A ballet brawl engulfs cast members and theatergoers on opening night of the Nutcracker Ballet. Now some experts are warning that saturation coverage of the NBA brawl may be producing a spillover effect, causing violent eruptions from the ballet to the bowling alley. And one pro-family group says that only solution may be to stop broadcasting sports at all.
Experts ponder sports violence spillover effect
By staff reporter, Russel D'Arby
Lake Tahoe, NV—On the surface, Dale Sebastian and Ron Artest couldn't appear more different. Artest is an embattled NBA player with a troubled past, a questionable future, and an album to promote. Sebastian is a 5'8" ballet dancer, more at home with grand jetés than gangsta rap.
But at the opening of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Ballet" this week, the 16-year old Sebastian was at the center of a melee every bit as chaotic and violent as the one involving Artest and the Indiana Pacers. The "ballet brawl," as it has come to be known, sent nine people to the hospital, including the Mouse King and a local patroness of the arts, injured when a piece of glass from a shattered champagne flute caught her on the cheek. The incident sent shockwaves through this quiet community and has experts pondering: Can the sports violence spillover effect be stopped?
From Nutcracker Prince to fingerprints
According to witnesses, the ballet brawl broke out after Sebastian apparently lost his footing while performing a pirouette, knocking over one of the Marzipan dancers. But accounts of precisely what happened after that are murky; the twenty-six cast members on stage at the time have conflicting recollections. Some say that Sebastian intentionally provoked the Marzipan dancer, who in turn pulled down the Meissen Doll. Others say that the crash was accidental, but that the Meissen Doll brought down with her several Snowflakes.
Whatever caused the winter wonderland scene to degenerate into costumed carnage, the chaos quickly enflamed the audience. Angered by the delay in dancing, audience members, who'd paid $35 each to watch the classic Christmas tale, began taunting the troupe. A few theatergoers hurled debris along with insults; programs, champagne flutes, even shoes were thrown at the dancers. By the time parents and two off-duty policemen managed to calm the crowd, community center managers had officially dropped the curtain on opening night.
Did one good brawl cause another?
While we may never know precisely what happened at the inaugural performance of the Nutcracker—video cameras used by parents in the audience were impounded by nervous facility managers—one expert thinks he knows why the ballet descended into violence: saturation coverage of the earlier NBA brawl. "We are what we watch, in a sense," said California State University sport sociologist Steven Barrowman.
"In the past few days, kids all over the country have seen the ugly NBA incident replayed hundreds of times. I wouldn't be surprised if the same ugliness that brought down Artest and the Nutcracker isn't being played out at sporting venues across the country this weekend, from the ballet to the bowling alley. That's what we've come to as a nation," said Dr. Barrowman.
Will networks slay the golden goose?
One pro-family group is proposing a radical solution to the problem of sports spillover violence: stop broadcasting sports on television. Members of the American Family Association, a Mississippi-based nonprofit that opposes sex, violence and profanity on television, have been bombarding the offices of FCC chairman Michael Powell, urging him to "Stop Sporting Violence."
Explains Tom Gilman, a spokesman for the organization: "If these players are going to resort to fisticuffs and contaminate the minds of our young people, then the only solution is to turn off the TV on these sporting events. We have to convince the networks that it's not in their interest to broadcast basketball, football, baseball or any other sport."
In the meantime, Gilman and his followers want the FCC to impose fine on any station that airs a sporting event at which violence breaks out. Analysts say that were such fines imposed, they would quickly total in the billions of dollars.
A darkened theater
Night two of the Nutcracker Ballet at the Tahoe Community Center proceeded without violent eruption, but it was a far cry from the glittering event that assistant stage manager Chad Marquese has dreamt about for months. Nervous parents pulled many of the dancers out of the production, and the Mouse King remains hospitalized. And concerned theatergoers, who snapped up tickets when they went on sale the day after Halloween, stayed away in droves. "We pulled it off, but just barely," said Marquese. "Our Arabian Coffee pas de deux ended up being a pas d'un."