John McCann column: MLK wouldn't have condoned Smart's act

Feb. 13, 2014 @ 04:12 PM

Even if Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr had opened his big mouth and spewed the n-word at Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, the All-American guard still should have kept his hands to himself.

That exchange between those two at the recent Oklahoma State-Texas Tech game cost Smart three subsequent games, which didn’t help his Cowboys, who’ve struggled even when he’s been on the court. Texas Tech beat Oklahoma State the night Smart and Orr got into it.

The Big 12 Conference suspended Smart for shoving Orr, who admitted calling Smart “a piece of crap.”

Smart, projected as an NBA lottery pick, missed Oklahoma State’s loss to Texas on Tuesday, and he’ll be out for matchups against Oklahoma on Saturday and Baylor on Monday.

This is not one of those situations wherein Smart’s suspension necessarily would warrant blame for any Oklahoma State losses — not the way the underachieving Cowboys have played this season.

But Oklahoma State easily is better with Smart, whose dustup with Orr at the very least offers a teachable moment during Black History Month.

Martin Luther King Jr. got the job done with nonviolence.

And think back to how Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey told Jackie Robinson that he’d be likened to a lot worse than a particle of excrement as he went from stadium to stadium playing — and integrating — Major League Baseball.

Athletes are coached to stay focused on their games no matter what’s going on in the stands.

Smart didn’t do that, although his physicality with Orr doesn’t make him a thug — not even if he had dreadlocks.

What’s been unfortunate is chatter about how Smart’s actions would have been more justifiable had Orr hurled the n-word at him.

Listen, sticks and stones break bones, but please understand that the n-word does not deserve its own space as a point of no emotional return. It’s a loaded word, yet it’s just a word and has no inherent threshold for inciting violence, no more than calling somebody a piece of crap.

It’s about training. Certain words generate certain responses because we’re conditioned accordingly.

That’s why former Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam comes across like he’ll appropriately respond when fans talk ugly to him.

Of course, he doesn’t have to, because folks are just going to convince themselves that Sam — the NFL prospect who said he’s gay — gets two free passes to respond violently, since he could get slurred on account of both his race and his sexuality.

Contact John McCann at or 919-419-6601.