Niagara Gazette

August 22, 2013

Mroziak: Our social sickness goes global

By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — As was the case in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bomb attack, there are just some occasions when it’s time to step away from being a sports writer and offer some broader thoughts on the world around us. 

This week’s “thrill kill” of an Australian baseball player attending college in Oklahoma is one of those occasions.

Shock, sadness, disgust, all of the emotions went through my head — as in the heads of most of us — upon learning of the senseless murder of Chris Lane, a Melbourne native who came to the U.S. to play our game on a scholarship and make something useful of his life upon graduation. That, of course, all came to an end at the hands of three teenagers who apparently, according to prosecutors, had nothing better to do with their time and their lives than go out and kill “for the fun of it.”

As what happened that fateful day in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school last December, some will turn their anger toward the always heated debate on guns in our culture. It’s a debate that has certainly not helped our reputation around the world.

Indeed, access to guns is an important discussion. Quite frankly, however, by focusing on the guns we are missing the true issue. Guns and how they’re used are merely the symptoms of the real disease.

America, I’m no doctor nor do I play one in the media but you have a clear addiction to violence, as well as a serious case of “respect deficiency.”

Trigger-happy shoot-em-ups on television, on our movie screens, in our video games... that’s just a symptom of the disease. Your love of violence isn’t limited to guns. Look at all the sharp blades that fly in everything from samurai to slasher films. 

It doesn’t even have to involve weapons. Just look at any given episode of the Jerry Springer Show, where the feuding guests not only end up trading shoves and swings but are encouraged to do so by a cheering audience and by a producer who sounds a boxing bell sound effect to get the on-set brawl moving.

Want to see how cheapened and comedic we’ve allowed graphic violence to become? Stay up past your bedtime one of these nights and take in some of the shows on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” block during the overnight hours. Whether it’s done in clay, plastic action figures or cartoon animation, you’ll never see a more creative and diverse selection of ways human bodies are brutally dismantled. All for our entertainment.

For all of us who feel as if we’re civilized and above such violent culture, how many of you are salivating with the hope these Oklahoma suspects will get the death penalty if convicted? How many of you are posting on internet message boards the gruesome ways you’d like to see them punished?

Face it folks, we can’t get enough violence. We even justify it as a moral means to an end in some cases.

Where did it go wrong? When we took away the fear of justice, whether it was from a parent, an authority figure such as a teacher or legal guardian, or even from a divine higher being. 

The problem now is that the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction we, as everyday people, can’t really be that village that some argue is needed to raise our kids.

Think it’s easy to stop a badly behaving child these days? Try spanking a misbehaved kid in a supermarket. Good luck dealing with the social system that’s ready to deem you “abusive” when trying to discipline such a child, aided at the street level by some busybody standing by ready to tattle on you. Someone who is so full of what is right that they often fail to see what is true. 

There’s a difference between neighbors looking out for each other and vindictive social crusaders looking to nail someone who’s merely trying to get their kid to stop being a brat. Unfortunately, we no longer know the difference.

When you let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, when you get kids who no longer are afraid of being punished, when they’re allowed to consume a regular diet of people disrespecting people who are encouraged to settle their disputes with violence, you’re not in for a happy ending.

Of course, what then do I offer as a solution? That’s the problem. I wish it were as easy as offering a couple of clever lines of advice. I’d be a smarmy fool if I thought one column could make it all go away.

I do think, though, that this is where my realm of sports may come in handy. See some local kids who don’t seem to be getting any guidance? Play catch with them. Invite them into your pickup game. Sit them down, switch off the Jerry Springer and put on a ball game. 

In many cases, you’re dealing with young folks who don’t get such guidance at home. I’m not saying become their full-time surrogate parent, but even a little exposure of a better path may be all they need to stay on it.

It may even save a life someday. Perhaps theirs, perhaps yours, perhaps even the life of a stranger from another land that now sadly but rightly looks at us with suspicious eyes.

Follow Niagara Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter at MrozGazette