Edge Of Sports’ Dave Zirin notes the hysterical coverage of Saturday’s throwdown at the World’s Most Empty Arena and concludes, “the NBA has become the spittoon for every racial anxiety aslosh in Sportsworld.”

Young black men scuffling, even scuffling in a way that would make foxy boxing seem threatening, seem to be a catalyst for an astounding amount of public hand-wringing. Fights in the NBA happen with far less frequency than one would think. The previous one that drew a suspension occurred last season, when Keyon Dooling and Ray Allen scuffled with no punches even connecting.

David Stern is responsible for this holier-than-thou atmosphere. It was Stern who last year issued the infamous dress code, banning ostentatious gold chains and medallions and mandating business casual attire off the court. It was Stern who instigated the “tough on whining” rules this season–if a player so much as sneezes in a referee’s direction, he gets tagged with a technical foul. It was Stern who last year hired Karl Rove’s public relations operative Matthew Dowd to give the league “red-state appeal.”

This approach, in my mind, is rooted in generational and racial anxiety, and efforts to assuage that anxiety among the folks who can afford the pricey tickets at Madison Square Garden. When Stern feeds the myth that players somehow are out of control and undercivilized, it gives confidence to the apostles of fear–like New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick, who wrote, “NBAers are showing up to speak at schools and in airports and for TV interviews looking like recruitment officers for the Bloods and Crips.”

While Mushnick and his ilk are shocked, shocked by the brawl at the Garden, they conveniently ignore the stories that place these young men in a very different light. With next to no media coverage, Anthony last week gave $1.5 million to start the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center in his home town of Baltimore. The center will offer after-school education and recreation programs to about 200 school-age children.

But today’s Baltimore Sun has a piece titled “Anthony’s Star Takes a Hit.” Another report on the Sports Illustrated website contends “Melo’s Image Irreparably Damaged.” The brawl, in the eyes of these observers, far outweighs this altogether more significant act. And in Stern’s world of paternalistic damage control, it surely does.

In all fairness, it should be pointed out the Baltimore Sun’s David Steele had a column on Anthony’s Youth Center that ran the day before the brawl.