Over spring break, I had the opportunity to venture out west to Las Vegas, Nevada, or Sin City as some know it. You know, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Three of my close friends and I spent a week roaming the Vegas strip, checking out various casinos and local hot spots.
However, being March Madness, much of our time was spent hunkered down in the corner of our casino at one of over 60 Vegas sports books. There, amid the clouds of smoke spewing out from the cigarettes of onlookers, dozens of mostly middle-aged men clung to the hope of college kids and their basketball abilities.
“I’ve cashed in a few thousand today,” proclaimed one burly man, who clearly enjoyed his winnings, evident by the multiple cocktails surrounding his table.
“Damn you!” shouted another man. “I’m down…way down.”
Listening to the conversations around me, I looked down at my own ticket stub. I (foolishly) put down $5 for New Mexico State to upset Kansas. Behind that was another ticket stub. This one, a parlay where I needed all three teams to win to turn $5 into $50.
Side note: I won nothing.
Sports book atmospheres are unique, and not necessarily in a good way. I’d argue the maturity is on par with your local Chuck E. Cheese, only instead of coins, these “kids” are betting away all they have. Now, that is a generalization. Some are there just for a good time, to enjoy a drink with their buddies and catch some games. But that’s not the majority, unfortunately.
Each day, our sports book was packed. During TV timeouts, grown men would stand on their chairs and literally begin chants to change the channel. When a player missed a shot, expletives (we can’t print those, sorry) were shouted at players without hesitation. And who could forget the backseat coaching, as if Tom Izzo didn’t already know what he was doing.
Now, if you read the title of this column, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with former K-State basketball players Marcus Foster and Tre Harris. Some of you may already know where this is going.
Just as those in the sports book were quick to dehumanize players because of money hanging in the balance, we should not be quick to dehumanize Foster or Harris because of their mistakes. In fact, we shouldn’t do it at all.
It’s been a week since K-State Sports announced that Foster and Harris were dismissed from the program for not living up to its standards. A specific reason for their dismissal was not given, but a tweet — since deleted — sent out by Foster over spring break points to what proved to be the final straw.
“It is a privilege to represent Kansas State University and there are consequences when players don’t live up to those expectations,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said in the press release.
Foster and Harris messed up. This is clear. For Foster, it wasn’t the first time either. In February, he was suspended three games, and throughout the season there appeared to be growing disconnect between the star sophomore guard and the rest of the team.
“About time they canned them!” one commenter said on the K-State Collegian Facebook page. “Follow the rules or get out of Manhattan!”
“He may have been great, but if he didn’t follow the team rules or represent the university or Big 12 in a good way it’s probably for the best,” another commenter said.
Foster and Harris’ suspension was just. There are second chances, but there are also rules to follow. The two chose to go about their own rules, and thus there are consequences.
But we as a society are quick to forget that these aren’t just basketball players. These are real people. College students, mind you. Some would like to think they’re above Foster and Harris, but we’ve all made mistakes — some of which, too, would get us kicked off a team.
The point is that underneath the basketball part of it all is a real person, or people in this case, who are obviously struggling and need guidance.
Basketball isn’t the end all be all, and it never should be. Rick Barnes, the former coach of Texas who parted ways with his longtime program over the weekend, said it best in a statement following his departure.
“I leave this job with no regrets,” Barnes wrote. “Instead, I look back at our time here and say ‘thank you’ to all the players, coaches and staff who have worked with our program throughout the last 17 years. I am so proud of our players and their success, not only on the court, but also in the classroom and in the community. I’m humbled when I really step back and think about how many of them have gone on to be such great all-around men in life.”
Basketball is a platform in life, not life itself. There are consequences for breaking the rules, but more so, there should be the hope that Foster and Harris (and all players in their shoes) can find their footing, turn things around and succeed in life on and off the court.