Monday, April 28, 2008
Relationships: The poisonous player
Have you ever played in a game in which there was one person who just ruined it for everyone else? In my favorite weekly pickup game, there is a guy who comes semi-regularly and poisons the whole atmosphere. Old School and Hops both play in this game, and they will agree that this guy (I'll call him "the Idiot") is a serious problem.
The Idiot is actually a good player. He is in great shape, works hard on both ends of the floor, and has a versatile game. Unfortunately, he is also psycho-competitive and talks constant trash. Now, I'm not opposed to a little trash talk, but the Idiot takes it way too far. His banter is not at all playful and he invariably upsets someone to the point of fighting (usually verbal, but it has escalated beyond that). He also likes to denounce his opponent after his team wins—in my opinion, a form of unbelievably poor sportsmanship. I'm the type of guy that normally recoils from conflict, but a couple months ago I got into a screaming fight with the Idiot because he was being such a jerk to one of my teammates that I couldn't hold my tongue any longer. In fact, the Idiot pretty much gets into a fight with one or more players every single time he plays. (If you're wondering if I'm doing any racial coding here, it should be noted that the Idiot is white.)
I think that the crux of the problem is that the Idiot's style is totally out of sync with the culture of the game. His never-ending belligerence shuts everyone down emotionally and saps all the fun out of playing. I've played in games where this kind of behavior would be slightly more appropriate, but the game I'm talking about is a "nice guys" game. The same people come out every week. We all know each other and for the most part, genuinely like each other. The games are very competitive, but the governing code of the court is to be considerate, friendly, and a good sport in both victory and defeat. Trash talking is kept to a minimum, and when it's done, it's without malice. That's why the Idiot stands out so much. His poisonous attitude is just a total wrench in the works. Last week, to the shock of many, one of the nicest players in the game lost his temper and yelled at the Idiot: "This game is normally so much fun—except when you're here!" The rest of us were thinking the exact same thing.
The basketball court is one of the few venues in polite society where strangers can come together and compete in a casual way. Everyone has a right to show up and play, but when games develop a regular cast, as ours has, there is a tendency to want to exert control over the playing roster. However, there is no easy way to exclude someone like the Idiot from participating. We hoop in a public park and abide by the rule that if you show up and call next, you play next.
So Setshotters, what can we do? Is there any way to discourage him from playing? And when he does show up, how can we minimize the effects of his poisonous personality?