Okay, I just made that title so you could click on the article. Yes, that’s very BuzzFeedian of me and I apologize in advance. My main point is a lot less profound than that but hopefully you are still here.
Today isn’t the best day in the world of sports, but then again when is it a good day, as Miami Dolphins OL Richie Incognito was suspended from the team due to his alleged harassment of second-year teammate Jonathan Martin. The harassment, which has the usage of a racial epithet at its focal point, highlights the ugly part of the whole “bro, you are my family; asshole” has made others reflect on how this is not an isolated incident in the world of football. Deadspin’s Drew Magary even added a personal anecdote on how he went through the same things playing football.
I’m here to offer my own personal recollection that is still ongoing at this very moment. I run cross country and track & field at the Division II level. So, not only do I run the least-“sporty” sport but I also do not run it at its highest level. I was a good runner, nothing to write home about, that has gotten better but not much else. Just like almost every other NCAA athlete; something else drives me besides personal glory. Its the fact that being on a team is the greatest thing ever. Until its the absolute worst.
I’m a fifth-year senior. When it comes to hierarchy, I am probably at the very top of the small team. Its not necessarily something you seek but if you are reasonably social, you eventually find your way there. I have another year on the next oldest person so I have that many more memories, stories, jokes and pieces of personal adversity than my peers. That’s not to say I’ve suffered more or have more friends, its just how things go. Its pretty cool when you are one of the oldest guys on the team because now you get to see how different the younger guys are than you.
I’ve probably had close to 40 or so teammates on the cross country side. Maybe more, maybe a bit less. When you add the girls team, its doubled that and when you add in the track team you are reaching close to over 200 people I’ve interacted with. While we do different events, for the most part we are united as one team. I can say that I know mostly everyone I’ve been teammates with from being in the dining hall, on the weekends, at meets or even in classes or the dorms. When you are forced to spend at least two hours a day with each other for nearly a full year (cross country leads into track, so year-round sport); you have to get to know each other.
Its amazing that I’ve really only disliked four people. I can name them all and tell you ample reasons why we didn’t click. When you think about it, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment. 200+ people from different states, with different religion, political views, culture, stories, personalities, attitudes, ambitions, etc.; and you can only dislike four. In my time here, there’s maybe been one or two guys who everyone practically didn’t like for various reasons. One of them finally figured it out and became likable to many.
But looking at it through that lens is fairly misleading. What makes teams horrible and amazing is the gray area. You end up having no opinion on someone but eventually they carve a niche for themselves. One might be dramatic, one might be annoying, one might be fat, one might be lanky, one might be stupid and one might be a grouch. Then there are the ones who fit into groups like the partygoers, the stoners, the funny ones, the brothers, the sisters, the best friends, the one who call themselves “big and little” (by the way, there’s nothing worse than that) and the outsiders.
This is where things get hazy. Once you have that perception, you are screwed; even if you try to fight back. Luckily, I’ve been on a team that’s lacked a Richie Incognito type; that’s an extreme (I hope). We’ve never had someone blasted for their race, sexual orientation, gender or religion. If someone uses a homophobic slur, they get cursed out immediately. If someone uses the whole “I’m faster than you” argument, they get destroyed. Some things we’ve decided are too personal and other ones are fair game.
Now, guys like to shit on each other. Almost to the point where that would be a literal statement. I’m not sure if guys personally LIKE it but that’s kind of what happens even at DII cross country. Usually its something so extreme that there’s no way its true. “Hey, you are attracted to horses! I bet you wanna fornicate with one!” or “RUN AWAY FROM THE MIDDLE SCHOOL” are some examples of how we aren’t really that funny. But its absurdity makes us laugh.
The thing is when you are best friends with people, you get a certain amount of wiggle room to say whatever. That’s what makes the team fun is when you can all laugh at yourselves, then laugh at each other, and then laugh at a fart. For ladies wondering what the guys team does on runs, that might just be it. Plus SEX just because.
However, on the flip side; you get dismay. I was never really picked on. I somehow avoided it. Yet I would be outright lying if I didn’t say that I have went way too far in picking on people. Again, never anything extreme but instead of quality; we go for quantity. It is funny to call any distance runner “fat” when we all weigh 15 pounds and our sweat is pretty much our body weight. When you say it every hour, it might still be funny, but its by no means acceptable.
There’s been twice where I knew that we went too far and boy, did we feel awful. We once got a kid to flip out and proceeded to laugh at his anger because we weren’t quite sure if he was serious or not. The thing was, the previous joke wasn’t a big deal. It was just the fact that it was the cherry on top of the nitroglycerin. Then by laughing at the anger, what do we encourage? Not only do we not take you seriously but we can’t lay off of you when you aren’t in the mood.
Is that really friendship or is it just horrific bullying that could lead to someone eventually either quitting or doing something more extreme? Thankfully it was a water under the bridge learning experience for the team. The guy was our friend. Yet we started treating him as a non-person. But it goes to show you that we were frankly, terrible little douchebag and needed to be reminded of that fact.
Another one was something in which every five minutes people started laughing at another kid’s GPA. Again this kid was a good sport about it, and in fact encouraged it, but it got to the point where he HAD to have been tired by it. He knew he botched it, but plenty of people kept bringing it up to him on a daily basis that sometimes felt like every ten minutes. This kid got his life straightened out and I know there are some idiots out there who think “ya see, if you didn’t make fun of him; he wouldn’t learn!” but when has that ever been proven to work?
Teams are awful in the sense that no one wants to deviate from the party line. Until everyone else does and the few people that resist either get ostracized or demeaned. Of all the people who get shit on, most of them are our friends with the few that are actually egotistical, dramatic, terrible people to be around. Yet we still do it for the simple fact of it being the “thing” to do.
But when you think about it, is it really just a sports thing? Do you really think that the officeplace or teacher’s lounge will be any better as people are literally fighting for their livelihood. When it comes down to it, these people will likely never be your friends, but the world is so competitive that you will be hung out to dry in a heartbeat. That’s kind of what makes people suck. If you don’t think you are like that, think again; even if you don’t make fun of people, there’s a really good chance you are being ostracized for some other reason. Maybe you aren’t as popular as you think.
Maybe you aren’t as loved as you think or WORSE yet, maybe you aren’t as hated as you think but since you are of the belief that no one likes you; you are missing out on a group of really great people who have the same flaws as you.