You Must be Mean and Insensitive
The Problem of Uber-Macho in Football
Once the scab was peeled back off the sad episode, what was revealed was a savage culture where intimidation was common, where bullying was the accepted order of the day, and where you almost had to believe that some active players had to already brain-damaged to so blithely put up with such inhumanity...But what we are seeing in football today is a definition of manhood that is uber-macho To be that kind of man you must be mean and insensitive...Modern football is so violent and thuggish that it can damage your soul as well as your brain.
-- Frank Deford
Being mean and insensitive is the sign of a damaged soul The soul may have wounds received from others, or it may have inflicted them on itself. But the need is for these wounds to be healed and the soul to grow up: strong and wide, generous and principled, creative and caring. With God''s help it is possible even for football players.
-- Jay McDaniel
Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (left) and tackle Jonathan Martin stand on the field during an NFL football practice in Davie, Fla. Incognito that included racial slurs to Martin, his younger teammate, who left the NFL after he faced harassment that his lawyer said went "beyond locker-room hazing."
-- NPR webpage: Why Has Football become so Brutish, Image from Lynne Sladky/AP
Why Has Football Become So Brutish?
By FRANK DEFORD November 13, 2013 3:24 AM
A Basketball Love Story
Strength in Love: A Digital Story by Eric N.
Published on Nov 7, 2012
Being young and homeless...and coming in from the cold. This story was made in a workshop facilitated by the Center for Digital Storytelling (http://www.storycenter.org) in conjunction with The Youth Foundation (http://www.theyouthfoundation.org) in support of their ongoing work with Guardian Scholars.
Six Characteristics of a Fat Soul
You Must be Mean and Insensitive.
Football and the Shrinking of Souls
When it comes to American sports, football has its problems these days. Concussions are a problem, to be sure; but so are other blows to the head, verbal and cultural, which encourage a smallness of soul.
Listen to Frank Deford's podcast in the column on the left. It's only three and a half minutes, and the point will be clear. Football is permeated by a culture of uber-manhood which shrinks a soul. Is it professional football alone? Is it college football, too? High school? Junior high? I don't know.
The Need for Spiritual Weight Training
Of course this isn't the whole story. In other competitive team sports -- basketball and baseball, for example -- the culture may be different. Frank Deford suggests as much.
Perhaps it has a little to do with how coaches are trained. I don't know what coaching school Justin Brandt attended, but it sure seems to me he has a fat soul. Melinda, his wife, has one, too. They are featured in the digital story on the left called Strength in Love.
As you learn from the video, they cared enough for Eric to help him leave a gang and find himself. They took him into their home and gave him a life. Now that's fat soul cultivation on and off the court.
Actually, Eric has a fat soul, too. It took strength to leave the world of gangs and become a basketball player and to make the video above. It's funny how, in family life at its best, we can grow fat together. I suspect that Eric helped Justin and Melinda grow, just as they helped Justin grow. Call it spiritual weight training.
What is a Fat Soul?
So what's a fat soul? Here's one definition.
A really fat soul can welcome diverse people, ideas, and ways of being in the world without feeling threatened. A fat soul experiences the intensity of life in its fullness, even the painful side of life, and knows there is something still bigger . . .”
I borrow this from the artist and novelist, Patricia Adams Farmer, in her article What is Fat Soul Philosophy? She got it from the philosopher Bernard Loomer.
"By S-I-Z-E I mean the stature of [your] soul, the range and depth of [your] love, [your] capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness. I mean the power to sustain more complex and enriching tensions. I mean the magnanimity of concern to provide conditions that enable others to increase in stature."
I think a fat soul has six characteristics. People with fat souls have a capacity for loving relationships; they are open-minded; they have personal integrity; they have a tolerance for enriching tensions, and they are open to complexity, not seeing things in simple, black-white terms. When you are in their presence, you feel the width and range of the souls. You feel widened by them.
To tell you the truth, I think that even the encompassing Life in whose heart the universe unfolds -- even God -- is a fat soul in just these ways. God's aim is for all people to grow into a largeness of mind and heart, without losing individuality, and competitive team sports, with all their enriching tensions, can be a context for such growth...if they grow up and transcend the pettiness of uber-manhood.
Unilateral Power based in Fear and Insecurity
This doesn't mean that fat souls cannot compete with others or that they lack power. When you meet people with wide minds and hearts, they are really very powerful. But they don't boast about it. They are modest and humble, gracious in victory and humble in defeat.
The point can be put philosophically. A fat soul is very powerful, but its power is relational not unilateral. Unilateral power is bully power. It arises out of fear and insecurity, and it seeks to force its will on others by intimidating them. Coaches can sometimes fall into bully power when they are so afraid of losing that they lose respect for their players. And players fall into fully power when they intimidate one another. It's a kind of spiritual immaturity. They may have big muscles but they have small minds and hearts.
The Strength to Sustain Mutual Relationships
Relational power is much more magnanimous. It builds up the other person helping the other person feel respected and honored. It has the strength to sustain mutual relationships and it to help others grow into fat soulhood. The following quotations from C. Robert (Bob) Mesle help make the point.
Relational power involves the willingness and insight to take in the new and then return to the world and our relationships with more openness, better questions, more sensitivity, and new understanding. It means being willing and able to go back and learn more, to sustain engagement with ideas, experiences, and people, especially when those relations are challenging in some way. It is so easy to avoid growth and change, to dodge conflict, to resist the new. This step leads right back to the start in a spiral. We try to become more actively and intentionally open, and more self-creative. Having walked a mile in another person’s moccasins, we are in a better position to enter creative dialogue with them, and walk further with them.
Note that, according to Mesle, this kind of strength does not dodge conflict. A coach with relational power may fuss and yell, chide and harangue, pushing individual team members beyond perceived limits. But this coach -- she or he -- does so in a spirit of respect and love, not fear and insecurity, and you can feel it. You know the coach is on your side. Such a coach has a power to be gentle, too. The coach helps create a culture that is conducive to fat-soul-making.
Make no mistake: the soul is not sharply separate from the body. The body is a place where the soul emerges, and the journey of a soul requires weight lifting and push ups, sprints and drills, in consort with others who are doing the same. A little Tai Ji can help, too.
The Whole Person:
Knowing the Soul is Not a Thing
But a really fat soul has the wisdom to accept that the joys of bodily achievement are secondary to the richness of soul-cultivation, which lasts a lifetime. And it has the wisdom to know that souls are not skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the body form the boundaries of the skin, but rather evolving relationships over time.
"I am a philosopher, let me tell you a great secret of life—a soul is not a thing, it is not something which stands untouched by the events of your life. Your soul is the river of your life; it is the cumulative flow of your experience. But what do we experience? The world. Each other. So your soul is the cumulative flow of all of your relationships with everything and everyone around you. In a different image, we weave ourselves out of the threads of our relationships with everyone around us." (A Soul is Not a Thing: A Process Relational Wedding.)
I suspect that participants in team sports at their best already know that the soul is not a thing. They know that we weave ourselves into existence by learning to listen to others, care for others, work with others toward common goals, setting aside the "I" for something more.
Ultimately that something more is not really victory on the scoreboard, but victory in life. It's a funny kind of victory, because it comes as a gift when a soul has relaxed into the spacious horizons of something much wider than a field or court:. In this wideness there are no winner and losers, just people trying to find their way through life, soul by soul, together. There's no need for meanness and insensitivity. Life's too short to be overly concerned with scoreboards.