Suspended Metta still battling inner demons

It is awfully easy to make fun of Metta World Peace’s name now, to discard it as a joke after he threw an elbow at James Harden’s head.

How does this sound?

David Stern suspended World Peace for seven games Tuesday.

Well, that’s what happened. World Peace got off easy, and could be back playing for the Los Angeles Lakers as early as a potential Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs.

“The concussion suffered by James Harden demonstrates the danger posed by violent acts of this kind, particularly when they are directed at the head area,” NBA commissioner Stern said in a statement Tuesday night. “We remain committed to taking necessary measures to protect the safety of NBA players, including the imposition of appropriate penalties for players with a history of on-court altercations.”

I hate to think that maybe Stern just didn’t want to punish one of his premiere, ratings-driving teams too much, especially as the playoffs begin.

Last week, the NHL knocked out its own notorious head-hunter for 25 games, which is exactly what World Peace should have gotten. Shots to the head in sports are just that important now. The difference, of course, is that the NHL has a problem with its culture. The NBA only has a problem with Ron Artest.

I am not buying the argument that Artest’s last three years of good behavior — including the name change to World Peace — were just an act. The old Artest was real. And the new World Peace was real, too.

When he threw that elbow at Harden during Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City, too many people saw that as an Aha! moment. The real Artest was coming out. Not the fake World Peace.

Is there some reason we have to make things so simple? World Peace/Artest. Good/Bad. Pretty/Ugly. Black/White. Up/Down. It so easy to think in either/or, and not to look at the complexities of a man who clearly has issues with faulty wiring.

The name change to World Peace was not just a PR stunt. It was a man trying to fix himself. No one can, or should, forget the Malice at the Palace, when he jumped into the stands, as Artest, in Detroit, punched a fan and helped to start a riot between players and paying customers.

But that was 7½ years ago.

That’s not to say all should be forgiven. The Malice is part of World Peace and always will be. We have to have some standard of behavior. World Peace was simply out of control Sunday.

Look, he has been trying, for three years, at least. It’s not easy to change yourself permanently, and for good. Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that.

Any alcoholic. To me, this was not the true bad guy coming out of the phony World Peace, but more like a recovering alcoholic going on a bender. World Peace lost control. He has not been on a three-year secret plan to throw an elbow at James Harden.

No, he has been on a three-year plan to change himself. And now, he royally screwed up, and deserved a royal penalty for it.

The problem is that we are so cynical about everything, and frankly, athletes have given us every reason to be. Not long ago, Tiger Woods was a nice, sweet, family man with a big smile.

We are constantly disappointed, watching people only do the right things when public relations demand it. I mentioned the NHL suspension.

Phoenix’s Raffi Torres was kicked out for 25 games after his outrageous cheapshot on Chicago’s Marian Hossa. But first, the NHL barely did anything to cheap-shotters, until public pressure — until you — forced the league to get serious.

World Peace has not been a problem lately. He has been quirky. He has been odd.
But he has talked to groups of kids about mental health, advising them to seek help if needed, and not to be ashamed of it. When the Lakers won the championship in 2010, he thanked his psychologist on national TV. What athlete even admits to such a thing?

Ozzie Guillen was once forced to go to sensitivity training, and later ridiculed it. World Peace has gone to family counseling and anger counseling, and is endorsing it.

He is doing something important. He also tried “Dancing With the Stars,” and did have an embarrassing moment when he beat up his cha-cha partner Peta Murgatroyd. (Just kidding.) He did it to raise money for the Cancer Research Foundation, moved by the battle of his daughter Diamond, who had a kidney tumor when she was 4. He gives heavily to charity, appeared before Congress to talk about mental health awareness, raffled off his NBA title ring, and raised $60,000 for the cause.

He won the NBA’s citizenship award last year. Is he a bad guy? A great guy? That’s not the point. He’s a real guy, a real person with real, and major, problems. And he’s not equipped to deal with them fully, but he’s trying.

He’s trying.

The loose screw guy is who he honestly is. And the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award holder is who he is, too.

If you think he did all of that for PR, well, how can I argue with that? The name Metta World Peace surely comes off as a gimmick.

He has to be responsible for himself. This is not a call to say otherwise. You cannot let him hurt people, and cause danger for others.

That’s why Stern needed to suspend him longer than he did.

But here’s to hoping that World Peace keeps going in the same direction he has been. The work starts all over for him now.