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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on March 4th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 52 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 52

Above reproach?: The Sun sits down with Evan Katz to discuss professional sports and anger

BY KRISTINA SEWELL

Anger is defined as a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong. It is a perfectly normal human emotion that many of us have encountered over the course of our lives. But when it becomes full-blown rage, judgment is impaired so much that bad decisions are often made.

Take, for example, the world of professional sports, where anger and violence—both on and off the field—are ignored, or even condoned by teams. In the end, winning is all that matters. In this day and age, sports fans generally carry the expectation that most professional athletes will crash and burn in scandal somewhere along the way in their careers. And then there are players like Derek Jeter, who, in addition to his amazing plays and consistent batting, is known for being a class act both on and off the field. Unfortunately, it seems athletes with that kind of high-quality character are a rarity these days.

The National Football League (NFL) in particular has been plagued with more scandal and court dates with each passing decade. A player getting into trouble off the field is nothing new, but the limits of what he or she is allowed to get away with are being stretched farther. But much like a misguided marriage, NFL teams stand by their not-so-well-behaved players.

Of course, everyone knows about O.J. Simpson, but he isn’t the only athlete to get caught up with the law. There was the Ravens’ Ray Lewis and the Colts’ Steve Muhammad who were both accused of murder (for separate cases), and Lewis was thrown in jail. But despite all of this, the teams stood by their players like consummate wives. And let’s not forget Rae Carruth of the North Carolina Panthers, whose team put him on paid leave after he was charged with murdering his pregnant girlfriend. More recently, now former-New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez made headlines for murder charges.

But the violence doesn’t stop there; players are also being targeted and harassed, particularly younger players who are subjected to an array of indignities. Many of these awful incidents occur with the implied approval of coaches and other staffers, who see the behavior as pranks or rites of passage.

Some recent issues involving the Miami Dolphins’ Richie Incognito and John Martin have raised questions about NFL culture. Incognito—who was accused and investigated for bullying and harassing teammate Martin—has a long history of violent behavior that has followed him around to every team of which he’s a member. Even after being suspended, Incognito’s aggression is still getting the best of him, demonstrated by posts on Twitter filled with threats and racial slurs against Martin.

Psychotherapist Evan Katz cites anger as a definitive issue in professional sports, and he has weighed in on the Dolphins scandal via several media outlets. The Sun recently got to speak with Katz to hear more about his theories.

“The culture is, ‘win at any cost’ and ‘find someone to blame when things go wrong,’” Katz said. “The NFL is being the silent giant and turning [its] head when things go wrong.”

Katz, who has been involved in psychotherapy for more than 20 years, said anger is an emotion he knows very well.

“I grew up an angry kid, and eventually became an angry adult,” he said. “It was largely because I had an angry father and I emulated a lot of what he did.”

Katz obtained his degree in counseling from Arizona State University and added a master’s degree in 1994. He works primarily with angry people in various situations. Katz also released a book, Inside the Mind of an Angry Man; by sharing his own story Katz explores the reasons behind an angry man and how their brains operate.

“Most of the people I help are successful in their professional lives, but [their] personal [lives are] falling apart due to internal issues,” he said, adding that he’s also counseled murderers.

Those successful people include athletes similar to Incognito. For that reason, Katz has been asked to comment on the Dolphins situation from a psychological perspective.

“I have known about the guy for a long time and, to me, he is a model of what is wrong with sports,” Katz said. “He does what he does because he can. He is enabled by the system, if you will.”

So what is the problem? To some degree, Katz feels the nature of “fan-base” sports leads to identity issues and a lack of accountability for athletes.

“If [a player] perform well, fans assume they must be a great person, too; they are treated like they’re on pedestals,” he said. “The problem with high-performance athletes [and other] people is [that] they depend on outside validation, not themselves.”

Katz said these individuals are inundated by a franchise culture that promotes winning at all cost—and finding someone to blame when things go wrong. To top it all off, the NFL and the teams stand by players who misbehave or even worse and condone their behavior.

“Their concept of identity is all about winning; sports is about winning, and the fans pay to watch,” Katz said.

In a violent sport like football, he said, players are taught to hit, tackle, and block. But problems arise when the athletes choose to carry their frustrations from the field into real life.

“Coping with the real word is about conflict-resolution skills,” Katz said. “They have so much money, other people are living for them. And all they have to do is play.”

Katz said the degree of balance between work and personal time for high-performance athletes is askew, with 95 percent of the focus and effort going toward winning on the field.

“Nothing is being [done] ... to help them learn that what they do on the field can’t leave the field,” Katz said. “They are responsible for their own behavior just like everyone else.”

But in a franchise in which bad behavior is reaffirmed with unwavering support, millions of dollars, and free passes, it would be hard to make these athletes accept responsibility for their behavior.

Katz said the solution needs to come from the top—and it’s really rather simple.

“The cost needs to become more expensive than the benefit because, right now, it doesn’t hurt bad enough to stop,” he said. “{Team] ownership needs to create a set of rules and stick to them.”

Essentially, bullying and trouble off the field need to become more unacceptable than losing. Katz said the head coaches are the ones who set the tone for what is acceptable and unacceptable. He said “people in the trenches” also need to be educated on what to look for in their players, such as signs of aggression, anxiety, bullying, or depression.

“The goal is not to be happy. The goal is to win; performance is what comes first,” Katz said. “It comes down to a business decision. It’s very cold, but sports are about money. It’s not about sports anymore.”

 

Staff Writer Kristina Sewell believes in being held accountable. Contact her at ksewell@santamariasun.com.