I read an August 10, 2018, ESPN article: The Inside Story of a Toxic Culture at Maryland Football by Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg, and Tom VanHaaren. This story is an investigative look at the causes for the death of player Jordan McNair, who collapsed on the field during practice and died in the hospital. No one reported McNair’s medical condition for one hour, after which the coaches called an ambulance.
Winning is the only thing
When I finished, I was struck by the tactics used by the coaches to create a tough, manly team. At this point, I admit I’m not a fan of contact sports. The brain damage and lack of support for players and retired players says that sponsors, promoters, owners, schools, fans, and the rest of the industries that support these games are only in it for the money. The players are disposable and replaceable.
The making of “real men”
While the information in the article is about one college team, I suspect the coaching style occurs way more often, at a variety of levels from the subtle to flagrant, than we the public and the players’ parents suspect. The amazing part of this awakening is that it still goes on and the behaviors are tolerated. Why? Contact sports makes “men” out of boys and girls. Teaches them teamwork, spirit, work ethic, assertiveness, competitiveness, competition, winning, and how to follow orders – at any cost. Bodies, brains, and emotional intelligence get sacrificed in the attempt.
Connecting the dots
Although I am prone to connecting the dots among all the ills plaguing this country, this piece brought me up short. The inside look at the toxic sports culture brought me to an ah-ha moment. In the instant I completed reading the list of coaching behaviors itemized by the players, I saw the same behaviors we see in the world of politics. The same behaviors this country must address if we are to change our future – for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.
Our primary directive is to rid this country’s obsession with unbridled greed and power as tools to measure success. The go-to behaviors to support these obsessions are defined as follows:
- Abuse: 1. use (something or self or another person or animal) to bad effect or for a bad purpose; and 2. treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly. Synonyms: mistreat, maltreat, ill-treat, molest, injure, hurt, harm, damage [to name a few].
- Bully (a subset of abuse): use superior strength or influence [or power] to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do [against their will and/or without consent] what one wants.
Reported football coaching and administrative behaviors at University of Maryland
- “There is a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation.”
- “The belittling, humiliation and embarrassment of players is common.”
- “Extreme verbal abuse of players occurs often… [and is] meant to mock their masculinity.”
- “Coaches have endorsed unhealthy eating habits and used food punitively.”
- University and department officials resort to deniability. They refer to the player documented abuse as “The alleged behaviors raised in the ESPN story are troubling.”
- Normalizing: “verbal personal attacks on kids” occurred so often that everyone became numb to them…” and “I don’t know, maybe we were all blind to what was being developed there.”
- Lack of institutional action: university leadership, including athletic director Damon Evans and president Wallace Loh, had “a lack of action” in their response to McNair’s death.
- Access suppression: With respect to the day McNair collapsed, “They tried to interview players at the most inconvenient time, in Gossett, basically right in front of Durkin’s [the head coach’s] office.” Note there was an open sign-up sheet, anyone could listen to the interviews, and therefore, no anonymity was provided to protect the players. This set up players who were interviewed for the inevitable coach’s recrimination.
Key phrases of authoritarianism
Fear and intimidation; belittle, humiliate, and embarrass; verbal abuse; punitive; deniability; normalization; institutional support of abuse via inaction; and silence the whistleblowers.
Political game plan mirrors sportsThe top 2% monied class, as the coaching staff above, have subjected us, the 98%, to slow and steady manipulation, abuse, and bullying to normalize divisive behaviors such as sexism, racism, and white supremacy. We are encouraged to turn a blind eye to the “violence,” turn a deaf ear to the “victims”, silence the “truth to power speakers,” to support the abusers and bullies. And, as in sports, our institutions will not save us, having been undermined by payoffs and perks.
Normalizing numbs — change breaks the cycle
Football players cease to hear or react to the coaches’ abuse. They quickly learn there is no place to turn. It becomes a way of life. They must grin and bear it to be on the team and play the game. Those who rebel are kicked off, disgraced, and labeled failures. If we don’t want our children abused and bullied for the sake of a game, we have to stand up for their safety: body, brains, and self-confidence. This will take hard choices that challenge our belief system.
This is scenario can be said of American voters. Through a lack of attention, we are now sucked into an agenda that hurts the 98%. What if this agenda had been clear from the outset? What if we had listened? Would we have supported it anyway? Many years of increasing wealth and a comfortable middle class lulled us into complacency. It is only now that the true agenda has emerged as the middle class is disappearing into the working poor. A few examples:
- Workers work hard to give owners money without any expectation of recognition or reward in the form of promotion and/or pay increase, or even job security;
- owners will use all money accumulated for their own acquisitions and greed;
- owners are not held accountable for seeing that workers receive a living wage or share in the profits resulting from their labor;
- all people are subject to policies that favor the wanton depletion of natural resources regardless of the effects of harmful exposure to contaminants as it is profitable;
- all those who have access to and can afford healthcare, deserve it, and those who don’t or can’t, thoughts and prayers;
- women are not now nor ever to be treated as equal (Equal Rights Amendment still not law of the land), which supports both male dominance and the imposed erroneous policy that not all humans are equal and supports racism in all its iterations;
- white people stole the country from the Native Americans, claim it as the land of the white man, and, to this day, do not recognize the diversity upon which this country grew and depends on; and
- the government elections will be subverted through gerrymandering, foreign government interference, unlimited donations (dark and public) via Citizens United, archaic Electoral College, and voter suppression to support this agenda as a free and honest election might not yield the desired effect.
Changing the culture
We, the people, must open our eyes and fight for a government that is responsive to the needs of all its citizens. We must demand that all who have prospered on the backs of others should the responsibility for making sure that all have access, regardless of income, to the rights and services that protect them. There is no reason why anyone in this country need be homeless or hungry. We do not have surpluses of food or housing, we have un-monetized stored resources. This is unacceptable.
While the planet will survive, the inhabitants may not
If there is to be a country or a world that supports human life, our resources must be saved, replenished, and renewable. When our current agricultural processes are decimated by heat, when our land surfaces are destroyed by earthquakes, mudslides, and fire; when our seas are super-heated killing marine life and generating massive destructive hurricanes; and when the polar ice caps melt and rising water levels change the world’s topography, then what? Will it be too late?
If we don’t find a way to deal with the massive changes to the world’s surface, 200 million homeless will overtake the land that is left. “Mine” will be a word of the past. “Ours” is the future. It is this future that must be embraced now. Our thinking and our decisions are not only about today, they impact our future. Short-sightedness will be our downfall.
Change the rhetoric, change the future
To change, we must model our beliefs by example: remove the bullies and abusers from our own lives. Our voices and actions are the only hope this country has for a future that is “ours” for now and the future. We need to concentrate on encouraging solutions for immigration, sustainability, and climate reality if there is to be any future at all.
Support candidates that share your vision: write postcards, canvas, call, donate, and/or attend rallies. More than ever, if we are to defeat abuse and bullying, we must take action. This means paying attention to local, county, and state elections. Know the candidates, do the research, follow reliable news sources, and recognize opinion as just that.
If you’ve voted every election, or voted every four years, or never ever voted, this is the year you must vote. No vote is cancelled out by a spouse or a friend. No vote is insignificant. Every vote adds to the voice of the people. Every vote says, I CARE. The overall vote count says, that we as a country believe the life of every American citizen counts. Make a planto vote – write in or at the polls – today. Make a date with a voting buddy. Better yet, carpool to vote. Do it.
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