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Patrick Hruby

How do you solve a problem like Metta World Peace?

In the wake of the elbow heard 'round the sports cable television world, the question du jour is what the National Basketball Association should do about Metta World Peace.

Better question: what are the rest us supposed to think about him?

World Peace's elbow to the side of James Harden's head was both dangerous and unacceptable. No debate. The league ought to punish the Los Angeles Lakers forward -- probably with a suspension, possibly for a good, long time.* Again, not a whole lot of room for argument.

Thing is, I'm not sure any of this matters much.

I'm hardly a mental health professional. Still, it's pretty clear that World Peace is best understood by one. More to the point, an entire team of professionals might not know what to make of him, because mental health is largely a big black box. (Don't believe me? Try reading the DSM-IV sometime).

And none of that jives with sports.

In sports, we see athletes in moralistic, black-and-white terms: good guys, bad guys, occasional magazine-profiled misunderstood guys. We judge and respond to their actions accordingly. Sticks and carrots. Cheers and jeers. But World Peace? He's not a misbehaving child who knows better yet constantly tests boundaries by acting out, which is generally the way the public is conditioned to view athletes who behave transgressively. (A dynamic that long has been a pet peeve of mine -- fans tend to view athletes as unrealistic gods, until they screw up, at which point the same athletes become spoiled, naughty children. Interesting psychodrama there, and says more about what we want out of sports than the actual people who play them). For that matter, World Peace isn't exactly an awful thug, either, any more than he's an eccentric physical whirlwind with a hidden heart of gold. By all accounts, he's a man who struggles with emotional disregulation and impulse control -- two things that have nothing to do with right and wrong -- and as such, the deterrent value of both league punishment and our collective judgement is likely irrelevant.

If you're the NBA, how do you solve a problem like Metta World Peace? If you're a fan stepped in the simplistic morality of the sports world, how are you supposed to cheer and/or boo him?

I honestly have no idea. The guy is a round peg in a realm of square holes. He renders all the usual arguments inadequate.

* Word Peace received a seven-game league suspension shortly after publication. I still don't think it matters much.