Have you ever stopped to think about whether professional athletes are actually friends?
On one hand, as we have always stated, it would behoove athletes in the same sport to recognize that they are all on the same team when it comes to being in the same union. There is no reason to fight with members of other teams within the same sport for that reason alone, let alone that it is just plain wrong. After all, they all want the same thing: a fair wage to play a game for a living.
But on the other hand, think about how players on the same team have to compete with not only the players in the other dugout or on the other sideline, but on their own team as well. If a player isn't performing well, he will usually be replaced by another player. It becomes a competition within the same team to make sure that playing time is earned so as to avoid the "business" of sports where a slumping athlete will be benched for someone who might produce.
A similar comparison might be two actors who are both auditioning for the same part. Or even just two professionals both trying to get the same job. Colleagues under the same heading (and perhaps in the same union) must now fight for work just to be on the proverbial playing field where the actual work might happen!
The common response to this is that "it's a business." The business is to produce the best possible product so that the bottom line continues to grow. Success is defined by the income brought in, not the quality of the work.
It's not something that is changed easily (or even needs to necessarily be changed). But it does deserve a second thought when it comes to trying to empathize with others. Perhaps some of the lessons learned in this conundrum can be extrapolated into our lives.
As we return to the book "No Contest" by Alfie Kohn, an interesting thesis is presented. We discuss competition as it relates to sports. We've even examined it at the workplace. But what happens when it comes home?
A quote from Walter Weisskopf cited by Kohn notes that competitors eventually sprout in the forms of "sex partners, siblings, neighbors, and peers of his group." It's no wonder that a slang term for bedding a lover is "scoring!"
But think back to elementary days when emotions and attractions were not what drove someone towards a partner, but rather the competition to call him or her "yours" and parade him or her around like an object to be shown off.
Think of even more complex questions that could develop later into relationships as adulthood presses on. Perhaps partners wonder who has the bigger paycheck, the most friends, or the sharper wit, to quote Kohn.
What happens when a child is born? Could there be a competition as to which parent will be preferred by the child? Could multiple children signal a competition for who is Mommy's or Daddy's favorite? Do parents begin to compete with other parents as they socialize, wondering whose infant walked or talked first? Does it continue as it is compared as to whose teenager got into the better college?
As you can see from these suppositions, anxiety is probably knocking at the door!
The point here, though, is that a conscious awareness that we have the potential to bring this type of setting home with us may just diffuse it and prevent it from even happening. We are practicing good sportsmanship when we realize that none of these things should be a competition! There is no ultimate prize in winning any of these games! A perceived status or quick and short-lived gratification do not feed the ultimate desires of being human.
Instead of feeding this beast, work to celebrate each individual accomplishment for what it is: individual. It's not a game when it comes to this stuff.
During Week 4 of the 2018 NFL season, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas suffered a broken leg on the play that ended his season. As he was being carted off the field, he gave the middle finger...to his own bench.
Read that again.
Why would a player do that?
You see, Thomas was holding out for a better contract prior to the start of the season and didn't get it. Therefore, when his season was cut short due to this injury, he no longer had any leverage in trying to earn additional money. Further, who knows if his career has taken a hit based on the nature of the injury? Some teams may not want to shell out money for his contract knowing he suffered such an injury.
The "hold out" for better contracts in the NFL is an interesting topic because it doesn't happen in certain other sports for a variety of reasons. In fact, it doesn't happen much else in life. If you sign a contract, you are obligated to fulfill your responsibilities assigned with that contract unless the other party or parties breach or violate the contract. Just ask any judge.
But in the NFL, there are some factors that make you begin to understand why players might hold out.
First, take a look at the career length of football players. It's very short. The physical nature of the sport does not bode well for people to wish to last long in the league. You're more likely to end your career due to an injury than to choose when it's time to retire.
Now, here's the big one. Unlike other sports, the money owed to NFL players is not guaranteed unless it specifically says so in the contract. So if you are cut from a team, the money stops. That's not how it works in a sport such as Major League Baseball: if a team releases you, they are obligated to pay you the remainder of the contract (with the possibility of a slight reduction in cost if another team signs you).
Therefore, NFL players hold out for better contracts in order to help guarantee that they will be financially secure if something happens to them physically and cannot work. Think of it as a form of insurance.
