Madder than a wet hornet



Knight, with smoke coming out of his earsThe last angry coachAnger'n sportsAnger: Airing it outManaging anger



So long, Bobby
POSTED 21 SEP 2000 Or should we say good-night Knight? This month, Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight flew off the handle one last time, and lost his job (although he will keep receiving those nice paychecks for almost two years).

Knight, seen in profile, yelling
Hot time in the old arena tonight: Indiana's former b-ball coach, Bob Knight, gives some unfriendly advice
Courtesy: AP

In May, University President Myles Brand put Knight on notice that after years of tolerance, the university was fed up with his misbehavior.

Knight, who was notorious for going ballistic at players and reporters alike, began his last act as Indiana's basketball coach by grabbing a freshman and reprimanding him for uncivil behavior (of all things!).

Unlike 1997, nobody was accusing the coach of choking anybody. (Knight refused to talk with a university investigation about that incident.

At any rate, Knight's inability to control his anger finally caused the University to pull the plug on a famously successful -- and infamously ornery -- basketball coaching career.

Seemed steamed
The coach had been a burr under the University's saddle for many years, exhibiting a pattern of angry, aggressive behavior against players, co-workers and strangers alike. "Knight's numerous other incidents of physically and verbally abusing people have been a public scandal for years," wrote Ira Berkow (see "Degrees of Separation" in the bibliography).

At least nobody died under Knight's angry administration. This July, one parent allegedly beat another to death in Massachusetts, during a fistfight after a hockey game. Thomas Juna, a 275-pound father, beat Michael Costin, a 150-pound father, in front of children as young as 10 years old. Costin died the next day from the injuries.

This was an extreme example, but lesser outbreaks of anger and aggression seem to be becoming more common in sports. This September, a former pro baseball player was cited for assault in Texas. "According to a complaint filed by another parent, [Pete] Incaviglia stood up and began shouting obscenities and threatening another child after play involving his 10-year-old son last month," the Associated Press wrote Sept. 12 (see "IncavigliaĆ " in the bibliography).

And it's not just coaches and players. Parents are blowing their tops like never before. Bob Still, the public-relations manager at the National Association of Sports Officials, says "Referee Magazine has been published for 25 years, and it's never had as many reports as now." In some states, the scarcity of referees has moved high-school football games away from the traditional weekend slots.

All these angry actions started us Why Filers to wondering. What is anger? How can it be treated? Do organized sports foster anger, or better health?

Wellsprings of anger
Anger may originate in frustration or a feeling of endangerment. The threat may be physical -- or it may be symbolic, such as an offensive gesture or insult (see p. 60 in "Emotional Intelligence" in the bibliography).

Real anger is accompanied by changes in the limbic system, an ancient part of the brain responsible, among other things, for the "fight or flight" pattern. Indeed, the emotion of anger, and the behavior called aggression that it can spark, largely comprise the "fight" half of the equation.

During anger, the endocrine system releases catecholamines, hormones that produce a short-lived energy surge. A longer-lasting excitation also runs through the brain, driven by the amygdala, an ancient structure associated with emotion. The overall affect raises blood pressure, stressing the heart, and affects breathing, muscle tone and mood.

In fact, anger seems to play a major role in heart disease. A 1996 study by Ichiro Kawachi of Harvard Medical School found that "grumpy old men" are about three times as likely as others to have heart disease. The higher the level of anger, the greater the risk of heart attack or chest pain. An earlier study found that within two hours of an episode of anger, the risk of heart attack was 2.3 times elevated.

Anger = bliss?
Anger has been called a "seductive" emotion because it actually can be enjoyable. Those inner tape recordings -- "I've got a right to get revenge because he hit me first" -- may allow us to invent a self-righteous morality tale with Number One as the hero.

And clearly anger can have positive aspects. Anger at injustice, for example, is a key motivation in many movements for social change. But probably more often, anger is a "toxic" emotion, one that can lead to psychological and physical woes.

Even if you're the winningest coach, anger could get you fired . . . eventually.


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