Bill Buckner cursed the Red Sox, and Steve Bartman caused the Cubs to fail to make the World Series, right?!
One of the most basic and fundamental qualities we universally share as human beings is the tendency to want to establish cause-effect relationships when things happen in life (AHPS). As we go through the attribution process, we usually distill the variables down to “this caused that,” even though it is very rare in life to see one isolated thing cause something else to happen. Take for example our current American financial crisis – people regularly point the finger to one thing (i.e. President Obama, the costs of ongoing wars, the housing fallout, etc.) as the single cause, when really our current problems are far more complex than any one person/event could have ever caused alone.
In life, there are always extraneous variables to consider when witnessing behavioral change (although we rarely consider them). With sports this is especially true, as over-achieving teams never excel because of only one player, and under-achievers never fail due to one player’s misfortunes and lack of mental toughness. It is in the second example (failures) that ESPN provided some things to think about last night with their provocative program “Catching Hell,” an interesting documentary that highlighted both Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman as arguably the biggest scapegoats in the history of modern-day sports.
Bill Buckner missed a ground ball in the 1986 World Series that may have been pivotal in the Red Sox getting beat by the Mets that year, and Steve Bartman reached over the wall from the stands and seemingly stole a would-be catch from Moises Alou that may have contributed to the Cubs losing to the Marlins in 2003. Since each event, both men have been ostracized by their respective fan bases (although Buckner has recently been re-accepted by Red Sox fans – Bartman has yet to experience his redemption). Sadly, both men have been scapegoats and unfairly judged – to the point where each has had to literally change his life as a result.
The reality is neither man solely caused their teams to lose, as there were countless factors throughout the season that can be pointed to as reasons for why each team failed. Sure, the timing of each event caught a lot of attention, but when we think rationally we know Buckner and Bartman have been treated terribly unfairly.
Unfortunately, scapegoating is not unique to pro sports, as we have all unfairly pointed the finger at people, things, and events from time to time. In youth sports, it’s not uncommon for one kid on the team to take unfair blame when the team struggles, as it is our human tendency to minimize cause-effect relationships down as much as we can. Rather than see where the team failed, it’s a lot easier to point at the kid who made the final out of the game, unfortunately.
Scapegoating, while a common experience in sports, can be devastating to the scapegoat – especially if the victim is a kid. In fact, in many instances kids quit sports altogether when they feel they are the cause of the team’s misfortunes – but that may not be the worst news. In some cases kids who become scapegoats experience depression, anxiety, reckless behavior, anger, and even suicidal ideation. Sadly, the “loser” title is one that’s incredibly tough for kids to shake, and in worst-case scenarios it becomes their identity to the world around them. It is in these instances where things can go terribly wrong.
Take note of how you appraise youth sports and the reasons you attribute toward your team’s failures. Do you quickly point the blame toward one kid, or do you pause to think about all the factors contributing to the hard times your team is experiencing? Think about the hell Buckner and Bartman have lived since their respective incidents, and make it a point to refrain from future scapegoating. After seeing what two adults have endured by being scapegoated, we can only imagine what this is like for kids when they are pointed to as the reason for their teams failure and futility.
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