None of this excuses Thomas. His gesture, although understood, was probably not the best idea. And perhaps he should have taken the smart route and continued to hold out. But it focuses a light on something else: the system that governs the payroll structure of football players contains a flaw based on the ability to hold out, and it has consequences on multiple sides.
Imagine if your NFL team went from being a playoff contender to a hopeless pretender because your best player decides he wants more money. Would you immediately blame him?
The point here is that there is no clear cut answer. There are no heroes. This is more about debunking certain myths and asking people to take a step back and consider the bigger picture, which is one of the staples at understanding sportsmanship.
Blog news update!
Beginning this month, we'll be changing the frequency of our blog posts to monthly. A new post will be released on the third Wednesday of each month at noon.
This change reflects the success of our podcast, "How You Play The Game," available now on iTunes, Google Podcasts, PodBean, and other sites. It comes out the first and fifteenth of each month and can come to your mobile device automatically with a free subscription.
Whereas "How You Play The Game" will focus on the current events in the world of sportsmanship, "The Strike Zone" will focus on the science and philosophy of sportsmanship. We hope to examine deep topics such as self-esteem, competition, anxiety, abuse, and others that relate to how people compete and interact during such competitions.
Thank you for being a loyal reader of "The Strike Zone!" As always, treat others with respect!
Have you ever had a bad day? Have you ever had a bad day at work (or, if you're young, at school)?
If the answer is anything other than a resounding "yes," stop reading now because you do not exist.
Now, you may go to an office for your job. If you don't go to an office, you probably go to some "place" to do a job. (Even someone self-employed has to go somewhere, even in the house, to do their job.) Do you know where people involved with sports go when they go to the office?
It may be described in a number of ways: the field, the stadium, the park, etc. It all means the same thing. But if you're a professional athlete or official, your office is literally the playing field.
So if a star athlete has a poor performance, is it not fair to say he or she had a bad day at the office? Does that give others the right to boo that athlete and make sure he or she knows that fans disapprove of their performance?
Let's put it another way: if you're having a bad day at the office, how would you feel if people who didn't work at your office came into your office and just verbally abused you over the job you were doing?
If the answer is anything other than a resounding "bad," stop reading now because you do not exist.
The next time you're not happy with a player or an official at any level in any capacity, keep one thing in mind: that person is trying very hard to do their best. Your negative critique isn't helping and serves no purpose.
This past MLB season saw something happen that not many people noticed:
The World Umpire Association (WUA), which is union that represents MLB umps, rebranded as the Major League Baseball Umpires Association (MLBUA), and became the fifth of the "big five" professional team sports to have a major online presence through websites and social media.
MLB umpires join officials from the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLS as becoming more transparent to the public. Granted, the public will probably go the way of abusing this privilege (see the #RefWatchParty that occurred during the NBA Finals), but the intent to keep the conversation open and ongoing is a fantastic thing.
The union has actually been very active on Twitter (@MLBUA), showcasing good calls by umpires in an attempt to educate the general public on how they work. Possibly the best part of this work, however, is even more highlights for the UMPS CARE charity.
Officials in these major sports take unfortunate abuse from the uneducated public. Players, coaches, and the media have a tendency to speak and act in ways that do not represent the educated point of view of the official. These actions speak to a psychological issue of scapegoating, leaving the officials as the common enemy among rivals.
The officials are tired of being treated as sub-humans. These platforms will allow their voices to be heard. The public would be smart to recognize this and know they are proud to uphold the integrity of the game and do their job.
On August 31, 2018, a feat occurred in a baseball game between the Yankees and Tigers that doesn't happen too often: both managers were ejected.
Aaron Boone (Yankees) was ejected by Home Plate Umpire Nic Lentz for arguing balls and strikes. Ron Gardenhire (Tigers) was ejected by First Base Umpire Paul Nauert for arguing a check swing no-call. Both cases contained an element of absurdity that further proves that the theater of baseball disqualifications regarding managers is not only a joke to the game, but also an abhorrent way to influence others who witness it.
Boone took exception with the strike zone of Lentz to the point where he made contact with the umpire and put on a demonstration in a catcher's crouch that did nothing more than delay the game and solidify his ignorance towards the arbiters of the game. What Boone probably didn't know is that, according to the official plot of the zone after the game by Brooks Baseball Pitch f/x tool, Lentz really only missed two pitches the entire game.
