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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Sports and Society: Don't punch your teammate

Throughout the season — and to the surprise of very few — Rudy Gobert punched his ticket as the centerpiece of one of the worst trades in NBA history. And then he punched Kyle Anderson.

The Timberwolves traded for Rudy Gobert during the offseason, giving up Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro, Walker Kessler, their 2023, 2025, 2027, 2029 first-round picks, their soul, a mortgage on their house, a sizable Bitcoin portfolio and a crisp high-five. Then he decided to punch the emotional leader of their team.

That part was pretty surprising, but I was floored by the damage control campaign the Timberwolves ran after issuing Gobert a one-game suspension. Here, I’ll let the oracle of all things basketball, Adrian Wojnarowski, tell you:

“The Timberwolves had to suspend Gobert for throwing a punch but accepted that it was a shot to chest with no intent to injure Kyle Anderson and understood that Anderson called Gobert a ‘b----’ repeatedly on a night Gobert was playing hurt, sources tell ESPN,” Adrian Wojnarowski posted on Twitter on April 10.

Because Wojnarowski included a typo — forgetting to add the “the” before “chest” — he likely copied and pasted much of this tweet from a text from the Timberwolves front office. The cowardly language shows us a team floundering to defend a now-indefensible trade. They imply that they did not want to suspend him but had to and that Gobert’s use of violence may have even been justified.

Not only is this a pathetic attempt to save face but it also promotes a false moral argument: that violence can be a proportional response to name-calling.

When I was 6 years old, I punched my brother for some reason. This lapse in judgment resulted in my lawyer-mother making me sign a nominally binding contract agreeing that I would never hit my brother again for any reason. Regardless of the legal validity of the document, the message was not lost on 6-year-old me: There is a tiered difference between verbal attacks and physical ones.

The Timberwolves apparently missed this memo, and disclosing Anderson’s language beforehand is a sly attempt to coax supporters to Gobert’s side when they should be unconditionally condemning him.

As with Will Smith’s assault on Chris Rock or Draymond Green’s on teammate Jordan Poole at practice, the reactions of the responsible parties were inadequate. The incidents call into question how workplace misconduct is handled in professional sports. If Gobert worked for an accounting firm rather than an NBA team, he would have been fired, not just sent home for a day, so it is worth asking if the punishment should be more severe.

In any case, physical force, when to make a point or — in Gobert’s case — to express frustration, is never justified. In Wojnarowski’s tweet, we got a magnum opus of excuses. A simple statement that violence in the workplace is never justified — not even if you were playing hurt, got called mean names or didn’t mean to hurt the guy — would have sufficed.