By MICHAEL MAROT
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — J.J. Redick vividly recalls how it began, with some hecklers at his first road game for Duke. Over time, Redick remembers the chants turning into vulgar jeers and crude messages about his siblings.
The vile words could be heard sometimes when the ball was in his hands and usually while he shot free throws. It even happened once during the national anthem.
On the court, Redick appeared to embrace the role of being America’s most despised amateur player. Off of it, he coped.
Today, Redick’s goal is to prevent other college athletes from facing similar experiences. More than a decade after his final game at Duke, the 2006 national player of the year is urging athletes and fans to put civility back in college basketball as much of the nation turns its attention to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s something I’ve thought a lot about as I’ve gotten older and reflected on my experiences at Duke, and as I continue to watch college basketball,” Redick told The Associated Press. “It doesn’t happen as much, I don’t think, in the NBA. The cool thing to me, whether you’re a college basketball fan or an NBA fan, I think it would really hit home with a lot of fans and it would really ring true because of our passion for the game.”
In sports, the distinction between passion and petulance has become blurred, something reflected sharply in American politics these days. In such an environment, perhaps declining decorum at arenas and other venues around the country is not much of a surprise.
Some conferences have created policies about storming the court or running onto fields to celebrate in an effort to keep players safe. But even they understand the only real solution is changing hearts and minds.
So on Monday, Dove Men+Care is asking fans to take a pledge that will keep them on their best behavior during March Madness. Dozens of coaches and former players, including Redick, have signed on.
Three years ago, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart was suspended three games for shoving a fan after the two exchanged words. Smart, who initially claimed the fan used a racial slur, later apologized for the incident. In December, Arkansas receiver Drew Morgan was ejected from the Belk Bowl after allegedly spitting in the face of a Virginia Tech player. He, too, apologized.
Then in the CFP semifinals, a camera caught Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins bizarrely groping Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel after Samuel had been tackled.
Grayson Allen, like Redick a fiery player from Duke, was suspended earlier this season for intentionally tripping opponents. He drew a technical foul last weekend after throwing an elbow at North Carolina’s Brandon Robinson.
Butler coach Chris Holtmann said he believes some of these scenes are a result of the stress associated with playing for postseason bids or a job. And some are a result of more scrutiny.
“I think what has changed it to some degree is social media and the number of cameras that are on,” he said. “I think the important thing is to win or lose with dignity. I think that’s something I can do a better job with. But I think in general our world is less civil than we were 25 or 30 years ago, and I think that has bled into our game.”
Of course, good sportsmanship still exists.
Many remember Florida Southern softball players carrying injured Eckerd sophomore Kara Oberer around the bases in 2014. Or Olympic middle-distance runners Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin helping one another after both went down in a spill in Rio de Janeiro.
Indiana State athletic director Sherard Clinkscales, a former college player and coach and former chairman of the NCAA’s sportsmanship and ethical conduct committee, believes the inclusion of replay reviews has put refs under the microscope, too. When they get a call wrong, well, the Redick treatment may follow.
For 2 1/2 years, Clinkscales and his fellow committee members looked for solutions for poor behavior. Their conclusion: More rules aren’t the answer.
“I don’t know how you legislate people’s behavior. If we knew that, we would have done it years ago,” he said. “I think people feel like they’ve paid for the games so they have a right to say what they want to and everyone has to accept it. There is that environment.”
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has seen it happen. It’s even made him wince.
“Many times,” he said with a grin. “There are times fans can be right on the line. There are individuals in any crowd if you have 20,000 or 100,000 people who gather, you’ll have some who will not meet the general conduct standards of society.”
Redick, a guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, became a favorite target for some of those people. He said he now understands that waving his arms or nodding his head after baskets only made things worse.
“I created this sort of persona, this brash, sort of gunslinger image and fans reacted to that. That’s not my personality,” he said. “I think my very first road game we played at Clemson and the entire student section was packed and they were heckling me. I’m 18 at the time, so whether it was a conscious decision or not to create this persona, I decided I could either cower in the corner or I could fight back.”
Now, in the oddest twist of all, Redick finds himself playing mediator as he tries to get friends and foes to remove personal insults from college basketball.
“Stuff like the Marcus Smart incident shouldn’t happen,” he said. “Sometimes things are playful, I get that. But racial slurs, hateful language, there’s no place for that in our game.”