Further, Boone was clearly upset at his team's lack of offense and used the ejection as a way to "fire up" his team. This translates to the idea of yelling vociferously at an innocent umpire to vent your frustrations over your own team's inability to hit with the hope that your players decide to change their ways somehow.
The fact of the matter is that these arguments are rarely filled with the tirade we think they are. Usually, the manager is yelling about how bad his team is, leaving the umpire the unfortunate target of hate where the fans usually pile on him as the bad guy for tossing the manager (assuming it's the home team). In fact, even if the manager is yelling about his displeasure with an umpire, the confrontation has the ability to make even a professional umpire begin to question his calls, resulting in more displeasure.
On the flip side, Gardenhire was ejected when Nauert ruled that Yankees hitter Luke Voit did not swing at a pitch. It was a close pitch and a tough call to make in real time, but the replay seemed to make me think the call was incorrect: Voit did offer at the pitch. Gardenhire's argument resulted in ridiculous accusations that Nauert could obviously see through, but it wasn't until the argument finished that it was clear it was a joke of an argument.
As soon as Gardenhire turned around to walk back to the clubhouse, he looked right at Voit who was standing on first base (the no-call resulted in a walk) and asked him, "Did you swing?" as he walked by, followed by a smirk .
Even Gardenhire knew this was a joke.
A few days later, Boone was hit with a one-game suspension for making contact with Lentz during the confrontation. To quote Boone:
"I was arguing, I got kicked out of the game, I reacted how I reacted. Unfortunately, I got a little too close, and I do regret that. I always want to be in control of my emotions, to a degree. But sometimes you also have to state your claim and defend certain things that are important. I definitely shouldn't have nicked his cap."
In this brief statement, we got a cop-out about responsibility for one's actions and emotions as well as evidence of misplaced priorities. No mention of an apology...no mention that Lentz actually was doing a good job...just a lame way of getting around talking about something where Boone was at fault.
Sorry, Aaron. Cancer is important. Poverty is important. Borderline pitches are not.
We've praised Janis Meredith before for her work as a parenting coach. She recently wrote an article on a topic we have discussed many times before: abuse of officials. Her thesis: how to stop it.
Meredith begins by doing the obvious and the easy: telling people to JUST STOP. You would think it should be that easy, but unfortunately, it's not always that simple. She goes on to give three steps to assist with the process:
1. Sit down. Many parents get up close and personal (or within earshot) of officials so they are sure officials can hear them. If you want to stop it, just find a seat and relax.
2. Imagine the official is your child. In the vein of "treat others as you would wish to be treated," take a moment to imagine how you would feel if you observed someone berating your child in the same way that you might berate an official. Doesn't feel so good, does it?
3. Remember who is watching. Can you imagine what would happen if someone used their phone to record your poor behavior and spread it everywhere? You could lose your job, among other things, if your employer didn't want you associated with the company after seeing it!
If that's not enough for you, then become an official. After a year, you'll change your tune. Trust me.
Put aside the tumultuous ride that was Mike Francesa's "retirement" and return to sports talk radio in New York for a second and look at where his content and opinion is headed in the future.
Francesa has been very clear that much of his future plans involve interaction with fans (as sports talk radio usually does), but it goes beyond just calling in to his show. He has an app for fans to use. In conjunction with this plan, he did something that he said he would never do (until they told him to do it): join Twitter.
In an interview with ThePostGame.com, Francesa was asked about his methodology for Tweeting, and the answer is not surprising because it works: negativity sells.
Think about it. Whether you read, watch, or listen to any news, be it sports, politics, or any other topic that gets reported, discussed, and dissected, the negative news gets far more play than the positive news. The report about the good deeds being done at the local animal shelter are pushed to the last segment of the local newscast so that doom and gloom can headline the show.
The same goes in sports. The discussion about a player's inept play gets far more attention than the praise of a masterful performance. People are looking for heads to roll or a target to point their finger when their team doesn't win, and this type of outlet feeds that.
Nobody is suggesting that sports talk in any form should be eliminated. Debating sports is a great escape. But perhaps all sports fans need to take a step back and savor the sport for what it is: sport. It's supposed to be fun and entertaining. It is never supposed to be life and death.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.