The Dark Side of Sport Is Not That Pretty

Paul Myers MBA

When the lights are out the ugly side of sport comes out to play

Image by Mike Von on Unsplash

The tagline of the ’80s and ’90s was “Be Like Mike”, a reference to the NBA superstar regarded by most as the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan.

While Jordan admitted he’s not perfect, his incredible achievements indicate otherwise. It’s estimated that he accrued a wealth of over $2 billion during his career in addition to winning six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and numerous all-star awards.

Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that. — Bill Shankly

There is a darker side in the world of sport, an underbelly that lurks behind a competitive mind.

This article will discuss the most common tactics the exist in the world of Sport.

Fierce rivalry

This is obvious. As an ex-athlete, I had rivals, tough competitors that raised my game. It’s a key ingredient in sport.

Take Manchester United’s former captain, Roy Keane, and Arsenal’s former captain, Patrick Viera, who faced off on numerous occasions. In 2005 however, this rivalry almost spiled over into blows.

Roy Keane was like a man possessed when he took to the field, in his mind he was going into battle, going to war. Check out the video below.

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To win six NBA championships is an incredible feat. In the early days, Jordan and the Bulls were chasing their fierce rivals, the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were known as ‘Bad Boys’ due to their aggressive style. Led by Isiah Thomas, they won back-to-back titles in ’89 and ’90, beating the Bulls along the way.

Isiah and co knew how good Jordan was. So they devised a plan, known as the ‘Jordan Rules’. When they faced off, the Pistons would physically bully Jordan. Defensive players assigned to do the deed starved him of the ball.

This led to Jordan adding timber in the offseason to improve his strength to compete with physical players.

A year later, the Bulls swept aside the Pistons in the finals. The ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons left the court before the final whistle, refusing to shake the hands of Jordan and crew.

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Similar to Keane and Viera, the rivalry between the Bulls and the Pistons often spiled over.

Allegedly Thomas was overlooked for the ‘Dream Team’ to compete at the 1992 US Olympics, despite being the best if not one of the top two point guards in the NBA at the time.

I don’t know what went into that process, I met the criteria to be selected, but I wasn’t. — Isiah Thomas

Rumour has it that Jordan, although he denies it, made the US head coach Chuck Daly choose him or Thomas. Ironically Daly was the head coach at Detroit at the time.

The Detroit-Chicago rivalry may have cost Thomas an Olympic Gold medal, but Jordan said that:

The best point guard of all time is Magic Johnson and right behind him is Isiah Thomas. No matter how much I hate him, I respect his game. — Michael Jordan

The question is this: Is trash-talk just part of sporting rivalry? If so when does it cross the threshold to be considered bullying, if at all?

Bullying in Sport

This word repels most people. In sport, however, aggression and ego combine to formulate a viscous concoction to get into the mind of your opponent.

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Like Roy Keane, fellow Irishman, Conor McGregor, is never one to shy away from his ability to influence, intimidate his opponent rather, in any way he can leading up to the contest.

We’re not just here to take part, we’re here to take over. — Conor McGregor

There’s always a war of tongues in sport. As far as Jordan is concerned, some suggested that he took his trash talk too far on occasion.

Bullying Bull allegations

When Bill Cartwright joined the Bulls in the late 90s Jordan didn’t welcome him with open arms. Jordan said he had bad hands and would fling poor passes to Cartwright to show him up.

When Cartwright was injured Jordan would call him ‘Medical Bill’.

That said, Cartwright was part of the Bulls team that won the ‘three-peat’ championship victories in the 90s.

Mugsy Bogues was the smallest player to ever don an NBA jersey. The diminutive Bouges stood at just 5-foot, 3-inches, but led the league in steals.

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Those closer to the sport mentioned that Jordan’s words were beyond bullying, nothing less than abusive. At a game against the Hornets in ‘95, the Bulls assistant coach claimed that Jordan stepped back from Bogues, and said: “Shoot it you f****** midget.”

At the 1992 Olympics, Tony Kucoc was also targetted by Bulls duo Jordan and Pippen. They were annoyed that their franchise owner spent time abroad trying to sign Kucoc while Pippen’s contract was about to expire.

Gambling in Sport

Sport and gambling have gone hand in hand since the first competitors faced off. Gambling is entrenched in rivalry; the financial pull is a strong force, the stakes are high.

In Ireland, the GAA has had its fair share of problems with this addiction. An affliction is a smear in the game.

Across the water in the Premier League (UK), footballers have often fancied a flutter. The vast sums that came to light in recent years are mindblowing. Yet, in an ironic twist, half the teams have gambling sponsors.

Jordan made no secret of the fact he enjoys gambling, but adamant that he’s never had a problem with it. Although with $2 billion at your disposal it would be hard to wind up like mere-mortals who’ve befallen this addiction.

During the 1993 Eastern Finals against the Knicks Jordan’s habit was unmasked in the public domain. According to Jordan, to get away from basketball, he travelled to the gambling mecca of the east coast, Atlantic City.

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In true billionaire style, Jordan took a limo and gambled for a couple of hours. He said that he was home by 12.30 am, but other punters said that he only left a casino at 2:30 am.

The Bulls lost the next night, in part because of an underwhelming performance by Jordan.

Final thoughts

The truth is that trash-talk, gambling and sport may never be divorced as rivalry may be endemically woven into the tapestry of any competitive engagement.

With this in mind, allow me to borrow the words of a fellow writer:

A powerful moment is all about mindset, motivation, passion, and a willingness to do great things for yourself and others. — Christopher D. Connors

The words above capture the essence of the sport. In the modern world, the ugly side of sports has nowhere to hide but is highly likely to lurk in the background forever.

The hope is that our “willingness to do great things” for ourselves “and others” will prevail and in the end, respect will win out in Sport.

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