SportsNation: Fans to blame, but Artest overreacted

How did we get here?

In a span of mere minutes, the dynamic of professional sports in American culture seemed to have changed. The images of players battling fans in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills, fans battling players on the court and children in tears will not soon be forgotten. And while Friday's brawl in Detroit may be example of a long-simmering pot finally reaching a rolling boil, its suddenness and ferocity still shocked fans nationwide.

But after a weekend to reflect on Friday night's events and Sunday's resulting punishments, not to mention watch countless replays of the fiasco, where does SportsNation pin the blame? And where do we go from here?

The Blame Game
With a national television audience tuned in to a battle of the Eastern Conference's top teams, it didn't take long for opinions to be formed on the brawl near the end of the Pacers-Pistons game. Below are SportsNation poll results that begain flowing in the minutes and hours after the game.

Who is most to blame for Friday night's brawl in Detroit?
46.4 %: Detroit fans
39.4 %: Ron Artest
9.3 %: Ben Wallace
4.8 %: Detroit security
0.6 %: Referees

Do you fault Ron Artest for going into the stands after being hit from close range by a full cup of beer and other items?
58.6 %: Yes, he has to have a cooler head and let security handle it.
41.4 %: No, any person has a right to defend him or herself in that situation.

Do you fault other Pacers players for going into the stands after Artest reacted?
50.5 %: No, they've got to protect a teammate
49.5 %: Yes, they weren't attacked but they escalated the situation

Total votes: 193,938 votes

Immediately after the game, the majority of fans pinned the bulk of the blame on the fans in Detroit, with a clear majority supporting Artest's teammates for following him into the stands. But with more time to think -- the kind of time Artest didn't have in the heat of the moment -- SportsNation slowly shifted blame in Artest's direction. The above results represent about a 5 percent increase in blame for Artest from the initial results Saturday morning.

Verdict Rendered
NBA Commissioner David Stern handed down his punishments swiftly, but Sunday's suspensions still came after a weekend of discussion over what should happen to the involved players. And again, SportsNation took an increasingly hard-line stance toward the Pacers. Here are the percentages of fans over the weekend favoring suspensions of more than 10 games for the players:

50.0 %: Ron Artest
42.5 %: Stephen Jackson
32.9 %: Jermaine O'Neal

So was SportsNation satisfied when Stern handed down his rulings -- suspending Artest for the rest of the season, Jackson for 30 games and O'Neal for 25 games?

What is your reaction to Ron Artest's season-long suspension?
43.7 %: Just right
41.5 %: Too harsh
14.8 %: Too light

What is your reaction to Stephen Jackson's 30-game suspension?
43.4 %: Just right
29.1 %: Too light
27.4 %: Too harsh

What is your reaction to Jermaine O'Neal's 25-game suspension?
38.7 %: Just right
36.2 %: Too harsh
25.0 %: Too light
Total votes: 168,292 votes

Though the majority of SportsNation was not satisfied with punishments, that group was split between favoring softer or harsher punishments. A plurality of SportsNation thought the NBA got it right with the suspensions.

In the end, there are much bigger issues at hand than what becomes of the Pacers' season, or even what becomes of a combustible figure like Artest. Friday's brawl in Detroit certainly forces professional leagues and fans to reexamine their relationship. Whether it eventually leads to a healthier experience as stadiums and arenas remains to be seen.

For now, we leave it in the words of SportsNation, submitted via mailbags and The Show:

"There is absolutely no excuse for what happened at that game. There was no reason for Artest to go into the stands, whether he got a cup in his face or not. NBA players are professionals and have a level of professionalism to maintain. As a first grade teacher, I am mortified that these professional players that my students want to be just like, would demonstrate such irresponsible behavior. Whether players want to be role models or not, it becomes part of their job due to their visibility. Yes, fans need to be under control and not throw things at the players. But, Artest's choice to go into the stands escalated the situation to what it became last night. Frankly, I'm disappointed at what ESPN's 'NBA Analysts' had to say about the incident because they blamed the whole thing on the fans. Analysts are supposed to be objective and it is clear that what happened last night would not have if Artest did not charge the stands."
Akron, OH

"With alcohol-fueled fans acting more and more brazen, they feel that they can say and do what they wish because they paid their hard-earned money for a ticket and thus, have license to access the playing field or court. Unfortunately, it doesn't come as a surprise that an incident like this has finally occurred in the NBA. A violent occurrence like this was only a matter of when."
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA

"Not to excuse the actions of the players in any way, but I am tired of drunken fans who feel that they bear no responsibility whatsoever for their conduct. I'd like to see some of the fans who threw things serving prison time for this - maybe that will get the message to people that buying a ticket doesn't excuse you from acting like a human being."
Chicago, IL

"While the players of the NBA, and all professional sports for that matter, are expected to be above the fans, the brawl Friday was not the responsibility of the players. The confrontation between Ben Wallace and Ron Artest was abating, Artest was laying on the scorers table. Unruly fans are to blame for stoking the dying fire of a confrontation back into a full fledged blaze. And to everyone who automatically puts blame on Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal, and everyone else involved, I pose to you this question. Would you have acted any differently? Artest was merely defending himself, and his teammates were coming to his aid when he was grossly outnumbered. One thing that no one is mentioning, yet featured prominently in many shots of Artest in the crowd is Rasheed Wallace, one of the 'bad boy's' of the NBA jumping into the stands to come to the defense of Artest. Think about that for a while."
Paul Reid
Dallas, TX