Monica Seles the Tragic Exception

Monica SelesA terrible anniversary passed by on April 30. If not for an article buried fairly deeply in the tennis section of ESPN I would have forgotten about it altogether. Twenty years ago on that day an obsessed fan dashed onto the tennis court in Hamburg, Germany and stabbed tennis great Monica Seles in the back. The wound was serious both physically and emotionally and Seles did not return to competitive tennis for over two years.

Fans of tennis were cheated out of many years watching her play to say nothing of the emotional damage done to Seles herself. Today I don’t want to spend too much time condemning the attack or wistfully imagining what might have been. The stabbing was horrible. The change of career trajectory to Seles a crime. These are true statements and I think no one will disagree. What I do want to discuss is the truly remarkable dearth of such attacks.

Sports fans are fanatical. Their willingness to attack one another inside and outside sports venues is well-known. Here in my home town of St. Louis it’s a rare Cubs or Blackhawks game that doesn’t result in at least a few punches. Red Sox and Yankee fans, Giants and Dodgers, Wolverines and Buckeyes, Crimson Tide and Tigers, these are fierce rivalries where trees are poisoned and fans are beaten. Despite this fever pitch of animosity there are rarely attacks on players. It’s as if some unspoken rule of sportsmanship prevents it.

Not only are players vulnerable at games but also in their daily lives where they interact with the public. A crazed fan could fairly easily attack the star player for a rival squad and yet it almost never happens. Why is that? What is the reason behind this restraint?

I can’t answer the question with any certainty but I can at least make a suggestion. Too often sport are associated with war. We go to war with the other team. We battle on the field of play. We fight for victory. Yet the reality is that sports is nothing like war. We play by rules, sometimes we push them, but we generally follow them. We don’t try to hurt our opponents, let alone kill them.

I hate the Cubs. There was a time in my youth when my hatred of the New York Mets was almost unquantifiable. Don Denkinger, I don’t like him. While it might cross my mind to harm those who dare play for the other team I know that such an action would be unsporting. If my team loses on the field because the other team did better, damn you Roy Oswalt, then I must accept it and wait for next year.

You might argue that I’m a rational fellow and there are plenty of people not as sane. I agree! That’s why I find the lack of physical attacks on opposing players to be so compelling. If crazy people, really crazy people, realize that it’s wrong to attack players for an opposing team; then sport must be doing something right. There is something in the fierce competition that brings morality, ethics. We root for our team, if they fail to win then we put away our disappointment and start getting ready for next year. Those most drunk amongst us may fight one another, but the players, they are off-limits.

This is a glorious thing. This is how life should be in all its aspects. We do our best. Our rival does the same. We play by the rules and, win or lose, come back next year to give it our best again. We weep in defeat but firm our resolve. This is society at its best. This is a nation at its best.

Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but I do love me some sports. Let’s Go Blues!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (A story of triumph over fear for only $2.99)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Bullied out of Tennis?

Rebecca MarinoThere’s an interesting story hitting the news today about a woman tennis player who is quitting at least partially because of the trolling attacks on her social media site. I find a number of things discouraging about this story and, of course, I’ll tell you all about it. First, let’s recap the facts.

Rebecca Marino is a largely unsuccessful 22-year old Canadian tennis player who made it to one final in her eight year professional career. Her top ranking was 38th in the world and she has since fallen out of the top 100. She suffered an injury late last year and lost in the first round of the Australian Open this year before withdrawing from future tournaments. It’s fairly safe to say that she was never going to be a top-ranked player in the Women’s Tennis Association. I’m not trying to be cruel here, I’m just giving background information. To be in the top 100 players in the world means she is an astonishingly good tennis player, just not good enough to be among the elite.

Her stated reason for retiring from the game is that she has been prone to depression for most of her life and that the constant barrage of negativity on her social networking pages contributed significantly enough to that depression that she felt quitting was a better choice for her mental health. It’s also possible that she realized her career was going nowhere and used this an excuse.

Looking at the comments to the story I think the initial reaction to this announcement is that people will tell her to just ignore the negative things and move on with life. I think ignoring the comments and moving on with life is great advice but when you are prone to depression it’s not as easy to follow as many might imagine. To begin with I’m not sure that everyone is fully acquainted with the lengths, depths, and disgusting depravity to which trollers stoop. I don’t want this blog to be about the problems associated with internet bullying and trolling but they are significant and I don’t want people to underestimate their power.

