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TORONTO, ON - MAY 03: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball in the second half of Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 3, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

NBA Enacts Zero-Tolerance Rule On Abusive & Hateful Fan Behavior

This past summer, NBA players gathered with officials in the league office to espouse their view as to what has recently become the biggest problem in the game: hateful fan behavior.

“Last season, I began to sense even at the games I was attending that there was a certain, I’ll call it absence of civility, that permeated the games,” said Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association. “I was seeing more bad-mouthing opposing teams that were not simply ‘you suck,’ which every one of us will tolerate, but really nasty, nasty comments being directed at players.”

Another layer of complexity in this story is the opportunity presented for racist insults, given that a majority of players in the NBA are black. This is not to say that all insulting and abusive fan behavior is racially motivated. However, there have been multiple incidents of this in recent years involving notable players like Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and Kyle Lowry. 

Since then, the league has made it a mission to revamp the code of conduct for fans by especially focusing on those in close proximity to the court and toughening the rules on what can and cannot be said by expanding “abusive and hateful behavior” to include discrimination of any kind (based on race, sexual orientation, or otherwise).

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“We’ve added any sexist language or LGBTQ language, any denigrating language in that way, anything that is non-basketball-related,” said Jerome Pickett, the NBA’s executive vice president and chief security officer. “So ‘your mother’ comments, talking about your family, talking about test scores, anything non-basketball-related, we’ve added that in as well as being something that we will go and pull a fan out of the seat and investigate what happened.”

Amira Davis, a history professor at Penn State specializing in race, gender, sports and politics in 20th-century history, attributes the crude behavior of fans primarily to the lack of repercussions:

“There have been plenty of sober fans yelling slurs and attacking players in the worst way,” Davis said. “I think it’s a mix of all of those things, and when looking at predominantly white spaces like Utah and a largely black labor force, it ratchets it up a little bit more and makes it a lot more intense. Particularly in this political climate in which it’s very easy to project onto high-profile black athletes and pathologies and misconceptions about the black community.”

As the NBA season rolls around again, many coaches, players and organizations will be interested to see if these new code of conduct rules do anything to reduce hateful fan behavior.

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Written by Jake Dianno

Avid sports fan born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. Currently a college baseball player at Middlebury and a diehard Eagles fan.

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