

An example of that emerges whenever someone, usually on social media, says basketball players are not as educated as Major League Baseball players, which isn’t even remotely the truth.

Many of the best MLB players were drafted straight out of high school. Simply because their version of the draft isn’t as popular as the NBA’s means casual fans with no regard for nuance simply assume that seeing a 26-year-old rookie in the bullpen means he spent four years at The University of the Righteous. All the issues people have with basketball players “mocking” academics by using college as a stepping stone to play professional basketball (mind you, as they are being used as free labor by the NCAA and universities) are ignored in baseball and to a degree in hockey.

Why is it that people assume basketball players are less educated than baseball players? Without there being any proof to say it is actually true, it lends a sane person to believe it goes back to that nasty word, “perception.” By perception, less politely now, I mean people thinking black athletes are less educated than white athletes because the idea still floats around — despite it no longer actually being true — that baseball is a white sport.


Examples of the NBA treating its athletes differently, more harshly, and without altruism being the source of motivation, are plentiful. This is not to say that other sports don’t do this as well, but the point to make is that they don’t do it to same the degree. The NBA goes out of its way to try to alter the perception of its athletes — which is a very shitty way to say that it is trying to appeal to the ignorant by way of forcing its athletes to look and feel more consumable to the broad swath of the public marketplace.

For instance:

The NBA implemented a dress code many years ago which forces players to wear clothing with collars. Thankfully, even if it sometimes looks different to many, players like Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade have found a way to make the forced code their own — something the NBA will inevitably look into as well.

Only in basketball are the rules skewed to distance the culture in which the players reside from the sport itself. The NFL has tried to do so, as do radio hosts who say quarterbacks who wear backwards hats can’t be leaders (while praising a white quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who wears his cap backwards). However, this dynamic in the NFL exists to a much lesser degree because of the numerous other problems the league currently faces (concussion lawsuits, domestic violence, and more).


So Matt Barnes went to fight Derek Fisher. NBA Security was then informed and is now looking into the situation.

Why? The NBA fears — like no other sport — the idea of its players (or coaches) having any sort of standoff whenever they are on or off the court.

The NBA is looking into this matter without any violence ever actually taking place — none that we conclusively know of, at least. Barnes essentially drove 95 miles because another man — who just so happens to have NBA ties — is allegedly dating his ex.

This is something the NBA feels is important to look into because of…

Perception Race.

About Joseph Nardone

Joseph has covered college basketball both (barely) professionally and otherwise for over five years. A Column of Enchantment for Rush The Court on Thursdays and other basketball stuff for The Student Section on other days.