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Thursday, March 4, 2010
Updated: March 5, 1:52 PM ET
A call to reason about Brittney Griner

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

All punches are not created equal.

Kermit Washington's punch almost killed Rudy Tomjanovich.

The punch(es) thrown by several members of the Indiana Pacers during the Palace brawl almost killed the NBA's reputation.

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner can dunk, which makes her a high-profile player and an easy target for a too-tough punishment.

As much as people would like to equate Baylor's Brittney Griner punching Texas Tech's Jordan Barncastle with LeGarrette Blount decking Byron Hout following last September's Oregon-Boise State football game, the fists belonging to Griner and Blount are both separate and unequal.

In case you missed it, Griner, a 6-foot-8 freshman who has gained notoriety because of her spectacular athletic ability, was ejected with nine minutes left in Baylor's 69-60 victory on Wednesday night for punching Barncastle, who had hooked and slung Griner just seconds earlier. Griner's fist connected with Barncastle's nose after the two jostled in the lane.

It was a typical example of rough play between aggressive players -- who also happen to have a chippy history. In fact, the two reportedly had a verbal confrontation after a game last month.

I'm not condoning Griner's actions, and I know she deserves to be suspended. (The Big 12 Conference has already sat her down for Sunday's regular-season finale, and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey added the first game of the league tournament to that.) But let's be careful about how we mix our apples and oranges.

Griner's punch is hardly in the same league as Blount's, and it's certainly not remotely close to the reprehensible actions of Elizabeth Lambert, the New Mexico soccer player who became infamous because of her MMA-esque takedowns during a heated match with Brigham Young late last year.

Blount, like Griner, was provoked. But Blount coldcocked Hout after the game ended, and then made matters even worse by exhibiting belligerent behavior toward fans as he was being escorted off the field.

I never believed Blount's irresponsible and irrational behavior should have cost him the entire season, and thought Oregon did the right thing by letting him return after missing multiple games. When it initially punished Blount, Oregon clearly was greatly influenced by the intense public reaction to the incident and the fact that it happened on a nationally televised ESPN broadcast. And while I believe Lambert's punishment was fair (she was suspended indefinitely), let's not forget that we watched Zinedine Zidane head-butt Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final.

Outsiders, though, shouldn't influence the disciplinary decisions in cases such as these, because it paves the way for a bad precedent to be set. Sometimes in a rush to appear equal, perspective is sacrificed. And sometimes in an effort to correct, something is done that makes even less sense than the wrongful act itself.

The wrong thing for Baylor and the Big 12 to do is to overreact and suspend Griner for the conference and NCAA tournaments if it's done just to prove the point that a woman should be subject to the same punishment as a man for unsportsmanlike conduct.

I'm all for equality, but punches have been thrown during college games before, and yes, even in the women's game. In 2004, five players from the Kansas and Missouri basketball teams were suspended for a postgame fight. It was a melee. A punch was thrown, a player was kicked -- and nobody lost her season.

Griner's actions are worth a two-game suspension. But my fear is that because she has a high profile and the incident has already become a national story, those in charge will feel compelled to exact an excessive punishment that ultimately could ruin Baylor's season.

If you don't think Griner being a woman has anything to do with this, then you're being naive. It isn't fair, but an aggressive woman -- particularly one who is 6-foot-8 -- is going to be judged more harshly than a man.

Serena Williams' tirade at the U.S. Open certainly was unacceptable, but John McEnroe's similar behavior, which he exhibited for years, was excused as simply part of McEnroe's "personality." Williams intimidates a lot of people with her play, her buff body and her confidence, and she is routinely characterized as some kind of oddly muscular shrew. Griner is known for showing the kind of emotion that some consider borderline taunting, and it's irritated a lot of people.

In other words, she behaves the same way as the guys, whose antics are not only tolerated, but often celebrated.

Some of us still view women's sports as genteel, even though it's been clear for some time that female athletes can be just as physical and competitive as their male counterparts. They also can be just as crude and unsportsmanlike. True equality isn't giving Griner the LeGarrette Blount treatment, but treating her punch as an unfortunate incident for a great athlete.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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