Engaging vs Enraging

People are enraged. It makes it very hard to get to the truth. Now it makes it very hard to engage in a truly honorable and ethical way. We saw this in politics and now look where we are. People are enraged. They are not pointing to the death of a child, or multiple children, or even thousands of people out of work. They are pointing to a haircut. They are looking for a race controversy and they found it.

You really have to love social media. I mean it makes the world a whole lot smaller. You can be completely on the other side of the world and be caught up on all that is happening on the other side of the globe. You get the words, the pictures, the video, and it is almost like you are right there…only you’re not. That is the salient point here. You’re not there. It doesn’t matter that I called my mom on Christmas and my son called and my daughter called. We weren’t there. Now, it would appear that my former place of employment was in the news…again…now with a controversy over a haircut.

Now before people begin to think that I am minimizing what happened here, let’s put this in perspective. Nobody died. Nobody’s life was threatened. A sporting match did ensue. The participant who was “humiliated” prevailed and his team won the match.

I am quite sure that the young man would have preferred not to have his hair cut by the team trainer, but, if you ask me, what started as a teachable moment crossed over to humiliation when the cameras got rolling and the first person stated that it was a racist white official who clearly was out of line in applying a rule to the participants. In the subsequent days and reports by reliable national news people, cough, cough…rules were shown and debated and questions of appropriate rules for the sport were debated between college and high school. Nevertheless, there was a rule regarding high school sports, and it was spelled out in detail, and this was not this wrestler’s first match for this team.

So the headlines are out there already. It’s kind of hard to undo what has already been done. People are enraged. Once a person is enraged, they begin to lose the ability to really see the issue from other viewpoints or “the big picture”. So, here is my viewpoint and full disclosure here…I have been the victim of this type of hysteria and, yes, I could’ve also gone with the race card, but I didn’t and it’s not about me anyway.

I love sports…as a spectator. I love the competition…as a spectator. I love fair play. In every sport, there is an objective and a set of rules that must be followed so that there is no “unfair” advantage given to any one side. Rules are written so that everyone has an opportunity to understand the requirements and what is or is not allowed. The officials should know all of the rules. The coaches should know the rules. So should the participants, but even in the NFL, it appears professionals were surprised when a game ended in a tie.

I am not a wrestler but I certainly had to endure it as a middle school physical education activity. When I think of the rule about hair length, I am not thinking that the rule was put there for anything but safety and fair play. As a middle school wrestler, I can remember my opponent grabbing me on the back of my neck in order to execute a maneuver designed to put me flat on my back and get pinned. (This was a humiliating experience to me and nobody said a word, but…I digress.) If the length of the opponents hair extends down past the neck and it is not properly secured as per the rules, then there is a danger of the hair falling right in front of the area that the wrestler uses in the course of the match, there is a distinct safety issue in my humble opinion. Grab the hair and if it leads all the way up to the front of the head, you could snap someone’s neck back and hurt them very badly. If the opponent knows this, then they are required to avoid the area in it’s entirety to keep from “accidentally pulling the hair” or being accused of it in the heat of a match.

The solution is to regulate the hair length by rule so that there is no chance of this being an advantage to either participant and make it a “fair fight”. Now that’s how I see it as a former participant in this activity, albeit an unwilling participant. If you’re an official, you know these things. The farther you get away from being that official…a coach, a teammate, a spectator, or just someone on social media…the more likely it is that you don’t have all of the facts and you will follow the lead of the sound bite, the controversy, the righteous hoard who don’t see the damage that they are doing to the participants, the school, or the sport.

There are hundreds of editorial versions of this single video online to stoke controversy over this one event. Everyone has an opinion and the problem is that everyone wasn’t there. Everyone doesn’t know the rules as it pertains to this event. Everyone doesn’t know what this and other officials may have had to deal with on the previous day, weeks or months relative to hair length and wrestling. Everyone has an opinion. It’s like throwing gasoline on a fire and saying, “why is everything burning?” If you noticed, it is the one’s with the already decidedly racial slant that are getting the most views.

Here are some things to think about as you are feeding this monster.

  1. If you want to wrestle, you have to follow the rules. This means all of the rules and you have to honor the interpretation of those rules. When I was in high school, you always knew who was on the wrestling team. You knew because they were dressed in a shirt and tie on a day of a wrestling meet. They did it because it was a rule. It was a coach rule. They followed the rule. This rule had nothing to do with safety but I will bet that no wrestler on that team ever had any problem with their equipment relative to what they needed to compete with on the mat.
  2. The match was forgotten. The student in question had an opponent. He was ultimately the forgotten man here. What should have been a wrestling match became a national issue and he was just forgotten. Maybe he should get a lawyer.
  3. All refs have to make judgement calls. If it’s a ref at a high school wrestling match, he is the only one vested with calling penalties and such during a match and is the one who will be blamed if something happens, particularly if it involves safety and should have been handled earlier. Now that he is being crucified for this…all referees will be targeted. All of them will be thinking of race relations before making a call that could affect the safety of the participants and ultimately their own liability. Some will bend the rules. Some will quit. Everyone of them will be looking for color now before the match. Is that what everyone wanted?
  4. Personal accountability goes out the window if this only becomes about the official. Before you are placed on a team in school, you have to be academically eligible. You then have to commit to following the rules…all the rules. The hair length issue should have been addressed at the team level by the coach in the beginning. Chances are that it was addressed. We will never know because it was picked up by the Internet before anyone could ask the question. How many times does it have to be put in writing? Now we are debating the rule, the official, the coach, the school, the governing body and opinions are being generated all over the world by people who don’t know…and neither do I.

People are enraged. It makes it very hard to get to the truth. Now it makes it very hard to engage in a truly honorable and ethical way. We saw this in politics and now look where we are. People are enraged. They are not pointing to the death of a child, or multiple children, or even thousands of people out of work. They are pointing to a haircut. They are looking for a race controversy and they found it.

If you’re looking for blame, I start with the government. Social media controversies are mainstream in our lives and we can’t even teach responsible, ethical, and legal use of these platforms in our schools because of all of the other useless shit you mandate.

I could blame the school district but they are so handcuffed by the government and now the media that they can do little to interfere with the educational process and include social media skills as part of their regular curriculum. Still, having worked in this district, I also know that it is so clear that they are mismanaged because their student population continues to decline and they have done nothing to stem the tide over the past few years. No innovative programs. No support of existing programs that used to be great.

Social media and partisan main stream media as well have created this firestorm. We live in an era of this media and we need to understand that it is a tinderbox of terror particularly when stoking negative emotions. People need to read beyond the headlines and the soundbites. This is an education that is necessary and relevant to this age.

To Anthony Johnson who, I don’t know even though I taught at the school, I offer up this as something to ponder. Jim Rohn has said, “it’s not the blowing of the wind, but the set of the sail that determines your future.” This moment, all that is happening around you can keep you a victim…if you continue to focus on what you cannot control…or you can be a leader. Look at your face in the mirror and know that you ultimately made a decision, you led in the face of a wind you couldn’t change, and made a decision for yourself and for your team. You were in control of that decision. If you give in now and become the “victim”, you will forever be at the mercy of the wind. The firestorm around you is just the wind…albeit a strong wind.

To the rest of the world that got caught up in this, maybe you could think with some perspective.

  • There was a hair cut-that will grow back
  • There was a sporting event-that went on
  • Nobody died-or even got hurt…well, at least physically

Happy New Year, Internet!