SOMETHING DISGUSTING HAS been happening when Georgetown University Coach John Thompson takes his impressive basketball team on the road, and he is rightly in a rage about it. As reported yesterday by sportswriter Gary Pomerantz, a lot of spectators at these games are shouting disgusting racial "jokes" at Georgetown's talented sophomore center, Patrick Ewing:
Villanova fans holding up a bedsheet that read, "Ewing Is an Ape."
Another fan wearing a T-shirt that read, "Ewing Kant Read Dis."
Yet another someone, during a pregame introduction of Mr. Ewing, tossing a banana peel on the court.
Someone under one basket in Providence raising a sign that said, "Ewing Can't Read."
When this last banner went up, Coach Thompson pulled his team off the court until the sign was taken down.
Right he was, too. "It is cheap, racist stuff," says the Rev. Timothy J. Healy, president of Georgetown. "No one on the face of the Earth can tell me if Patrick were a 7-foot-high white man that people would still carry those signs around. I'm a white man and I know it. John is a black man and he knows it. . . . This all strikes me as dreadful."
Equally dreadful is the general yes-but-oh-well reaction from officials who should care enough to do something about it before things get any worse. A league official says, in effect, that it's up to the individual schools "to keep the situation as tidy as possible." School authorities, including Villanova's athletic director, say they have tried to keep the racially offensive banners down and out but can't seem to stop them all.
Maybe not every last one, but these excuses won't wash. Coach Thompson notes that "First of all, you cannot be responsible for every idiot who jumps up in the stands and wants to do it. But I have no tolerance for administrators who don't do anything about it."
Certainly the home coach at these games has enormous powers to influence his team's fans. Why shouldn't he pull his team off the court if spectators behave this way?
Razzing a player on the opposing team is one of the rites of fandom, and insults may be one puerile way to sound off. But there is a responsibility here that college officials and league authorities should not be ignoring. If they cannot set the tone to control this behavior, they should threaten to take the game off the court for good.