Sports Bites: Concussions, Bullying, Weakness, Oh My! Part 3.




Bullying has become a buzzword in the media because the advent of social media, it’s become something more pervasive than we as a society feel comfortable with. Kids have, and will, always bully other kids. It’s part of the socialization process where members of a group find their place. When young people who are emotionally and intellectually immature are self conscience about their place in the social order, they bully other young people. And the lengths they will go to can be shocking. Young people are cruel, they are thoughtless about the effects of what they say to others. There are no real solutions other than making it very clear what behaviours young people should not take part in, and trying to enforce those boundaries in a mindful and compassionate way.

What if bullying is a part of a culture, not an active form of bullying but a deeply engrained way of thinking that dictates a common practice within a sub culture.  The issues of concussions in sports and bullying begin to dovetail when you look at the culture of bullying in sport. Hazing is common place in sport even if it is just the veterans shitting on the way rookies are making a block or cutting back a run.* This common practice has a two fold purpose, to teach new members of the social group the proper practices of the group and to enforce hierarchy within the group.

The men’s locker room, even when it is not a work place, is a realm of hyper masculinity**.  Egos are allowed to run freer than normal, social hierarchies quickly begin to form. Bullying is much more accepted by the group because it is usually wrapped in a veil of mischief and fun. I can take the piss out of another guy with the best of them,*** but the shit talking and the grab assing is never even. There is always a person who is the perpetual butt of the joke, there is always the guy who can dish it out but can never take it, there are always the few people who do their best to avoid the fray with minimal psychological injury or bodily fluids spilled. Everything I have read or heard about the atmosphere of a professional locker room is that it’s exactly like your own experiences just with the volume turned up to 11. Nothing is out of bounds, good fun turns quickly into personal attacks, and if you want to survive you must embrace that culture. Is it so crazy to believe that this hyper masculinity would also cross over to players bullying other players into playing while injured? Or players fearing that treatment avoiding medical attention?

Professional sport has a long and celebrated history of their players playing through horrific injury. Whether it’s; Bobby Baun playing on a broken leg and scoring a Stanley Cup winning goal for the Leafs, Ronnie Lott getting his often broken finger amputated instead of taking time off to let it heal or Bret Favre’s legendary pain tolerance carrying him to an improbable consecutive games streak, the marketing machine behind professional sports have always used the idea or a “warrior mentality” to spin how stupid athletes are for playing through injury.

I know this idea of sacrificing the body for your team better than most people who write about food and wine. In grade 12, I seriously injured my knee playing football and because I didn’t want to let my teammates down, I returned to the game. A few knee surgeries later and a nice blast of pain every time it gets damp out I am not disabled but I do regret my decision. I also played hockey and football after concussions because I faked being ok. I knew I was injured, but from an early age I was told by sporting culture that this sacrifice was noble one. Professional sport is to this very day the biggest broadcaster of this idea, and in professional sports the motivation of money amplifies this idea of the nobility of playing while injured.

This idea of sacrifice for ones team or for the integrity of the sport is not, on its own, negative. However making sacrifice of one’s body expected within the culture of sport, it loses its virtue. When men in a locker room suddenly are able to have more effect on their teammate’s decision making about their health than a doctor, we have a huge problem.  People seem to think of bullying is about an active instance of abuse or hazing, but the furthering of a culture of stupidity may be more harmful.

*And I don’t mean down their throats or physically upon them in any way.(this is my Incognito footnote)

**I cannot speak to the culture in women’s locker rooms but I have a feeling that they touch their genitals to each other’s faces at least 50% less than men.

***That was an unfortunate way to phrase that.