Do no-score leagues cause killing sprees?
Many will blame youth sports for the, as George Carlin put it in his later, crankier, much unfunnier years (in a line stolen by many crankier, much more unfunny hacks), the “wussification” of America. You know, kids not learning there are winners and losers, and not learning everybody doesn’t get a trophy, and demanding as grownups they be treated like 5-year-old soccer players. Maybe they’re right. Or maybe they sound like Mr. MacAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie,” bitching about kids.
But the “wussification” of youth sports as a reason behind killing sprees? That hypothesis, offered by Athens State (Ala.) University psychology professor Mark Durm in an interview with the Athens News-Courier, is a new one on me.
Killing sprees are on his mind, and the local News-Courier’s, because Athens is 20 miles from Priceville. That’s where on Tuesday a man, on the eve of his divorce hearing, killed his estranged wife and three other family members, burned down their house, and then killed himself. In the last month there have been at least eight mass killings — three of them in Alabama.
Mark Durm, an Athens State University instructor, said because of early childhood training, when adults don’t get what they want they react with “knee-jerk hostility.”
While Durm said there are “undoubtedly many other variables” when someone goes on a killing rampage, early conditioning plays a big part in how people deal with frustration.
Here is the excerpt from Durm’s interview with the News-Courier that had me rubbing my eyeballs in disbelief:
Durm said he has given a lot of thought to mass killings, especially since the slaying of 15 people at an immigration office last week by someone who had lost his job.
“I think we also no longer teach children how to handle emotions, but it is deeper in some ways,” he said. “We are a society where no one can lose. Sometimes in youth sports leagues they don’t keep score so no one loses. When they get to be adults and lose the person they love, they don’t know how to tolerate it.
“You need to learn how to lose before you can win.”
Really? The implications are staggering — millions of children, their psyches no longer soothed because everybody no longer gets a trophy, going on mass killing sprees when things don’t go their way. I had a hard time believing Durm was serious. I thought he might have been misquoted.
A little research on Durm finds that he is the antithesis to a no-score league, a tough grader who has studied extensively the history of handing out A’s and B’s, and F’s. (He’s also a debunker of paranormal activity and Alabama’s religiosity.) You also can find his email address — so I contacted him to ask about what he was quoted as saying in the News-Courier.
Here is a slightly edited back-and-forth we had today (mostly edited to take out the rambling introduction to myself I wrote for Durm, and his inquiry about whether I had gotten one of his notes because he was having computer problems):
Your Kid’s Not Going Pro: Is this [opinion] conjecture on your part, or is this something you’ve researched? What is the connection between that sort of treatment in youth sports (or otherwise as children) and what’s happening now? Is there any research you can point to on this subject? … If there’s any bias I have on the subject of no-score leagues, it’s that in my experience I feel like they’ve been used to guarantee the parents will shut up. The kids usually know the score.
Mark Durm: Bob..its mainly conjecture on my part…..to my knowledge there is very little, if any, research on “no losing” sports. Several years ago we were sold a lot of hogwash about hurting a child’s self esteem…………but one can never get up if one has never fallen down.
YKNGP: My follow-up would be then, how does one make the connection, even through conjecture, from “no losing” sports to mass killings, even as a small factor in why we appear to be seeing more of them? For example, in cases like the shooter in Binghamton, the evidence presented thus far appears to be of a man who had fallen down repeatedly, not one who went off after the first time things went wrong.
Durm: Specifically the man in binghamton had an Asian mindset [Editor's note: the shooter was from Vietnam]……..to my knowledge he had just “lost face”. The connection in our culture, in my opinion, is if I do not get my way you pay.
YKNGP: One more question. Given the cultural norms you talk about it, why don’t we see more of
these deadly outbursts? After all, we lose face or don’t get our way frequently.
Durm: Because “spurned” people extract different level of payments……………..those with the least control(and many variables come into play here) extract the payment of your life.
So while it’s a stretch to say he thinks no-score leagues turn children into mass killers, he’s definitely saying, it doesn’t help to not turn them into killers.
The conversation ended because I had no more immediate questions. Why didn’t I ask about the Asian thing, which seems, um, a bit of a broad brush? My purpose was to find out Durm’s opinion on youth sports’ connection to the violence we see, not his thoughts and impressions of Asian cultures. You can fill in your own blanks on that one. I just wanted to confirm Durm meant what he told the newspaper.
I will say that I think Durm is guilty of what many are guilty of, both on the subject of youth sports and mass murder — gross oversimplification. No-score leagues, as part of a self-esteem curriculum, might accentuate some already-spoiled kids’ diva tendencies — but as of yet there’s no empirical evidence (even by Durm’s own admission) they turn children into adults incapable of handling setbacks, much less ones who will act out violently when they don’t get their way.
And it’s hardly Durm who pins some sort of easy, overarching cause to mass shootings. Of course, there’s the old standby, easy access to guns. These days, there’s always economic oppression.
I don’t know more than anybody else why we’re seeing so many mass killings. It might be one of these things. It might be all of these things, and more. But I have a hard time believing no-score leagues will turn an otherwise stable child into a future spree killer. Or a future wuss.