The current attempts at highlighting the incidence of domestic violence committed by highly paid athletes in the US may well come as a surprise only to those who are new to sport. The US media are selling the stories as though this is a new phenomenon and that they are so very interested in seeing it come to an abrupt end.
The reality may well be that domestic violence perpetrated by professional athletes tends to blind us to the twin side of this phenomenon, violence in sport.
Kevin Quinn writing in the Marist observed, ‘In today’s sports world, the high premium placed on victory and the fan’s desire to see intense human conflict, has allowed violence to become an accepted part of sports.
‘Violence is craved by America’s entertainment industry and the same goes for America’s sports industry. In sports such as, hockey, football, and even baseball, violence has become an accepted part of the game.
‘A’Don Allen, sports director for ABC News Channel 36, in Elmira, New York, said that in hockey it is the fighting that keeps fans coming back to games.
‘ “The entire arena erupts with cheering when there are fights,” said Allen, adding, ‘ “Even if their team is losing, the fans still get excited when they see two players pummeling each other” ’ (http://www.academic.marist.edu/mwwatch/spring03/articles/Sports/sportsfinal.html)
The Caribbean media have been only too anxious to join their US counterparts in producing sensationalism and have elevated this to the point of it being normative.
The truth is that we have allowed ourselves to grow accustomed to violence in our respective societies such that we almost see it as normal. It is this disturbing reality that leaves us operating like veritable brutes.
Socialisation into violence
It was interesting to hear Charles Barkley’s comments on the recent domestic violence case involving a highly valued US athlete. He noted that in different States in the US people are brought up differently. He observed that in certain parts of the US most parents would have been in trouble with the authorities had certain laws been in place. In other words, parental beating of children is an acceptable option in several States as far as he is concerned, whatever about concerns being raised in different quarters about the abuse of children by their parents.
There is an interesting calypso by popular calypsonian, Baron, titled, Back To The Wes Indies. In the calypso Baron chides the US laws that seek to protect children from abusive parents. He cites what they in the US refer to child abuse and observes in the Caribbean the philosophy of spare the rod and spoil the child has been quite effective. As he puts it, …up to now none ah we eh dead…we pushin’ positive head.
However, Baron sings …If yuh want him kneel on ah grater, take him to Guyana. In another line he sings … If he playin’ man at fourteen, take him to de Grenadines. If yu wah tuh beat off he clothes, take him to Barbados.
We sit back and laugh at the content of the calypso completely ignoring the fact that times have changed and that while society generally accepted that kind of behaviour at the time it is no longer the case today.
Interestingly we also failed to take stock of the impact that this approach would have on our children as they grow up in our respective societies. Today we may well be paying the penalty for our intransigence.
Violence in sport
There is a sense in which analysts are suggesting that the domestic violence associated with high-level players in sport is directly related to the violence that they would have experienced or been exposed to in their growing up years. There is also a claim that these athletes tend to be violent on the field of play as much as they are off the field of play.
There are several sports that deliberately promote violence on the field of play and together with the media, give accolades to the most violent.
The international football federation, FIFA, took an inordinately long time before it recognized that part of the strategy of some team managers and coaches was to have some of their players deliberately take out the best opponents during a game. The intention was to deliberately injure the best players of opposing teams so that one’s own team would stand a better chance of victory.
FIFA has since insisted that referees pay due attention and protect the best players on the field to avoid the game descending into disrepute.
FIFA’s action has not in any way stopped teams from engaging in actions that are inimical with the spirit of sportsmanship that has been extolled around the world for decades.
We witness the rabid racism that continues to be in evidence in football matches in Europe and which may well exist in other parts of the world.
Suarez’s biting of players during competitive football games is evidence of violence of another sort that was only associated with Mike Tyson in his encounter with Evander Holyfield several years ago.
