The Glorification of Sports Thuggery

Posted on September 16, 2014 by Robert Ringer


The uproar over the Ray Rice domestic-abuse incident cries out for a truthful, politically incorrect article, so I decided to volunteer for the job. Rice’s Ali-like left jab to his then-fiancée’s kisser is but a blip on the crime screen of the hoodlum-saturated National Football League. Stuff like this, and worse — much worse — has been going on at an accelerating pace since at least the late seventies.

Poor Ray just happened to get caught on tape. Heck, his “mentor” (Ray Lewis) pled guilty to obstruction of justice in a double homicide case in 2000 and got off without jail time in exchange for testifying against two friends. And now, to rub insult into the wounds of decency, he has been immortalized with a statue next to that of the legendary Johnny Unitas in front of M&T Stadium in Baltimore.

Thuggery has been a trademark in the NFL and NBA for decades. Who can forget Latrell Sprewell nearly choking his coach to death, Ron Artest (“Metta World Peace”) jumping into the stands and starting a brawl with fans, Ben Roethlisberger mysteriously not being able to avoid crossing paths with women who accuse him of rape, and, of course, Aaron Hernandez, now sitting in prison awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges, to name but a few of the more infamous acts of thuggery in pro sports?

What most everyone misses is that violent acts such as these are just symptoms of an underlying condition — the decadent, thug culture in professional sports that the power structure not only allows to flourish, but encourages.

Because of space constraints, I’m going to focus on just three of the most visible symbols of the thug culture in pro sports — symbols that most fans have come to accept as the norm. They are: long, baggy shorts (in basketball), outrageous hairstyles, and tattoo-drenched bodies.

Let’s start with the shorts. Mystified by the emergence of knee-length, baggy basketball shorts in the 1990s, the immortal John Wooden (of UCLA fame) aptly labeled them “bloomers.” Even though they look ridiculous on grown men, bloomers have long been a staple of basketball thuggery, so much so that clean cut John Stockton of the Utah Jazz used get laughed at for insisting on wearing regular basketball shorts.

As to tattoos, there’s nothing wrong with a tattoo here or there — and no doubt many people reading this article have one or more tattoos on their bodies — but plastering one’s face and neck with snake and spider tattoos is a bit over the top. It’s an act of pure defiance, a way of saying to the world, “Up yours!”

The champion in this category of decadence is a character known as “Birdman” (Chris Andersen). You’re probably dying to see his evolution from a once semi-presentable humanoid to a walking freak show, so get out the Pepto-Bismol and have a peek: The Evolution of Birdman

Finally, we get to thug hairstyles. In the NFL, in particular, for reasons that continue to mystify me, thugs love to flaunt their girly men hairstyles. The white guys have an affinity for blond strands flowing out from under their helmets and down onto their shoulders, while many black players are partial to dreadlocks.

Then, of course, there’s the Samoan Steel Wool look worn by Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu and a few others. As with tattoos, the girly man hairdos are a not-so-subtle way of giving the middle finger to the establishment.

Do I really believe that baggy shorts, tattoo-covered bodies, and outlandish hairstyles promote violence? Yes, I do. Do I have proof? No. It’s just the opinion of a humble social observer.

It’s also my opinion that it’s a way of arrogant but insecure athletes saying, “In your face. If you don’t like it, don’t watch the games.” But millions do watch, and with great enthusiasm. In fact, the sad truth is that most sports fans idolize these thugs (and live vicariously through them) and, by doing so, act as enablers for their bad behavior.

I’m probably a lone wolf here, but I believe that most of the violence in professional sports could have been avoided had the NFL and NBA set up stringent anti-thug (that’s anti-thug, not anti-drug) rules when they started welcoming miscreants into their leagues, beginning with a strict physical-appearance code.

By still refusing to do so (for fear of being accused of violating the “civil rights” of the players?), league owners are just as guilty as Ray Rice and all of the other bad dudes in professional sports who are involved in criminal activity.

Even now, if the powers that be had the courage to lay down a strict, civilized code of conduct that included physical appearance, language, and behavior on and off the court or playing field, professional athletes would think twice before engaging in criminal activity. The operative word here is strict.

I realize that some people might argue that a strict code of conduct would not have stopped Ray Rice from kayoing his fiancée, because he didn’t even stop to think about it. But that is precisely my point. If league rules outlawing thug culture were severe enough (the words lifetime ban come quickly to mind), his subconscious would have been preconditioned to think about the consequences of his actions even in a highly emotional and volatile situation. It’s called conditioned response — and it works. Just ask Pavlov’s dogs.

What’s the takeaway message for you on a micro scale — i.e., what lesson or lessons can you apply to your own life? I believe that the most important lesson is that you should not be afraid to lay down rules that people must adhere to if they want to be involved with you on either a business or personal level.

My memory takes me back to an actor acquaintance of mine (“Richard”) who practiced this rule religiously and unapologetically. One day, he invited my wife and me to dinner at his home in Pasadena (California), and after I accepted his invitation, he said, in a matter-of-fact way: “Great. Then I look forward to seeing you and your beautiful wife next Sunday. Oh, and by the way, I require that all dinner guests at my home wear a coat and tie.”

His words took me aback at first, but the way he said it, I knew there was no negotiation. And instead of being offended by his requirement, I actually respected him for it — and for the straightforward way in which he communicated it to me.

Straightforwardness is the key. You don’t need to be obnoxious when it comes to laying down rules, just unapologetic and clear — clear about what is acceptable to you and what is not. While decadence may be in vogue right now with a significant portion of the populace, always remember that you have the power to outlaw it in your “league” and lay down your own rules for those who want to be involved with you. After all, it’s your life.

When people know you’re serious about your rules, they are conditioned to fall in line accordingly. Unfortunately, in professional sports, the thugs know that no one is serious about any of the rules, so they don’t hesitate to push the envelope. Not what Pavlov had in mind.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.