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Published: Tuesday, 7/29/2008

Equally offensive on the court

HOW ironic that the biggest brawl to date in women's professional basketball occurred on the same Auburn Hills, Mich., court that hosted one of the most notorious fights in pro sports history, the 2004 dustup involving the NBA's Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, and Pistons fans.

And, to put a sharper point on the issue, how disappointing that women athletes stoop to the same boorish behavior of their male counterparts when tempers flare during a close game.

Sorry, ladies, fighting is not progress, it's poor sportswomanship, to coin a phrase, just as fisticuffs on the court is for the men.

The slugfest in question erupted late in a WNBA match at the Palace of Auburn Hills last week between the Detroit Shock and Los Angeles Sparks when the Sparks' Candace Parker got tangled up with the Shock's Plenette Pierson while trying to rebound a missed free throw.

Players on both sides began throwing punches as coaches and a few bench players joined in. Shock assistant coach Rick Mahorn - a former member of the Pistons' "Bad Boy" teams of the 1990s - appeared to purposely shove Sparks center Lisa Leslie to the floor.

Ms. Leslie's teammate, DeLisha Milton-James, rained retaliatory punches on Mr. Mahorn's back, which he hardly seemed to notice.

Video of the brawl was replayed endlessly, and Ms. Leslie acknowledged the damage the brawl would do to WNBA attempts to promote its athletes as role models for young girls. She said that the tawdry scuffle was not how she wanted to represent herself in front of her daughter.

At least Ms. Leslie understands what's at stake, and now league officials need to levy some substantial fines and lengthy suspensions to show they don't want such foolishness to be repeated.

Fighting among pro athletes, whether male or female, is equally offensive to fans who expect more from the best.

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