This is an open letter in response to EJ’s very well written piece on the Miami Dolphin bullying in the locker room situation. Essentially, I am in agreement with EJ and simply want to offer up my own take on the topic.
There is trash talking that goes back and forth between co-workers, or as the case may be, teammates, that can sometimes include what would normally be seen as inappropiate, and sometimes racist, talk to outsiders and then there is out and out stuff that is nothing more than ethnically or racially chauvinistic slurs and bullying. I think what is happening in Miami will be somewhere in-between but heavily leaning towards the racist slurs/bullying side of the scale. And that ain’t good.
I work in a mailroom/copy center with two men who are black and the three of us have no trouble using certain words or epithets openly. However, we never refer to one another in any way, shape or form in a derogatory manner. Do we get on one another sometimes? Hell, yeah, especially, when one of us does something dumbass. But never is it in an ethnically or racially demeaning way. It was never talked about; it is just that way because we respect each other as people… as human beings. Simply put, we are men who like acting like testosterone ladened men but we are also grownups who know how to give and demand respect.
What is happening in Miami, and probably in many other, if not most, other locker rooms is a situation that is, for the most part, devoid of respect on one level or another. That has to change.
However, I think a part of the problem of why locker rooms are as they are is because of the game itself. Football is the one sport, in my opinion, that takes the entire team concept idea and uses it to the point where the individual is required to subjugate his self to the teams’ will. You must take whatever is dished out, both physically and psychologically, so you can be tough and face whatever may occur in any situation. You have to be prepared to play hurt and take it, as well as, dish it out. You have to be a man.
That is not true in other team sports like baseball, basketball… or soccer… or lacrosse… or any other team sport that I know of that is played on any level from high school to the pros. There is competiveness and team concept and that sometimes borderline stuff that players throw at each other in the privacy of the locker room but nowhere in any other sport are players required to essentially be bent to the will of the team and totally give up their individuality for the overall good of the team so it can charge on to victory.
Don’t get me wrong I like football. And, I really do understand there is a certain amount of pain and endurance, both physically and mentally, that players need to go through so a football team can be competitive and win games. In fact, football is the only sport I played in high school where I actually got a letter. But, at the same time, I never was comfortable with the militaristic attitude that always seemed so pervasive during practices. That I had to endure whatever pain there was just so I could help the team to go on to victory. Like it was Sparta versus Athens and we either had to win or come back dead upon our shields. That entire grunt philosophy. The attitude was either you played and took whatever was dealt as a man or you were a pussy. Players either submitted to that old school, and archaic, philosophy or they were ostracized and quite possibly cut from the team. And, no football player worth his salt would want that, right? I mean, to play football was to be the idealized epitome of what America was, and is, all about. No? And, to play it at a high level, or even the highest level… the pros… you have to endure everything and anything… which means keeping both body and spirit pasted together with tape, baling wire and spit if need be so you can be the best red-blooded all-American football playing man you can be. That is what it is all about ain’t it?
Even if the players might hurt themselves in long term… physically and/or psychologically.
In other team sports the attitude is more like “We want you to play hard, play together and be aggressive. We want you to play the right way, but play hard. If you’re doing too much, we’ll let you know.” Not in football. You have to endure and that means taking any shit the best, or toughest, players might throw at you physically or verbally.
The following is part of an actual pledge that one high school requires of its potential players to sign before they even can try out for the school’s football team (all italics have been entered by the writer for emphasis):
“The course content of our program includes loyalty, discipline, a physical test of your strength, endurance, and courage. It is an experience in sacrifice where you will be asked to sublimate personal goals for team objectives. (Redacted) Football represents a special opportunity for young men of your age. The nature of (redacted) Football requires one person’s success to depend upon the effort of many. When you work with someone and depend on him, loyalty becomes a necessity. This means that coaches see that your best interests are served and that you, in turn, exhibit a concern for your teammates and coaches as well. No group effort can be successful without loyalty; disloyalty demeans the individual more than it hurts the group. Our concept of loyalty extends beyond individuals and encompasses principals such as accepting discipline rules. No team will become great with even a single dissident. Only complete loyalty will enable you to extend your effort beyond your limits and if we are going to start a great tradition, this will be necessary. Team rules are a very important part of our program. Commitment to follow our team rules is mandatory for all players… When you accept the responsibility of (redacted) Football, you will recognize that rules are necessary for the discipline of a well-trained team. Remember, the best prepared, most committed team has the best chance of winning. It is required that you accept the many meanings of the word discipline as applied to football. You must recognize the discipline of individual assignments which makes the team concept of football possible and enables you to continue to play successfully even though things may not be going well for you personally. It is only through this approach that we can stay together when things become difficult and build a program with great tradition.”
And, that folks is what almost every football team… amateur or school or pro level… sees as what a football player needs to be. And believe it when I say that includes being man enough to put up with whatever shit is thrown up into your face… because the bottom line is “If you ain’t man enough to take it then you probably won’t be a real good dedicated football player.” Check that, because it is really more like “… you probably don’t even belong on a football field.”
Understand, I have no problem with hitting a guy and hitting hard to physically beat him on the field of play. Of course, all that hitting needs to be “within the rules”, but, still, to physically beat an opposing player so your team can score touchdowns and win games. And, I don’t have any problems with doling out some so-called mean assed trash talk, even some x-rated stuff, if it works to undermine an opponent’s competitive drive and gets him off his game to your advantage. And, I really do despise the pansying of the game (yes, I did say pansy) to overprotect players like the QB. (Yeah, you, Mr. Brady.) But, when it all comes down to trying to breaking someone psychologically or to so-call toughen them up so they can be man enough to meet the challenges that come their way… well, that simply will no longer do. Especially, when hateful, demeaning, psychologically debilitating language and actions are used.
And, until that pervasive attitude within football on all levels disappears then bullying is not going away throughout football locker rooms across America real soon.
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