The Gilas team should apologize for the bench-clearing brawl against Australia at the Philippine Arena last night.
By saying the team should apologize, I don’t mean the Australian team shouldn’t or that they were right. Or that Australia didn’t act despicably too. Or that it’s the Philippine team’s fault. Or that Gilas started it.
That is not the point.
It is not about what happened at warm ups. About who said what. Or who elbowed who first. It is not about floor stickers or trash talking. Of course, context is important. But the bigger context here is that this was an international game on the world stage – and that carrying our national colors comes with immense responsibility.
Gilas should apologize because when athletes represent their country, their actions reflect not just on them but on the nation as a whole.
Gilas should apologize because athletes need to remember it is a privilege and an honor to carry our flag, to represent the nation, to uphold our values as a people.
Gilas should apologize because it is not just about playing basketball, but about showing the best aspects of the Filipino on and off the court, especially as hosts.
Gilas should apologize because what transpired was controversial and unsporstmanlike, and many of their countrymen were disappointed.
Let’s call a spade a spade: the team’s behavior was shameful.
With 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Gilas’ RR Pogoy shoved Christopher Goulding to the ground before he was decked by Australia's Daniel Kickert. A flying Jayson Castro landed a punch on Kickert. It turned into a free-for-all with Thon Maker unleashing flying kicks. (LOOK: Bench-clearing brawl mars Gilas-Australia game)
Andray Blatche, Calvin Abueva, Terrence Romeo, Carl Bryan Cruz, Matthew Wright were seen in the replay landing punches against their Australian counterparts. Bottles and a chair were thrown by fans.
The brawl resulted in 3 ejections on Australia’s side and 9 on Gilas’ side.
Indeed, both teams acted unprofessionally. The violence from both sides was surprising and a terrible example of how sports should be played.
But frankly, I care little about the Australians because they are not our countrymen. Let the Australians hold their own accountable.
Last night, the Boomers took responsibility for their own part in the matter. In a statement, they said they “are extremely disappointed with what happened and our role in it.”
“This is not the spirit in which sport should be played and certainly not in the spirit in which we aim to play basketball,” they said. “We apologize to our fans and will await the penalties to be handed down.”
It was an apology without pointing blame, but acknowledging their role in the regrettable turn of events.
As for us Filipinos, we should zero in on Gilas. We should be looking at our team’s behavior because they are the ones representing our country. Our standards for our national athletes, especially on the world stage, should be higher than for regular, everyday Filipinos.
Part of loving our country is celebrating what we are most proud of – which many times in the past was our huge-hearted Philippine team and their “puso”, their passion for basketball. But loving our country is also about questioning what is shameful, what is not aligned with our values.
Last night, what the Gilas team did was not defensible behavior.
Players and fans argue that the team’s reaction was acceptable because they were standing up for one another. They are more than just a team, but a brotherhood. That Filipinos should not allow themselves to be bullied in their own court. That is part of our values.
In a tweet by Terrence Romeo, he said, “Dun sa mga kapwa namin players na nag sasabing embarrassing kami wala kaming paki alam sa inyo. Kami mag kaka teammate sa loob kailangan namin mag tulungan. Hindi namin pwede pabayaan yung isa’t isa. Kung embarrassing kami sa mata niyo bat di kayo mag convert ng Australian.”
(To our fellow players who are saying we are embarrassing, we don’t care about you. We are teammates and we need to help each other. We don’t just leave each other alone. If we are embarrassing in your eyes then convert to Australians.)
Herein lies the problem.
“We don’t care about you.” Unfortunately, as national team athletes, their actions are far bigger than themselves, or even just their team.
As national team athletes, part of wearing our colors means caring for what their countrymen think, how they represent the Philippines, what image they uphold. Not just caring for their Gilas teammates.
The whole Philippines is their team.
Is violence and aggression now part of our national values? Because we defend our own no matter what, does this mean Gabe Norwood, June Mar Fajardo, and Baser Amer don’t care for their teammates? That they are cowards for not physically getting involved?
Last night was not a win for Philippine basketball. It was a black eye, a bruise – because we know our teams and our athletes can do better than what they showed the world last night.
They can show better sportsmanship and character in the face of obstacles. They can show restraint, dignity, class when it matters most. They can lose with humility. They can represent us better. They've done that before.
This is not about backing away from bullies. This is about Filipinos holding our own – especially those representing us – to a higher standard, precisely because we love our team and our country, and we deserve more than a brawl, an elbow, or a flying kick. – Rappler.com
Natashya Gutierrez was Rappler's first sports editor. She has covered major sports competitions including past Gilas games, Manny Pacquiao fights, and various local and international leagues.