Facing Violence: Crosscurrents and the Cornerstone of Trust in American Sport, Health, and Wellness

The Boston Marathon bombings uniquely symbolize the intersection of political violence and criminality with sport, in which the runners were innocent victims, not participants. In Boston, the violence reached out from outside the sport and attacked with vehemence. What a heartbreaking milestone to run past, but overcome it we must. We can’t let it become a stumbling block, but a resolute call to change.

As I write this, not only has an MIT police officer been shot down, but Boston Police have just engaged two young men with backpacks in a gun battle according to the NY Times; one suspect reportedly threw a bomb at police, and the other drove off through their barricade in an SUV.

The infection of criminal gangrene in sports had already been spread enough by gangland violence, sex, drugs, betting, and boozing from high school to college to pro ball players. Now we have terrorism?

Then there are the heat of passion murder suspects, acquitted after gloves didn’t fit, only to fall to lesser charges; the worst of child-predators in an assistant university football coach; and the long list of banned gymnastic coaches exposed by  the Orange County Register’s Mike Reid; and finally, the visceral criminal antics of athletes who assault women, wives, girlfriends, and prostitutes. After these, an illegal dog-fighting, gambling footballer seems like a cub scout.

The ethical slime on sports has spread via Olympian dopers; Tour de France dopers; a PGA tour champion and sex addict dissing family and fans; the squalid sexualization of Olympians in the Olympic village by a media and entertainment industry itself hopelessly twisted; a Laker cheating on his wife in a Vail hotel; and many, many more ugly hits on the integrity, health, and character-building potential of sport. How did we get here? That’s way beyond this post, but worth thinking about. This much is true: Forgetting history is not a good formula for success.

Can we credibly talk about health, fitness, and wellness without confronting the violence, disintegration, and addiction coursing through the veins of American culture and sport? I don’t think so. There’s something deeper we must resolve.

The Boston Marathon bombing saw political violence encroach on sport as happened to Israeli athletes in Uganda, prompting the 1977 raid on Entebbe. Such violations should wake us up to action. Not only has violence tainted sport, but children’s and college academics. There have been 387 school shootings in the United States since 1992 according to StopTheShootings.org. NEA bullying stats cited in this 2012 piece tell their own story. And these juvenile violence statistics were cited by a book published over ten years ago. There has been a uncivilizing trend in public schools despite the well established premise that schools should teach civilized values.

By the time the Sandy Hook Elementary assault happened, Newtown and all other school officials throughout the country knew or should have known about the 386 other shootings preceding theirs. And yet the Superintendent of Sandy Hook has told the press that there isn’t much more they could have done to prevent the assault. And yet money gets armored cars and armed guards. Celebs get bodyguard teams. Politicians get security services. Kids get bureaucrats’ excuses after they get shot. In other words, our sickness is on this order: money, fame, and power get more protection than children in schools. This is all upside down.

Per capita aggravated assaults in the US increased seven times between 1957 and 1993 according to information cited by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his book On Combat. It seems violence had increased, with some stalling in the 90’s, then picking up again. And I recall some spikes in parental violence during children’s games in the past decade. This dissertation surveys the literature about that from 2000-2012.

The violence sickness may seem a rare percentage risk in our daily lives, however, when we add up the convergence of the above factors, there can be risk convergence and multiplication. No doubt depression has its role, not only in America, but internationally.

What is amazing about the Boston Marathon bombings is that sport, exercise, and training combats depression, anger, and other ailments. So the Boston Marathon attack was tantamount to the patients refusing treatment attacking those undergoing treatment (running the race).

The cornerstone of health and wellness without violence is mutually earned and learned trust. Sport, art, and work are pathways to building such trust among us. Where cultural and social trust is, there is cohesion. Lack of trust and cohesion is a vacuum in a fuel chamber drawing in the fuel of violence.

Where sport and athleticism becomes corrupt, a major social component for learning character at a young age is lost. My gut tells me that grassroots, independent athleticism will help renew American sportsmanship, character, and ethics. We need individual commitment without regard to winning or losing, much as was the ethos for UCLA teams playing under Coach John Wooden. The ethic of excellence was more important than numeric victory, as Wooden wanted his athletes judging their performance according to what they were truly capable of, not by the temporary win or loss.

3 thoughts on “Facing Violence: Crosscurrents and the Cornerstone of Trust in American Sport, Health, and Wellness

  1. What an interesting and well-considered perspective, Mike. You make so many good points, including the one about the important role of grassroots athleticism in renewing sportsmanship, character, and ethics. I completely agree.

    (Interesting that you quoted Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, as I quoted from another of his books in my most recent blog post, which was also prompted by the events in Boston.)

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