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WEEK-END SPORTS RIOTS - opportunity to do better?

by James F. Bracher

This past week end, Friday and Saturday, November 19 and 20, 2004, in Michigan and in South Carolina, viewers could observe two sports' riots. Brawl # one involved the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association (NBA), one of more of their players and some of their fans along with three members of the visiting Indiana Pacers. Players jumped up into the fan section and threw punches while fans threw food, doused drinks and even tossed a chair into the melee. The insanity of a few have given rise to conversations that stricter regulations will be considered for crowd, fan and player control and safety.

Brawl # two involved university football athletes from Clemson University and the University of South Carolina. One day after the Detroit chaos, younger athletes chose to taunt and fight with peers and ignore any laws of civility, including safety. Lest we too quickly condemn sports enterprises in some self-righteous pity party and simply "wring our hands" too soon and condemn the "passion" of fans and athletes, it is time to look in the mirror. This is not brand new behavior. We know the patterns and the habits that our society accepts and even sanctions and these "destructive actions" extend far beyond sports.

However, when a university basketball coach throws chairs and tantrums in full view of his players and fans, is fired for his actions, and then hired by another famous university for lots of money and perks, what is our society sanctioning and rewarding? Year after year major league baseball coaches kick dirt on umpires' shoes and scream "expletives" in their faces while players and fans cheer. Acceptable sports behavior has deteriorated not only for professionals but also for the "wanna' be's" who play at the collegiate level.

A decade ago, my wife and I flew 2500 miles, in the same section of an airline, with a West Coast team of the National Basketball Association. Their language, stories and behavior were foul, inappropriate and immature. Their "style" was more urban hoodlum than well paid professionals representing a storied franchise. What we experienced during the long flight with rich professional basketball players was crude and inappropriate. We discussed, even then, that the behavior we saw and heard was not appropriate and that their sensational athleticism, that appeared to thrill fans, could deteriorate into "show-boat" actions that had little to do with team work, but a great deal to do with self-promotion. We lost any interest in attending professional basketball games.

As seems obvious, the issue is not limited to sports. It is a social disease, a cultural cancer that erodes and eats away at the integrity, civility and safety of public settings, including driving on highways. Today, at least in some urban areas, the fear of road rage, being attacked or shot for simply honking a horn to alert a distracted or swerving driver, signals a level of personal and cultural anger that threatens to stifle social interactions, almost everywhere.

So, where does this "passion" for the "win and all costs" behavior gets it fuel? It was introduced and cultivated by the individuals who nurtured a generation of "sensory junkies." And, who are these people? Sensory junkies have been constructed by adults who believe television is a legitimate babysitter and that simply being in the room near someone is the same as legitimately relating with them. For too many young people, simply to get attention has evolved from a civil request to a rude demand. When children feel their only way to gain the spot light is to force the relationship by "acting out," then constructive and healthy behavior is spiraling downward, out of control.

When members of society, young or old, talented athlete or eager fan, feel that brutal is preferred to gracious and screaming is rewarded more than listening, then sensory junkies will accept that louder and more violent are always better, all the time; and, why not? Have you been watching news and talk shows, lately? These celebrity opinion-shaping "experts" yell at one another. They raise their volume. They are shrill and behave rudely. They routinely interrupt. Too large portion of "hot" music sounds angry and it is almost always played at such a high volume that it impairs hearing. Rock concerts become free-for-alls for whatever one can get by with. It's the way it has become. But, let's not rush to judgment that young people and Hollywood are the only ones to blame.

America has just come through a national election in which candidates enthusiastically attacked opponents personally. Their spin-doctors promoted "dis-information." Pundits peddled their own biases, building into a crescendo they described as irreconcilable "camps" that divide the nation. Both sides were encouraged to continue hiding behind rhetoric and engaging in few forthright efforts to build bridges and relationships. News organizations jumped on the bandwagon and today one can find a television channel, a radio station or a newspaper to support rigid positions, nurturing comfortable prejudices. Battle lines became the battle cry. The term "fight" seemed to be the verb of choice for those seeking votes. Maybe next time those who want to win an election will soften their rhetoric and simply state that they would like to "serve" their constituencies by "listening, assessing, reviewing, discussing and then deciding and taking action." Wouldn't that be a treat for all constituencies? It might reduce a culture of winners and losers and replace it with an environment of partnership and graciousness. Everyone understands victories and defeats, but there is no need to escalate organizational and operational preferences (the selection of one candidate over the other) into vicious personal attacks and scorched earth fisticuffs. Politics is not war, but a process of selecting leaders and the language used to promote it needs to reflect its nature: communication and cooperation.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, during the recent opening of the new Presidential Library in honor of William Jefferson Clinton he offered a powerful reminder to the passionate political partisans. He addressed the several Presidents, current and former, gathered in his honor, asking a perceptive question. His inquiry was presented, not only to them, but to the many in attendance as well as those observing the celebration via television. He asked if he were the only person in America who liked both President George Bush and Senator John Kerry. His point was a clear reminder that something has gone wrong in our culture's process, political and social, when to be right means that everyone who sees things differently must be wrong. When candidates and national parties allow their "passion" to boil over into personal attacks and cruel condemnations then there is no doubt that this poison bleeds into other areas of social activities, including sports and entertainment.

