Acts of Assault or Flaring Tempers?
One of the first scenes in the 2004 movie Friday Night Lights is a high school football player taking a swing at his teammate. In that one punch lies one of the messiest issues in sports: inter-team violence. The issue is as big or small as you want to make it, however.
Violence among teammates on a small level is not an uncommon occurrence. Scuffles and fights at practice and in the locker room occur all the time, and are nothing to worry about, espn.com writer Wayne Drehs says.
“There’s no question that there’s tension between teammates. When you take a [Division I] football team, you’ve got 85 scholarship players from all of different walks of life. It’s natural that everybody isn’t going to get along. Guys fight for thirty seconds, it’s broken up, invariably they go back into the locker room.
Sports sociologist Jay Coakley feels that these actions can’t be excused that easily.
“I don’t buy this idea that it’s just a good tension release. I buy the idea that players need to learn how to set limits and form boundaries and that coaches have to help the players do that so that these animosities and hard feelings don’t persist beyond the practice which they occurred.”
But what happens when competition between teammates goes too far, and the line is crossed from scuffle to stabbing? The answer can be found at Northern Colorado University. On September 11, 2006, Rafael Mendoza, the starting punter for the Northern Colorado Bears, was stabbed just outside his apartment by a man in a hooded jacket, suffering a deep gash in his kicking leg. After an investigation, it was found that the hooded figure was the Bears’ backup punter, Mitch Cozad, Mendoza’s teammate.
Once the blade of that knife entered Mendoza’s leg, Cozad shattered one of the fundamental principles of team unity, but this is a rare occurrence, says Drehs, who covered the story for espn.com.
“There’s no question that this was an isolated incident. I think what makes this case unique is that the fact that these two young men were playing for the same team. They’re trying to get the same goals, to have it happen between them is pretty rare.”
Although the action was rare, the motivation behind it is not. In Cozad’s trial, the prosecution laid out the argument that Cozad was an intensely competitive person who burned to own the Bears’ starting punting job. Competition is a common factor that leads to violence, says Coakley.