If jocks were a race or sports were a religion, it would be easy to see Elliot Rodger’s murder spree as a hate crime.
“I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” the killer of seven people near Santa Barbara promised in his YouTube manifesto. “It is an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I am the perfect guy, but yet, you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me the supreme gentleman.”
The most obnoxious of these “obnoxious men” were athletes. Rodger identified “the type of boy I have always hated and despised” as “a tall, muscular surfer-jock with a buzz cut.” The one group he may have harbored more animus toward than beautiful women were the men they are attracted to, i.e., athletes.
“I was incapable of being an outgoing, boisterous jock,” Rodger writes in one of the many venomous passages in his manifesto, “and I didn’t want to become one. I was disgusted by such people, and I was disgusted how girls were attracted to such filth. I wanted them to be attracted to me.”
Don’t player hate. Player participate. But Rodger sought to participate in neither games nor life, believing good things should happen to him. He didn’t grasp, a lesson that sports surely impart, that he should have tried making good things happen. His language drips with this passive entitlement, e.g., lamenting on his YouTube rant: “I have never even been kissed by a girl.” Why the “been”?
This isn’t the first time a loser has picked on the winners that he imagined picked on him merely by existing. “All the jocks stand up,” a witness reported a Columbine shooter announcing. “We are going to kill you.” The way Ted Bundy hated women or Colin Ferguson hated whites, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris hated athletes. Whereas sports challenge participants to be the best, the sidelines sparked an unhealthy envy in the likes of Klebold, Harris, and Rodger. The mental trick such haters play on themselves to maintain feelings of righteousness is to imagine that everybody they hate actually hates them. “They yelled, ‘This is revenge,'” 16-year-old Brittany Bollerud told the Denver Post sixteen years ago. “They asked people if they were jocks. If they were wearing a sports hat, they would shoot them.” Like Rodger, the two Columbine jerks didn’t just target jocks. But clearly they reserved special contempt for them.
Sports channel aggression–the testosterone that Rodger couldn’t deal with–in a healthy direction. They give participants a sense of accomplishment and esteem. They eradicate feelings of superiority, over a racial or any other group, and humanize others through friendly rivalries and challenges on the gridiron, diamond, hardwood, ice, and beyond. They impart discipline, focus, and long-term goal making. They foster camaraderie by forcing kids to cooperate with their peers and respect by forcing them to compete with them. They combat depression by releasing endorphins. They teach kids that winning takes effort and action rather than entitlement and passivity. They provide purpose in youth and life lessons for adulthood. Rodger, who could have used institutionalization most, could have used all this first.
Even (especially?) kids who hate sports need sports. Today, when plummeting birth rates have reduced playgrounds and athletic fields to ghost towns, when parentally-monitored playdates have replaced spontaneous neighborhood activity concluding once night awakens the street lights, and when parental phobias of molestors, concussions, and other specters of the outdoors trap children inside, kids need athletic play now more than ever. Sports serve as antidote to antisocial behavior.
Whereas other boys regard sports as their favorite part of school, Rodger declared it was what he hated most about it. He labeled an athletic field in England “the first inkling of my shortcomings.” He attempted skateboarding. But he did so to become “cool” rather than for the love of it. When he realized younger kids performed more daring and acrobatic tricks than he could, he lost interest. The sore loser noted that playing basketball or soccer, and merely looking upon a football player, generated intense feelings of inferiority. If you can’t beat ‘em, kill ‘em.
One type of game commanded Rodger’s attention: video games. He immersed himself in a pixelated fantasy detached from human contact. “Playing video games with people over the internet evoked a whole new level of fascination in me,” he divulged. “Talking to people over AIM was fun and new. But this…this was tremendous.”
Sports teach young people how to lose and in the process breed winners. Video games breed little weirdos.