In the past week, a news story caught fire in the media about the Rutgers basketball head coach, Mike Rice, who was caught being verbally and physically abusive towards his players out on the court during both practices and games (you can read more and see video on this Bleacher Report link). His behavior and actions are completely unacceptable and he should have been fired long ago, when his assistant coach made the administration aware of the problem.
With that being said though, I am always deeply suspicious when these big stories come out in the media, when everyone is completely outraged and one person is demonized. Usually when a story attracts such huge attention, it is because it connects with people on a certain level. Also, there is the notion of witnessing the “shadow” within the collective unconscious, which means that we see the dark side that is a part of all of us.
The reason that Rice is being vilified, and rightfully so, is that he crossed the line of acceptable behavior in the sports world when he started to become physically abusive of his players by pushing them, punching them, kicking them and throwing basketballs at them. His verbal abuse was extreme as well, using homophobic language and attacking players personally. His termination is justified and his $100,000 bonus that he received on the way out is laughable.
However, many coaches behave like Rice in that they view the sports world as an acceptable place to vent their anger. It is deemed acceptable for coaches to yell at their players and referees. Some eyebrows might get raised and people might comment on it, but no one gets fired and the world keeps turning. Furthermore, many people in all walks of life behave like this, as they yell at their kids, partners, co-workers or flip off strangers as they drive on the freeway! I will fully admit that I am not immune to this behavior either, although I continue to work on it and grow past reacting in that way.
So, in getting back to my main point, how are we all the same as Rice, who we hold in such contempt? We are like him in that we are all violent towards other people when we react and blame others for our own anger. Anytime we feel angry and we project that outwards into the world, then we are being violent towards others. Whether we start a war, we kill, we punch, we yell at, or we insult, we are being violent towards another human being. Other than self-defense (which is another topic unto itself), there are absolutely no acceptable reasons, excuses, or venues for this type of behavior. None.
Here are some steps that we can take to grow and evolve past this way of reacting, and move towards a more powerful way of responding :
1. Mentally prepare. What are some ways in which we act angry in our lives? Do we get road rage? Do we yell at co-workers or our players or teammates? We can ask some people close to us what some of our behaviors are when we get angry, so we can catch ourselves in the act the next time around.
2. Breathe. To be able to be present enough in our body to witness our emotions, we have to come back to our breath. This is why meditation is such a powerful vehicle for personal growth. When we start to mentally notice that we are behaving in some of our angry ways, then we can try not to do anything other than stop and breathe.
3. Feel. After we are able to be present in our bodies, then we can actually feel what is going on in them. We can simply feel what it is like to be angry. Is there some burning in our chest or belly? Is their tightness in our body? When I feel angry, I feel a very tight constriction through my throat and chest and my whole body tenses up and gets hot. It is definitely not a pleasant experience, but one that I have learned to be accepting of. It is important for us to try and feel our anger as we breathe for as long as we can.
4. Accept that we are angry. We all have every right to get angry. The anger itself is not the problem. The problem is when we project that anger outwards into violence. Anger itself though is a completely natural and valid emotion within our human experience. Being with our anger unconditionally and not trying to “feel better” is the key to growth here.
5. Notice the trigger. The problem is when we take that anger out on the other person or issue that caused our anger, we are not solving anything. We are just reacting to the outside world and creating more drama. The person or situation that causes our anger is simply a trigger to the anger that already exists within us. Usually, the people who are closest to us or the situations that we care about the most, are the strongest triggers for us. When we say something mean, or yell at, or hurt someone mentally, emotionally or physically in any way, then we are being violent towards other people, and many times it is someone we actually love!
6. Rinse and repeat. Anger does not go away quickly. We need to practice this over and over and over again throughout our lives. I have been aware of this type of work for a few years now, and I continue to make mistakes with this process. I just come back to it time and again, knowing each time that I do, I am growing as a person and I am making the world a little less violent.
I have a lot of compassion for a guy like Rice (although I have more for his players). Underneath all of his anger, I am pretty sure that there is a lot of sadness. Most likely, someone was abusive towards him in the ways in which he is now abusing, which is very sad. That does not excuse him though, as we all must take personal responsibility for our anger and learn to respond to it in a mature manner. We are all capable of ending the cycle of violence, no matter how imbedded it is into our psyches.
When a story like Rice's comes out into the public, it’s really easy for us to be politically correct and self-righteous and say, “Look at that monster. I can’t believe what a terrible person he is!". Many people could also point at me and say, “Well Trevor, I’ve seen you get angry before out on the field and this is how you act!”. Or they might point a finger at my overly emotional father, a lacrosse coach who yells at referees all the time. There are countless individuals in the public eye or in athletics that could be called out. And you know what? They are completely right! I am certainly not perfect and I know that most of the people around me admit to the fact as well.
My point is though, how can we all commit each day to responding to our own anger? Can we all look in the mirror and see how most of us behave in the same way in one way or another? Maybe it is in a less extreme or more socially acceptable manner, and maybe it is behind closed doors, but almost all of us direct our anger out into the world, towards family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. That is violence, which is unacceptable in any form.
As we go through this practice of processing our anger, we will notice the difference between intensity and assertiveness, as compared to anger. On the sports field, we can shout and yell (to our heart’s content) out instructions or teachings to our players with a positive energy. We can assert ourselves and maintain healthy boundaries if someone wrongs us in some way. We do not become weak and “soft”, but become people who are strong, powerful, composed and confident. All of these experiences will come with time as we practice simply being with our anger in an unconditional way.
We all talk about wanting the world to be a more peaceful place. We all want to love others and be happy. A great way for us to start working towards these goals is just to learn to be with our anger without directing it into the world.