Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Road Rage and Revenge: Sports Headlines of the Day

I am a huge sports fan. If I turn on the TV, I will likely flip to ESPN just to catch Sportscenter or whatever game is on. (Well, unless I'm watching The Walking Dead, but that is another topic for another time.) I grew up watching and playing sports in Indiana, where basketball hoops adorn the landscape just like the movie Hoosiers. Everyone either was either an Indiana or a Purdue fan, unless they were connected with either Notre Dame or Ball State. I was no different. It didn't matter what sport it was, you learned to watch it (except for soccer...it wasn't very big at all).

Sports are competitive. They are fun and entertaining, both to watch and play. There is something very basic about racing someone around your house when you were a child, and so from track and field, to marathons, to auto and horse racing, sport grabbed me. My brother and I followed each season, collecting baseball cards, and of course having to pick different teams to like. (At one point he chose Florida State, and so to this day that is still why I don't like the Seminoles!) 

My love of sports continues to this day. In particular, I love football at all levels and NASCAR racing. March Madness and college hoops is right up there at the top of my following as well. Hockey, baseball, the NBA, and yes, even Soccer, intrigue me at different levels. There are days I get lost in the ESPN or FoxSports websites for hours, scrolling through articles and stats. 

Sports are inherently competitive, and that is something that I have worked through in my life of playing for fun...placing competition at a healthy level but not at a level which leads to fights or jeopardizing relationships. I can recount a specific moment of pick-up basketball while I was at West Point, playing with friends from church, in which my competitiveness got the best of me in battling back and forth on the court with another guy. Pulling a dirty, although legal, move, I stepped out from behind him when he tried to back me down using a hip and back check, causing him to fall on the ground. He jumped up, infuriated, and started to chase me down. Luckily, others on the court got involved before anything more than words were thrown, but I can trace my understanding of the enjoyment of playing sports to this "eureka! moment." (A side note, the other guy and I were able to put things aside and remain friends to this day.) Competitiveness is good, but it cannot be the ultimate, particularly with regard to relationships. If we think we can burn other people on the court, is it too much of a stretch to think that we can do it in our personal lives and business relationships?

This leads me to two articles in the news the past couple of days. NASCAR has had a great bump in publicity due to flaring tempers and confrontations both on the track and after the races. The latest found Tony Stewart bad-mouthing Joey Logano on TV while he was still angry after already confronting Logano on pit road after the race. He was looking for a fight, and the interesting thing is that what made him made by Logano were actions that he himself has done in the past. Logano himself was in a mood of having to stand his ground and fight back against Denny Hamlin, who pushed him around a bit in the previous race. No doubt this makes for great drama.

The other news article is Dwight Howard's claim that he's going to get payback on David Lee due to some physical contact and play in a recent game between the Lakers and Warriors. Another story of revenge, of payback or having to get a leg up on the other person. Howard has a nickname of being "Superman" but this seemed anything but the type of reaction Clark Kent.

Honestly, I think it shows that a lot of these people who have become "role models" or "heroes" are like the rest of us. And they have a lot to learn as well, sometimes with bigger stakes. They are paid to win, employed to win, and there is a lot of ego, machismo, or bravado which seems to make it good news items on Sportscenter. But it isn't to be looked up to as an ideal. It is actually rather childish, isn't it? 

What do they have to prove, anyway? 

Should we let them off Scot free?

Road rage in America is a growing trend. During rush hour, I see minor elements of it all the time. Officially, there are 1200 reported incidents a year, with 300 of those resulting in SERIOUS INJURY or DEATH. You get cut off in traffic, then follow the car until they pull off the road and beat them up, its assault and could end up in jail. NASCAR drivers do it, and it is good drama. I admit, it is entertaining, but we have to remind ourselves that it still isn't behavior that should be condoned. Road rage and the starting of fights based on perceived slights against us in life is not a virtue, but rather demonstrates a short temper and the need for self control or patience.

Similarly, revenge is something that is found in a lot of TV shows, movie plots, and even good literature. (The Count of Monte Cristo, anyone?) However, is revenge acceptable behavior? Again, in the court of law if actions are deemed premeditated, from murder on down, they consequences of the actions are heavier than if it was in a moment of passion (which we might be able to say Tony's reaction, and road rage, are). 

"Revenge is a dish best served cold." But revenge is not just, and it is not right. Revenge often escalates conflicts, creating mob wars, or the Hatfields and the McCoys who perhaps don't even know why they are fighting. So should we let, or encourage, our sports stars to get away with statements of revenge?

All I know is that one of the clearest lessons I learned in life was to not let competition bleed over into my character. I can compete, playing my best, challenging and stretching myself, trying to beat others, and have fun without having to attack, escalate, or put down others. Playing dirty is just that - its dirty, unsportsmanlike, and a vice.

Whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is noble...think about such things. Lets try to remember that even if a player is our favorite, or might have a legitimate right for anger, that there is still appropriate and inappropriate ways to express that anger. Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, and Dwight Howard all have many qualities which we might deem to be good, but in this matter, of road rage, retaliation, and revenge, they need to be checked. I cannot hold up the actions as positive, or even look on it indifferently, as we see the implications in others lives as having much more profound consequences. Perhaps we need to make sure there are some even within these sports? If Howard does retaliate against Lee, will his words of revenge not be lauded but rather criticized? How about these NASCAR drivers being told to "have at it" - can we really turn a blind eye to these vices in the name of entertainment and TV ratings (money!)?
What we need to see are athletes who actually act like role models in these moments. 

Athletes who respond with patience, measured words, who attempt to be peacemakers or at least understanding, and who don't let dirty play get them riled up to respond in kind. 

We need to highlight those athletes who do the right thing and still succeed. 

Those who don't stoop to do the easier wrong, but act out the harder right.

Those who forgive or transcend the moments around them. 

Those who can shrug off slights without having to worry about their manhood or ego. 

We need to recognize and highlight athletes who truly act like role models, or that we can see the change and progress, the maturation, in their lives. 

Egomaniacs are not the ideal sports athlete.

We don't need heroes with no faults, but role models who strive to do the right thing, admit their mistakes, and move forward.

These athletes do exist. 

Let us find those whose actions on the field are worthy of demonstrating whatever is noble, right, just, and pure.

Who fits this bill that you know of?

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