While I respect Rebecca’s decision I think it is a mistake. She should work hard on ignoring such attacks because giving in is the worst decision. Easier said than done but worth the effort. It’s not an easy road but I think she will be best served if she gets some help to learn how to deal with such vicious attacks. There is still plenty of time for her to change her mind and I hope that she does so.

There are many trollers out there who do it more for amusement than to cause pain. A troller who posts on a political story to get a reaction is not really making a horrific personal attack but it can get out-of-hand quickly. Civil discourse is a good thing for you and for this nation.

I’m of the opinion that when a troller makes vile posts they are really hurting their own sense of self-worth in the long run. It’s not worth it. Making a positive contribution is the best feeling you will ever have. Give it a try.

In summation I guess I’d say there is no final answer. There will always be those who hide behind anonymity to say awful things and words do hurt. I hope Rebecca decides to return to tennis and I hope that some trollers out there decide they’d rather do something positive with their free time. That is their decision. In the end we are only responsible for ourselves.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Dumb Platitudes Day Three – Give 110%

PlatitudeDay three of my attack on inane and stupid platitudes I’ve seen on Facebook! Today I take on the sporting world. How many of you have heard someone say, I gave one hundred and ten percent? I think I could spend a week or two on dumb sports platitudes alone but I decided to choose this one because it is largely used as an excuse for failure or a dangerous encouragement to over do your effort.

As with most platitudes it is issued with fairly good intentions but the reality of it is that it gives people an unrealistic idea of what is expected of them or of the performance they’ve just witnessed.

I think the first thing to do here is to examine the idea of what giving one hundred and ten percent is intended to convey. It essentially means that a person gives their maximum effort and is usually invoked before or after a sporting event.

Relatively obviously it is impossible to give more than one hundred percent so the platitude causes me to roll my eyes right from the beginning. However, I want to give the expression a more in-depth examination.

The main reason I think it is dangerous is when used before an event to exhort someone to maximum effort. “C’mon team, we have to give it one hundred and ten percent to win”. Giving your all is definitely a good thing. When we are trying to achieve something it is important to give our best effort, otherwise the chance of failure increases. However, I am of the opinion that one hundred and ten percent means, or at least implies, something different than giving our best effort. It means to strain our bodies past their breaking point.

A good example of this is my yoga classes. When I started yoga I took the beginner classes and in them the instructor usually did a good job of explaining how to position my body so as to avoid injury. There was plenty of time spent on instruction and probably not as much on actual yoga practice itself. As I moved to the intermediate classes I immediately encountered instructors who switched quickly from strenuous position to strenuous position without much time making sure people were doing them safely. This is probably not a bad thing as the students in the more advanced classes want less instruction and more yoga. However, it does increase the possibility of injury. If I give one hundred and ten percent in a yoga class I’ll end up injured.

Another thing I often see when people are overly encouraged is an initial burst of energy which wanes over the course of an event. Sometimes giving your best means pacing your effort for the length of the race. When we exhort people to give one hundred and ten percent I think the message is often taken as “Go all out”. This is almost always a counterproductive plan of action. By reserving our energy for crucial moments and pacing our output we are far more likely to succeed.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen tennis matches where a player tanks a set to reserve energy and comes back to win the match. When you are down 5 – 0 the chances of winning the set decrease and the expenditure of energy can be counterproductive. I’m not exactly a fan of giving up either so there is a flip-side to this argument. I think judicious use of reserves is generally a good plan.

The other time we frequently see the platitude is by a player after a game or match. It is usually meant to convey that they tried as hard as possible. I prefer the platitude, “I left it all on the field”. This to me conveys that they tried their best, played their best, but the other player or team just had more on that day. To me, that is victory even in defeat. Whenever I can honestly say I did my best I have a good feeling about my effort, win or lose.

Conversely, when I hear someone say they gave one hundred and ten percent my immediate reaction is that they didn’t give their best effort and are trying to pretend they did. Maybe that’s unfair but that’s the way I see it.

So, everyone out there, give it your best!

Thanks for reading and Comment, Tweet, Link, Share, Stumble, Digg, Pinterest, and all the rest!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist