This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture


sports, fighting and the trials of testosterone

This Magazine Staff

image courtesy a French blog
It’s the season of the shove, apparently, among professional male athletes, and whether they do it with their hands, their heads or a weasely bit of graffiti on the clubhouse chalkboard, the boys of summer are all trying to make up for hockey’s diminished physicality by stirring it up themselves. And what’s weirder than the increased scrapping, are some of the reactions to it in the sports press.
First, there was the Zidane head butt. I wrote about that one earlier. Oh the shame, oh the black mark on a brilliant career. A gentlesportsman must always keep his head, even when the racist and personal remarks start flying. It’s all part of the game. Etc.
Is Zidane any less a national hero in France a month and a half after his moment of insanity? One of the beautiful things about all beautiful games is that as time passes, the winners and losers fade a bit into history, while the great stories stay fresh. There was a narrative written on that day in July about a great man who sacrifices immense glory for personal honour. My guess is more will remember that story longer than they will the final score of the game.
Anybody? The final score of the World Cup final?
Then there’s Paul Tracy, the Canadian race car driver who spent most of the last month auditioning for the Ricky Bobby sequel. Tracy has developed a habit of crashing out of races, often taking someone with him. He’s kind of a human road hazard to his fellow drivers, and lately they’ve been holding it against him. Twice now Tracy has been involved in post-race, or at least post-crash confrontations/fist fights. The big issue there on sports call in shows — why don’t his opponents take off their helmets when they offer to fight, like real men? I wonder why Tracy doesn’t finish a race behind the wheel of his car, like a real driver.
And finally, my beloved Blue Jays. A month or so back, first basewhiner Shea Hillenbrand was sent to San Francisco after what was widely reported as a verbal confrontation with manager John Gibbons. The verbs, apparently, involved an invitation to dance, with fists. This after Hillenbrand reportedly wrote disparaging graffiti in the clubhouse.
Gibbons, an ex-player himself, just oozes that strange laid-back intensity you get from some baseballers. He lounges on the bench, spitting tobacco juice and watching every detail of the game through half-closed eyes. He was a catcher, the physically toughest of all the positions, and so far he’s exhibited a better than average baseball mind, pushing the play with aggressive base-running, and toughing it out in pro ball’s most competitive division despite a disastrous pitching staff.
Everyone’s heard about last night’s altercation between Gibbons and starting pitcher Ted Lilly. Lilly was going to lose the game. Gibbons, an all-star manager, thought he’d try to prevent that. Lilly yelled at him on the mound. Later, there was… something… in the tunnel to the clubhouse. Was it a fistfight, a shoving match or just more angry words? No one’s sharing details.
Watching televised reports, the official sports media consensus seemed to be that Lilly should be traded and Gibbons fired. They’d both disrespected the team with childish behaviour, and poisoned the clubhouse with their animosity. This opinion is echoed in much of the newspaper coverage today. So not only are the athletes shoving each other around, but the journalists are getting in on the act as well.
Talk radio had a radically different take, maybe because they took the radical step of talking to both men as though they were real people — people who get angry and lose their self-control sometimes. John Gibbons appeared on local Toronto sports radio this morning and spoke of embarrassment, responsibility and a wish to move on. Lilly did the same in a postgame chat.
What’s most interesting to me are the replayed images of the Blue Jay dugout and management box during and after the confrontations. Look at the other players. I swear, to a man they are all suppressing the giggles. Blue Jay General Manager, J.P. Ricciardi was caught on camera with a huge smile on his face. These guys are right in the middle of all this rage, and their reactions speak volumes about how we should view it. Nasty words were thrown around, people vented their pent-up frustration (the Jays have recently pretty much blown the season), and while it looked bad for a minute there, two men wound up controlling their physical natures and did not brawl. This morning, true professionals, they’d both like to move on. By comparison, Shea Hillenbrand took the opportunity of the altercation to send a few more nasty jabs all the way from SanFran.
It’s embarrassing — it really is — but men fight. It’s a chemical thing, and the best men are the ones who can wrestle control over the raging elements in their souls and either stop the madness before it happens (Gibbons, Lilly), or own up to it when they fail to do so (Zidane). Then there are the jerks, and those include the guys who start fights and then pretend to be victims. I’d rather my kids watched men than jerks, so let’s not fire anybody after last night.
Oh — and sitting above the jerks and the flawed men on that spectrum are the zen masters. If you can catch a replay, check out Blue Jay ace pitcher Roy Halladay during last night’s tunnel fight. The bench clears as everyone runs into the tunnel to see what’s going on, but Halladay stays seated, his face a slightly bemused mask of The Dude, Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski.
The Dude abides, man. The Dude abides.

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