Former pro basketball player Liam Day believes being tough means not exacting revenge against fouls… Except maybe in the case of a nut-punch.
It’s been a truly engrossing Olympics: Gabby Douglas, Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Ussain Bolt, Andy Murray, Ye Shiwen. Watching the women’s floor performances in the individual Gymnastics competition on Tuesday, I was awed by the slow motion replays of double back flips the athletes were executing. What they are able to do with their bodies almost defies description and requires no other back story to appreciate, though NBC would insist on sharing one with us nonetheless.
Unfortunately, in addition to the network’s mawkish and, sometimes, just downright painful coverage, the Olympics have also been marred by the use of illegal substances, racist tweets, neo-Nazi politics, and athletes and teams intentionally throwing matches to manuever themselves into better position in later rounds of competition. Now, apparently, we’re also seeing an epidemic of groin punching in the Men’s Basketball competition.
As a former jump shooter, I am extremely sensitive to this. Like a quarterback from his blindside, a jump shooter in mid shooting motion is vulnerable. As the video of Carmelo Anthony being punched by Argentina’s Facundo Campazzo demonstrates, his arms raised above his head, extending into his follow through, a jump shooter has no means to protect himself from a punch to the groin.
The act of punching another man, one who is, moreover, in that moment, defenseless, is an act of cowardice. It is also an act of cheating. The only reason to punch a jump shooter in the groin is to throw off his shot, and by shot I don’t mean just that one shot, I mean the shooter’s motion, his rhythm, which will dictate all the shots he will take during the rest of the game, for if a shooter must worry about protecting his groin, he’s probably not concentrating all that much on his shooting motion. As a defender, you do this because you failed to find a way to defend the shooter within the rules.
Jay Bilas, who played college basketball at Duke and now serves as a commentator on ESPN, wrote an essay in 2009 defining, in a basketball sense, what it means to be tough. Being tough isn’t intentionally fouling an opponent or talking trash or, if you’ve been intentionally fouled, getting up in the face of the opponent who fouled you. Being tough is getting up, ignoring the guy who fouled you, walking to the free throw line and calmly knocking down both shots.
Of course, Jay Bilas is right. The ability to focus on the game, even as your opponent attempts to physically or mentally goad you, often separates winners from losers. As I’ve written on the Good Men Project before, the French footballer, Zinedine Zidane, probably cost France a second World Cup in 8 years when he reacted to the relentless taunting of Italy’s Marco Materazzi by headbutting him in the 2006 championship match’s waning moments.
All of that being said, however, there’s just something about a punch to the groin. You can shake off a hard foul and continue focusing on the game. It’s not so easy to do that when the foul, which, in the case of Facundo Campazzo, wasn’t even called by the referees, is an assault. I’m not sure I wouldn’t be looking for revenge. If it wasn’t a punch to the groin, a well-placed headbutt would do.
More from Liam Day on sports: