LeBron James recently disclosed that he played the last three games of a humiliating four game sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors with a broken hand. He explained that he broke his hand punching a whiteboard in the locker room after a frustrating defeat in the first game of the series in which a team mate made a careless error that ended any chance the team had of winning. His explanation for his behavior was that he “let the emotions get away from me.” In giving that excuse for his behavior, James followed a long tradition of men using their emotions to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior. He failed to acknowledge or take any responsibility for behaving in a way that was damaging to himself, his team mates, and to the millions of young men who admire him and look up to him as a role model.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, and certainly the other side of the emotional maturity continuum, the Pope admitted that he had made “grave errors” in the way the Catholic Church handled sex abuse cases in Chile, taking full responsibility by saying that “it must not happen again on my watch”. The Pope, more so than even professional athletes, is given a pass on taking responsibility for his behavior because the theology of the Catholic church includes a belief that the Pope is infallible and cannot make a mistake. He courageously chose to come out from behind the protective shield of infallibility and take personal responsibility for his own behavior and the behavior of the church, instantly creating new possibilities for moving forward.
What the Pope came to understand and James clearly does not yet understand is that every man is responsible for his own behavior. The only exceptions are for children who do not yet have the maturity to understand the consequences of their behavior, and people who are mentally disabled in a way that does not allow them to understand the consequences of their behavior. What James fails to understand is that every time a man engages in some kind of bad behavior there is what I like to call the “f*ck it” moment; that moment, no matter how brief, that a man gives himself permission to engage in that behavior.
I worked with a man once who was a combat veteran who struggled with his anger. He was particularly angry at his 16-year-old son for being defiant and disobedient. One night his son did not come home by his curfew time. This man waited up until the early hours of the morning, sitting alone in a dark living room, waiting for his son to come home. When his son walked through the door at 2:00 AM, the man got up without a word and punched his son in the face, knocking him unconscious. He and I met a few days later, and I asked him if he was able to take 100% percent responsibility for what he had done, and for making sure that it never happened again. He protested that he had PTSD which caused him to have episodes of rage that he could not control. After he refused my referral to a program that works with male batterers, I calmly explained to him that as long as he could not, or would not guarantee his family that he would be responsible for his behavior, that he could not be involved in parenting his son in any way. If that was not sufficient to manage his abusive behavior, then he would have to move out of the house.
Men give themselves permission to engage in these behaviors because our culture enables them and give them tacit approval. Although we shame and humiliate men for expressing most emotions, we are understanding if not admiring when the emotion they express in anger. Neither James’ coach, nor any of his team mates spoke out about his behavior. None of them stepped forward to say that he had behaved immaturely and sabotaged their chances as a team to accomplish what they have all worked most of their lives to achieve. Nor did James act like the leader of his team by stepping up to take responsibility for his actions. What I would have liked to hear James say is something like this: “I was wrong. I indulged in an emotional outburst that not only hurt myself, but my team mates and all of the fans who invest so many of their hopes and dreams in our team. I also particularly let down all of the young man who look up to me, and I want to tell them all that I was wrong. I take full responsibility for my behavior, and I hope you will not follow my example. I am resigning my role as captain of this team effective immediately until such time as I am confident that I can be an appropriate role model for my team mates and our fans.
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