There are times when it seems like nothing brings out the worst in humanity like victory. Especially when it’s combined with daylong tailgating that involves the heavy consumption of alcohol.
If you’re a sports fan, you know what I mean. Put 70,000 to 100,000 passionate fans into a stadium for, say, a college football game, and a certain percentage of them inevitably will drink too much and act inappropriately – especially if their team wins a close one against a rival.
The first time I experienced this was during my undergraduate years at Penn State. I grew up in Pittsburgh, so I went home the weekend Penn State played at the University of Pittsburgh. We won the game, but someone apparently noticed the Penn State decals on my car and took out their frustrations from the loss by smashing in my front windshield. The drive home on that late November night was chilly, to say the least.
That was more than 30 years ago, but not much has changed when it comes to sports fans.
A few weeks ago, we attended Penn State’s game at Ohio State. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 in the country, and Penn State came in undefeated. We led for most of the game, but the Buckeyes made a brilliant comeback and won.
As we walked away from the stadium after the game, an inebriated Ohio State fan followed behind us and hurled insults that I can’t repeat. My son, who is 24, quickly had enough, but I cautioned him against his plan of fighting fire with fire (or F-bombs with F-bombs). Experience has taught me that if you want to be respected for your character, then you respond to people in a respectful way – even when they are being disrespectful. Dropping to their level might provide some temporary satisfaction, but it comes at a price to your personal honor and dignity. It’s just not worth it.
Instead, we walked a bit further and endured a few more insults. When it was clear he wasn’t going away, I turned to face the man. Rather than confronting him, however, I shook his hand and said, “You guys have a great team and that was a great comeback.” His entire attitude changed. Suddenly, we were his best friends and he was helping us with directions to catch a taxi.
For most fan bases, including Ohio State’s, these types of disruptive fans are the exception, not the rule. They just stand out more because they are drunk and loud.
I’m not about to attempt to understand the psychology behind this type of behavior, but it occurs to me that it’s not limited to sports and it doesn’t always involve alcohol.
Need proof? Check out just about any form of social media. And, frankly, it happens at work, too. The common denominator is that people become emboldened – by alcohol, by hiding behind a screen name, or by the power they’ve won through victories at work – and they turn into bullies.
It’s a cautionary reality that should warn us to identify and gain control over our personal demons, while recognizing that we inevitably must deal with others who have given in to their inner bully. When conflicts happen at work, we can fight fire with fire and F-bombs with F-bombs. Or we can maintain our self-respect by looking for ways to defuse the situation and create peace using our 3H-Core of humility, honesty, and heart. It won’t always work. But you never know, sometimes it leads you out of the mob and toward the peace and quiet of a taxi.
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