Vicious tones, political, social or economic, will not reduce the anger of the next generation. However, sensory junkies are encouraged by media moguls who are willing to give the public what it demands, continuously raising the bar for the sensational, the bombastic and the extreme. On television, many remember appreciatively the talk show culture of Art Linklater who brought us "Kids Say the Darndest Things." His approach has been replaced by the Jerry Springer style that plays to the lowest motives and behaviors of mass society, replacing smiles and warmth with filthy language and security officers hired to control capricious physical violence. On the talk shows of radio, the quiet conversations and charming guests of Arthur Godfrey have been displaced by Howard Stern's smut and outlandishness, taken to such a sensory junkie extreme that he now operates on a satellite channel, outside of almost any constraints.

What happened this past week-end at the collegiate and professional sports levels provides an opportunity to get serious about a much larger issue confronting our society: integrity and relationships. If you are disappointed by what you saw, read or heard about the physical violence in sports, then consider being inspired to bring integrity-centered changes to a culture that needs alternatives, now.

Five actions could expand the integrity conversation and bring civil behavior one step closer to realization. One way to reduce violence, social and cultural, is to:

  1. Applaud graciousness , wherever you see it; at home or during sports competition, in the conference room or simply during daily encounters.
  2. Compliment constructive conversations , mentioning the power of attentive listening.
  3. Solicit input from peers, to heighten self-awareness regarding the importance of being a role model, all the time, for those with whom we relate.
  4. Use the off buttons on radios and televisions to minimize the amount of energy spent listening to non-constructive noises (music, speeches, and programs) that create "sensory junkies" and invest time and energy in programs that educate the mind and build confidence in responsible relationships.
  5. Communicate, in writing, your appreciation to those who write, produce, direct and sponsor integrity-centered programs that you determine build a sense of worth for individuals. Communicate support for positive values that will enable those who will inherit this society to listen more than judge, seek clarification more than sell their own opinions and who will know that enthusiasm for an idea (cultural, political or economic) does not mean that they become zealots with a single-minded viciousness to destroy anyone who happens to have a different position or perspective. Yes, this can apply to entertainment, sports, news and education.

James F. Bracher

Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership
1400 Munras Avenue
Monterey, California 93940
831-373-0994 (fax)

Jim Bracher, architect for the renewal of integrity-centered leadership, created the Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership in 2002, as an extension of his 33 years advising individuals and organizations. Those who have sought Jim's counsel include entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and individuals addressing succession concerns. Jim's leadership development firm Dimension Five Consultants, Inc., of which he is Founder and Chairman, is located in Monterey, California, and was established in 1980.

Prior to Dimension Five, Jim, an ordained clergyman, served ten years as a chaplain, associate minister, and senior pastor. His assignments were Saint Louis Country Day School in Ladue, Missouri; Second Congregational Church in Greenwich, Connecticut; First Congregational Church in Terre Haute, Indiana; and Community Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel, California.

The motivation for the Bracher Center grew from suggestions of clients. They realized that Dimension Five was collecting data concerning effective and integrity-centered leadership that would enable leaders to gain insight into their own operational effectiveness as well as that of their organizations. Jim also saw a need for a Resources section on the website focused on learning, study, and knowledge concerning the role of integrity in effective leadership. The Bracher Center shares insights that have been gained by Dimension Five in consultation with 8,000 leaders.

Jim's education includes a Bachelor of Arts, Elmhurst College; and a Master of Divinity, Eden Theological Seminary. He has continued his education at Whittier College, The American School, Jerusalem, Israel, Oxford University and the Hudson Institute.

His work has been featured on network television, in national newspapers and business journals. He is the originator of the "Talking with Leaders" symposia. Jim writes a weekly newspaper column, Integrity Matters, and he is published in both English and Spanish.

Jim's professional experience includes advisory councils and boards of directors. Along with his own counselors and faculty at the Bracher Center, he restores integrity through insight.

Co-author of the book Integrity Matters with Daniel E. Halloran.