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It’s wrong to criminalize black players for the Kansas-Kansas State brawl

Listen to the language used by some commentators, it demonizes our athletes

On Wednesday, a day after the brawl that took the sports world by storm between rivals Kansas and Kansas State, sports broadcaster Dick Vitale called for the Jayhawks’ Silvio De Sousa in particular to be expelled from the NCAA for the rest of his playing days.

“Well, just absolutely sickening, unbelievable. The 40 years I’m on TV, I haven’t seen anything like that, unless you go to the NBA and the Pistons’ brawl that took place at the Palace. I think there’s no doubt in my mind that De Sousa never, ever should put a uniform on in college basketball again,” Vitale said during ESPN’s broadcast of Miami at Duke. “He’s holding a chair. I mean, that’s criminal! He’s going to hurt somebody! I mean, I don’t want to hear any excuse that ‘They stole the ball with time running out, they should never have done such a thing.’ Give me a break. That was ugly.”

De Sousa issued an apology on his Twitter feed Wednesday. He took full responsibility, didn’t place the blame elsewhere, expressed his regret and articulated how thankful he was to always have the love and support from KU and its fans. All I can say to that is live and learn young fella, there is a blessing in every lesson.

The expected punishment has been handed out: The Big 12 suspended four players from Kansas and Kansas State a combined 25 games Wednesday for their roles in a melee that spilled off the court and into a section of disabled seating in Allen Fieldhouse near the end of the third-ranked Jayhawks’ win over the Wildcats.

De Sousa, already suspended indefinitely by Jayhawks coach Bill Self, was given a 12-game suspension by the league office. Teammate David McCormack was suspended two games. Kansas State’s James Love received an eight-game suspension and Antonio Gordon got a three-game suspension.

Both schools also were reprimanded by the Big 12 for violations of its sportsmanship policy.

After the punishments had been handed out, Vitale took to Twitter to voice his disapproval of what he called “light penalties.”

Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated wrote an article titled “Silvio De Sousa Gets Off Easy With Punishment for Kansas-Kansas State Brawl,” which brings me to this over-criminalization of black men.

I’m not saying that De Sousa shouldn’t have been punished, but the collegiate death penalty is a bit much. Many have made the case of what “could have happened” had De Sousa swung the stool he picked up. But let’s fully examine what actually occurred.

Yes, he picked up the stool. And yes there was an unnamed photographer who calmly attempted to grab the stool, and Kansas assistant coach Jerrance Howard who also tried to intercede if De Sousa hadn’t already had a moment of clarity and dropped it on his own admission. But let’s be honest, De Sousa is 6-9, 245 pounds. If he wanted to use it, no reporter was going to stop him with one hand. The fact is, he dropped it on his own. So those making the case of what could have occurred, aren’t paying attention or concerned with the fact that he wasn’t stopped from using it, he stopped himself.

The reality is, this was a fight. Nothing criminal occurred, it was a fight. It was against NCAA rules, thus the suspensions, but the words “criminal assault” that have been recklessly thrown around seem to only come from pale lips when describing black men.

Again, I’m not making a case for no punishment.

In fact, if I were speaking directly to De Sousa, or any other young black men like the AAU team I coach, the FBCG Dynamic Disciples, my message would be that you cannot put yourself in a position where you will be at the mercy of the courts, the police, in school, or in this case, the NCAA. Why? Because you are going to have people in mainstream America who will call for your head on a platter. They will portray you as a menace to society, a criminal, and someone who needs to be taught a lesson as your actions prove that you are ungrateful for things society has given you.

They will portray you as a menace to society, a criminal, and someone who needs to be taught a lesson as your actions prove that you are ungrateful for things society has given you.

I would also explain to them that it doesn’t matter what your white counterparts have done. So it’s pointless to bring up the many infractions of Grayson Allen and him never being called a thug or a menace, or the fact that the same people who are now “outraged” at the “horrific” “sickening” display in front of the children of America , also tune in and attend (with their children) hockey games every night where fights are not only commonplace but encouraged.

I would explain it doesn’t matter that bench-clearing brawls that occur in baseball typically never result in anyone being called a thug or pursuits of criminal charges of any kind, even when a player charges the pitcher’s mound carrying his bat like Jon Snow, ready to slice through the Night Walkers.

And it won’t matter about other mound-charging incidents or when hockey players have actually used their stick as a weapon.

I would also explain that what Forde wrote is what you can expect to happen whenever you have an infraction, which is to have unrelated priors brought in to justify your over-criminalization. In Forde’s words:

“He missed the first four conference games at Kansas after arriving midseason 2017-18 from IMG Academy, waiting to be cleared by the NCAA—a delay which irked Jayhawks coach Bill Self. Then he missed all 36 last year as part of a two-year NCAA suspension for his guardian accepting money from Adidas bag man T.J. Gassnola, a revelation that came out of the FBI investigation of corruption college basketball. The second half of that suspension was lifted on appeal and De Sousa returned to action this season, only to go WWE crazy against the Wildcats.”

I would explain that in this society there are typically different rules for us. And as seen by the likes of Vitale, Forde, and others outraged at the perceived light sentences those different rules are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Etan Thomas is a senior writer for basketballnews.com and is the host of a podcast called The Rematch. He also writes for The Guardian and has previously written for The Washington Post, Huffington Post, CNN, ESPN, Hoopshype.com and slamonline. He frequently can be seen on MSNBC as a special correspondent for “hot topics.” and co-hosts a weekly local radio show on WPFW 89.3FM, The Collision, where sports and politics collide.