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
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
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
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,
- Applaud graciousness , wherever
you see it; at home or during sports competition,
in the conference room or simply during daily encounters.
- Compliment constructive conversations ,
mentioning the power of attentive listening.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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
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
Co-author of the book Integrity Matters
Daniel E. Halloran.