Players' Hell: An Intro To Tribalism And Bullying
This is definitely the most painful chapter for me to write as it carries a lot more heartbreaking stories than anything else. But before we get into the details, we must start by identifying two things that we will carry with us into future parts of this chapter: Tribalism and bullying.
Psychology says that we identify ourselves based on the groups to which we belong.
What does that mean?
It means that we always pick a word or two to identify ourselves with, that word is also used to describe other people with similar traits and interests. It makes it easier for us to introduce ourselves to others. Psychology also says that those groups with which we identify may not really carry any standards.
Minimal Group Paradigm
Dr. Sander van der Linden is a social psychologist who said that in the 1970s there was a social experiment to see the minimum requirements a person needs to pick a group to which they can belong.
How Experiment Went
People were divided into two groups without any criteria. One group was given red shirts to wear, while the others were given yellow shirts to wear.
Slowly, people started to change their seats. And eventually, people with red shirts were sitting together while yellow shirts were sitting together, despite not having anything in common other than the color of their shirts. After that people started whispering to each other and looks of suspicion started to show. All of that was caused because of two different shirt colors.
We Aim To Be Part Of Something Bigger Than Ourselves
It's in our nature, we always seek to be part of a greater cause to which we can feel belonging. We feel weak alone, which leads us to accept the flaws of our group, even if we wouldn't accept those flaws otherwise. Especially since every group has its flaws. And the alternative to belonging to a tribe is being alone, and we hate that.
This is not exactly a revelation, I know. And I am not giving a lecture here, I am also guilty of mocking and insulting a player doing his job. But, the lesson here is that we may require a conscious effort and a constant reminder to steer away from these actions before we let our sense of tribalism turns us into bullies, which leads me to the second point.
Why Do We Bully Players?
Or to be more precise, why do we treat celebrities and famous people as objects that lack humanity or feelings?
In July 2020, Eric Dier was suspended by the FA after he jumped the barricade to defend his little brother from two men who comforting the youngster in a Spurs FA Cup game during March. I don't want to discuss the validity of Dier's actions here as much as ask; How bad was the abuse that it prompted a player to throw concern over his safety and jump into the crowd?
Turning the spotlight fully on Eric Dier's reaction, or Xhaka's angry reaction after constantly getting booed by Arsenal fans prompting him to take anger management lessons seems to overlook a huge problem in the footballing world; the players are getting bullied.
Money Isn't Everything
It seems like the justification for all the booing and insults is that the players are "Rich enough" to take it. They're making millions after all, right?
Well, let's just flip this a little bit
Let's say you're a big employee in a company or even the owner of it. The large sum of money you earn comes largely due to the actions of employees beneath you. Would you then be open to getting insulted by at least 50% of those employees once or twice a week in front of the whole world?
We love saying that we'd happily take those verbal assaults weekly if we made the amount of money they have, forgetting the fact that we won't be able to because they themselves are unable to do that.
Psychologically speaking, it requires you to have a large level of disdain toward the crowd that you don't care if they boo you and insult you on TV, the pitch, or on social media. The part that comes with that is you won't care if they cheer either. But you need that so you wouldn't break down mentally and even after that, you will still grow that feeling of disdain.
Wearing an Arsenal shirt doesn't qualify you to keep insulting Xhaka as he attempts to do his job every week until he reacts and then force him to take anger management classes.
Players' bullying comes from everywhere, not only from club/country supporters/haters but also from the media. Roy Keane has absolutely no right to continuously belittle De Gea, that even when De Gea does great, the response is "That's his job, isn't it?"
Having money doesn't make you invincible, in fact, that mentality is how we have a world where 22% of players are depressed or have considered self-harm. Something I will talk about in the next part.