Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rex Ryan: Motivating with Hate

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*


Jets coach Rex Ryan is being celebrated for motivating with hate. According to a quote in ESPN, an unnamed NFL executive says of Ryan, “His No. 1 ability is to get his players to identify hate in the week.”

And that pro exec apparently thinks motivating with hate is a good thing.

The story by Gene Wojceichowski reports that Ryan has been using hate as a motivational tool since his days with NAIA New Mexico Highlands in 1989.”He creates a specific reason to play that game and to despise that opponent.”

Without question, hate has been used as a motivational tool throughout history, from the Nazis to the Khmer Rouge. As a group phenomenon, hate divides people — often into groups that may only exist in the imagination of the hater. Yale history professor Ben Kiernan says the promotion of hate is generally delusional. “Hate speech extends hate to a fantastical target group and leads to violence against entire groups which only exist coherently in the mind of hate-speech utterers,” he said.

Keirnan's term "fantastical" can easily be applied to major professional sports teams. They have no coherent form other than through their city affiliation. Coaches, players, fans and even owners change frequently. A Patriot today could be a Jet tomorrow. According to Wojceichowski, Ryan’s technique follows the pattern of creating a group to hate when that group has no identity other than the uniform of the day and no relationship with actions worth of hate: “He invents belief. By the time kickoff arrives, Ryan has his players convinced that the other team not only needs to be crushed but that it deserves to be crushed.”

Why should Jets hate Patriots? The Toronto Sun lists the reasons, starting with a crushing hit on Patriots’ QB Drew Bledsoe in 2001. But that led to Tom Brady’s emergence to lead the Pats to the championship. Then there are some job switches between the teams involving coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Is there something wrong about a professional athlete or coach taking a new job? Or could it be that the game itself is the source of hatred?

Such a thought is reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1945 essay “The Sporting Spirit” in which he condemns sport for creating bad feeling between nations: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words, it is war minus the shooting.”

Orwell, just as he warned against government oppression in 1984, warned against the “lunatic modern habit” of seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige. “If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators.”


Why are we celebrating Ryan’s addition to the ill will in the world? Have we forgotten the $50,000 fine given Ryan for giving the middle finger to Dolphins fans? Now when outsiders view the Jets, they see the middle finger everywhere. The Boston Herald reported that Jets players were seen giving the finger to Patriots fans following Sunday’s playoff game. The Jets denied it, but taint remains. Patriots receiver Deion Branch called the Jets “classless” and it made headlines.

Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll of the Center for ETHICS* at the University of Idaho says hate may do more damage to the hater than the hated. Hate is a poison. It tears people apart. Educators would not use hatred in the classroom to try to motivate people to peak performances in, say, math and English. But when high school or college coaches see professional football success expressed as a function of channeling hate, they can’t help but be tempted to take a lesson from Rex Ryan.


For coach/educators, that seems profoundly wrong-headed. Coaches at the high school and college level are role models for their athletes. As we’ve seen in the Jets, athletes are believed to be modeling in their leader — right down to the middle finger to the fans. Perhaps high school and college coaches could get a better idea of where such tactics lead them and their athletes if they pictured themselves not as Ryan the championship coach, but as Ryan the guy in the picture with finger raised.



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