Bullying as a social ill to be resisted largely came to the forefront of American consciousness after the Columbine massacre of 1999, when it was alleged and widely believed that its perpetrators may have been motivated by bullying they experienced at the Littleton high school.
That might explain why a former Denverite, Randy Nathan — who grew up in Denver’s Jewish community — authored this clear and thought-provoking study of the umbilical link between bullying and modern sports.
Nathan, who now lives in New Jersey, is uniquely qualified to write on the subject. Educated in social work and non-profit management, he is a leadership trainer, motivational speaker, camp director and, perhaps most important in the context of this book, an athletic coach.
Bullying in Sports can be used in several ways — as a teacher’s guide, a textbook or a primer for just about anybody with an interest in the two subjects outlined in its title. Concise without being simplistic, intelligent without being academic, it has value for all of the potential aforementioned readers.
The author’s premise is that sports, particularly when participated in by youth, can become a highly effective conduit for bullying behavior and an important contributor to an environment – a school, for example – in which bullying becomes a destructive force.
Examining how bullying employs both physical and psychological dynamics to establish power over, hence inflict suffering upon, its victims, Nathan argues that important components of competitive sports are virtually identical to those used by bullies.
Ensuring victory in athletic competition involves the development of aggressive instincts (the biggest, strongest and meanest players are likeliest to win), repetition (relentless practice equals perfection) and imbalance of power (the use of physical and mental superiority to overcome an opponent).
Although used for personal dominance and not team victory, bullies use much the same approach. Repeated aggressive behavior results in an imbalance of power, the means by which bullies achieve control over their victims.
Nathan argues that sports weren’t always this way and that they needn’t be intrinsically tied to the sort of behavior associated with bullies.
The ascension of professional over collegiate sports, and the huge sums of money paid to pro athletes, has amplified and coarsened much athletic competition, fostering attitudes that have spread downward, to players and coaches on the school and youth levels.
The author offers reasoned and measured approaches for counteracting these forces, not by condemning the sports themselves or radically overhauling athletic programs, but by directing competitive priorities back toward such concepts as good sportsmanship and honor — things that have nothing whatsoever to do with bullying.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News