The tackle on Brazil’s Neymar that ruled him out of the rest of the World Cup stands as an excellent example of the level of disrespect that players, coaches and team managers now have for the rules of the sport. That the individual player who lunged into Neymar was not immediately shown the red card stands as a reflection of the readiness of some officials to accept violence as part of the game and makes a mockery of FIFA’s claim to protect the best players on the field.
It was ridiculous to watch some of the games in the recently concluded FIFA World Cup and accept that the governing body for the sport could in any way feel comfortable with the standard of the game in respect of the growing violence on the field of play.
The National Hockey League (NHL) is another example of built-in violence in the sport. Stories abound of the deliberate inculcation of a culture of violence in the NHL and these from athletes who were trained to deliberately injure opponents so their teams could emerge victorious. In their latter years these former sport thugs are themselves plagued with injuries that have caused them some measure of emotional distress and ultimately remorse for their cruelty to others in the past.
Other forms of violence in sport
There are forms of violence in sport that we tend to sweep aside but which are just as vicious and demands our attention.
Coaches have a tendency to push athletes well beyond their limits too early in their sporting life. This is a form of violence in sport.
The idea of no pain, no gain, is indeed violence against the athlete who is not yet capable of accepting such rigorous training.
There are some coaches who seem to think that they can manufacture a world-class athlete in short order. This is not possible even with phenomenal athletes.
It usually takes between six to eight years to produce a world-class athlete. The athlete has to pass through several developmental stages to attain elite status. I few fast-track this process there is the likelihood of serious damage to the individual athlete at the physiological level as well as psychologically.
It is common to find some athletes being elevated by their coaches and the media to star status at a very early age, long before maturation, only to find them leaving the sport also at an early age. They suffer from burnout.
Coaches have a tendency to convince parents who lack the knowledge about training regimens and their children’s development that the potential seen in their children can only be brought to fruition only if they are pressed into action as demanded by the coach.
It is amazing to see athletes hiding from their coaches to cry because of the pain that they encounter at some training sessions.
Some coaches thrive on instilling fear in the athletes to commit them to adhering rigidly to the established training regimen he/she has developed.
Too many of our athletes leave this or that sport because of being forced to specialize too early in life.
Given our maturation process in St Vincent and the Grenadines there is no reason to commit any athlete to specialization before they attain the age of 15. Prior to that the athlete should be allowed to engage in a variety of sports and disciplines within the different sports to gat a feel for which of them seem to allow for him to use his abilities and develop competencies. Unfortunately this is not the norm in Vincentian society and increasingly so in the wider Caribbean.
One has only to ask the question about the more than 70% of Jamaica’s Carifta athletes who have left the sport. By 20 many of them are tired and burnt out.
We have also practiced violence in sport by the deliberate omission of students from engagement in physical activity and sport at our educational institutions because they do not readily adopt the skills or seem slow to learn them.
Parents must begin to take greater interest in the overall development of their children and resist every attempt at perpetrating violence in the home. Children learn what they see and if domestic violence is practised they will come to accept it as part of the culture of the family and society.
The family must provide a home that is conducive to engagement in dialogue about all aspects of the child’s development and the importance of seeking alternative means of conflict resolution.
Teachers at our educational institutions, at all levels, must spend time educating students about conflict resolution mechanisms throughout their school careers so that it becomes a way of life.
Teachers must work with coaches and physical trainers to adopt an approach to physical education and sport that matches level of activity with physical and emotional developmental stages of the respective individuals.
Our national sports associations need to pay more attention to the work of their coaches to ensure that training is undertaken in a safe environment, physically and psychologically. We cannot have coaches exerting undue pressure of athletes such that the matter are forced to accept that what amounts to a form of brutality is the best way to train and prepare for competition and that one’s opponent is the enemy to be defeated at all cost.
We have always been told that sport brings to the table a number of positive values for life. We must be able to work as a collective to facilitate exposing our athletes to the positives to be gleaned from participation in sport.
After all, our sportspeople are an integral part of our respective societies.