Tuesday, 18 June 2013

"Sportsmen are not Angels"- that's not what they're paid to be

A brief disclaimer: One has to distinguish between explaining/rationalising something, and justifying it. Rationalising something puts it into context in order to understand why people do what they do. The assumption is that most people act rationally, and even though their behaviour may at times seem bizarre, there is an underlying logic to why they do what they do.
Justifying something is giving it legitimacy, saying it is OK and acceptible.

I am attempting here to rationalise, not justify.

Perpetually we are inundated with reports of poor behaviour amongst our top athletes from every code. As an example this article was published this morning:

"A "typical" day in the life of an NRL player looks, apparently, like this. After a good, solid warm-up he takes the field and pees in his shorts, shaking it loose with the legs, because, hey, when you gotta go you gotta go, lol.Halfway through the game he stands and fires a one-two into his opponent, wins the game, then heads out to celebrate with a beer or 10.
Before the clock even reaches midnight he is kicked out, but shows that some of his best footwork comes off the field when he sneaks back in through the kitchen.
He likes the little blonde over in the corner, so he goes over and ends up getting his face slapped. Her boyfriend isn't all that happy.
On his way back to his car he is still frustrated by the knockback and, well, did you see the way that street sign was looking at him?
Nobody looks at him like that and gets away with it, so he rips the street sign out of the ground and puts it through some poor innocent's car window. They can deal with it in the morning. Not his problem.
Then he jumps into his car, unlicensed and with a cabin full of mates, and gets pinched for drink-driving before arriving home with one of the girls his mate pulled earlier where, somehow, she ends in casualty with a fractured eye socket."
Although the author laments his frustration and disappointment in the NRL and its dealing with players' behaviour, it would be worth understanding the mentality of the perpetrators themselves.

Why do we love sport?

When you boil it down, the basic reason is that some people are capable at performing phenomenal feats of athleticism and strength.  Their speed, their power and their skill defy belief, and we are in awe of them as a result. The arbitrary nature of scoring a try, shooting a hoop or getting a ball into a hole is irrelevant- it is these people's ability to do the impossible that inspires and energises us.

The athlete seeks perfection in his physical abilities and is constantly encouraged to drive it to places beyond historically accepted norms. In order to achieve this he must invest all his energy into his body. His must train harder, get stronger and earn the right to perform on the great stage in the arena.
The professional era of sport has insisted that he not only be dedicated, but also devoted to nothing else other than his body and what he can and must make it do.

His mind is marginalised, unless it can help get more out of the body. His head tell him to stop when he feels pain but, being an elite athlete, he learns to not listen to it. In fact he may even enlist the support of a psychologist to assist him in ignoring the complaints, the doubts and the fear- the natural and normal fear- of his mind.

In essence we, as sports devotees, have insisted on creating beasts of physicality- who are masters of their bodies.
The cost, however, is the deterioration of their brains.

I am not refering to cognitive impairment as a result of excessive knocks to the head, but rather of an inability to distinguish between good decisions and bad ones- a lack of moral clarity.

Are we not expecting too much from athletes that they should be well mannered and exhibit impeccable etiquette in the public arena, when that part of the brain has been not only completely ignored during all of their training, but the voice in one's head has been viewed as the enemy throughout all of his training. And now we expect him to shed, along with his uniform, his mindset every time he leave the 'office'.

Accountants stays accountants at the bar- it is who they are. Sportsmen are sportsmen- in competition as well as out of it.

Perhaps we are expecting too much from our athletes...

Again I am not condoning this behaviour- I am just not surprised that it happens.

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