Pride is considered to be a positive emotion and is observed in human beings throughout the world. It is fostered through positive approval received from others and is associated with success and satisfaction. Feelings of pride serve to enhance an individual’s self-concept. When pride is at stake, individuals are motivated to work longer and harder to achieve success. Pride serves individuals and groups positively, however, experienced pride may lead individuals to feel special and entitled. When they are, they experience hubristic pride. Hubristic pride is sinister and dangerous. In the name of pride, sport participants cheat, engage in violence, and selfishly take advantage of others. Hubristic pride is not to be confused with the satisfaction one receives from successful performance and positive feedback. Hubristic pride is pride that has gone wrong. It allows individuals to engage in harmful acts without feeling remorse. Coaches, athletes and parents exhibit hubristic pride that causes harm to others. In this paper, examples of hubristic behavior and the harm that it causes in sport are presented. A lack of perspective enables individuals to choose to engage in hubristically motivated behavior.
Key Words: Pride, Hubris, Coaches, Athletes, Parents, Cheating, Violence, Sexual Behavior, Abuse, Hubristic Pride
The term pride is often viewed in a favorable light. It conjures up positive images such as a toddler’s glee after successful performance of a task, a parent’s delight in the athletic accomplishment of a child, a coach’s jubilation following an important victory, and an athlete’s elation after a record-setting performance. Few would find fault with these positive images of pride.
Pride, however, can degenerate into something abhorrent. Athletes cheat and injure others in order to achieve success and bolster their pride. Coaches can become controlling and abusive of athletes as they seek success and enhancement of their pride. Parents meddle into the affairs of coaches and abuse their children in the pursuit of athletic success, their means to enhancing parental pride. Pride can be the motivation for antagonistic actions as individuals compete for the social standing, fame, and riches associated with athletic success.
“In truth, pride is double-edged: destructive and ludicrous in the wrong place and the wrong proportions, but heroic and admirable in the right ones” (19, p. 46). How does pride positively serve individuals as they navigate the waters of social relationships and as they pursue success? How does pride, which can serve as a positive social attribute, become something negative? In order to answer these questions, the nature of pride as well as its positive social functions shall be examined. Hubristic pride will be explored as the origin of many ills plaguing sport and society. When pride suggests traces hubris, it becomes a negative force in the lives of many and all that fall within reach of its acridity. By better understanding the difference between pride and hubristic pride, coaches, parents and administrators may be better able to take action to prevent hubristic pride from causing harm to themselves or others.
Pride is a basic emotion observed universally in human beings (35). It is exhibited through specific and recognizable non-verbal expressions spontaneously displayed when individuals experience pride. They include a low-intensity smile, expanded posture, slight head tilt, and arms to the side with hands on hips or raised above the head with hands in fists (36). Children exhibit recognizable signs of pride by the age of two and a half years and are able to recognize physical expressions of pride in others by age four.
Pride is generally considered to be a positive emotion. It can be thought of as a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in one’s actions. Pride is often linked to success and it is achieved through the receipt of social approval and the admiration of others (33). When individuals are rewarded with positive feedback and when they see faces brimming with pride over their accomplishments, they feel pride and understand that they stand well in comparison to others (26). Success enhances self-esteem and feelings of pride. Self-esteem and a sense of pride serve as positive means to find success in society (6,21).
Pride is sometimes used to describe the satisfaction achieved through the completion of a task to the best of one’s ability. Former Major League Baseball player and Hall of Fame member Don Sutton illustrated the belief that one should take pride in doing one’s job and in doing it well (22):
I grew up in rural Clio, Alabama and in rural northwest Florida where your work ethic was what you took pride in, whether you might have been a farmer or a carpenter or whatever. You showed up on time, you did your job, and you went home. (5)
Sutton believed it was his responsibility to prepare himself for games to the best of his ability each day and that by doing so; he could feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.
National Football League quarterback and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Drew Brees explained why he believed some athletes are superior to others. The key is having pride in one’s performance efforts (5):
I think it’s pride. That encompasses so many things. But in my mind, pride is that inner discipline, that inner voice to just be the hardest-working guy on the field — as tough as you can be — to give everything you can to your team, to not be a selfish player, to fulfill your role, to fight for your teammates, to be a great leader not only on the field but off the field. And just to work at your craft. (p. 1)
The comments of Sutton and Brees reflect the belief held by most involved in sport: individuals should work to the best of their ability and take pride in their efforts. Knowing that one has supplied the best effort possible is the means by which those defeated may find solace in their loss. Providing one’s best effort also enhances one’s chances of experiencing success.
Many athletes and coaches believe that when a person’s pride is challenged, superior performances result (18). Indeed, it has been demonstrated that the level of pride individuals possess is positively associated with goal-attainment motivation and perseverance (40). Those concerned with ego-enhancement and pride possess competitive orientations geared toward maintaining self-esteem and pride (6). When the pride of individuals is at risk, they work longer and harder to succeed.
Pride, however, can be a very damaging emotion for it can serve as the motivation to engage in harmful behavior as individuals seek to bolster and protect their pride. Further, a loss of pride in the form of humiliation or the potential loss of pride through ego threats can lead people to engage in aggressive and violent behavior (39,35).
The scriptures of many world religions proscribe pride and the egoism that is reflective of pride. Scriptures from two religious texts shall serve as illustrations.
Judaism and Christianity: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16.18 (25).
Hinduism: “Honoured (only) by themselves, void of humility, and full of the pride and frenzy of wealth, these calumniators (of the virtuous) perform sacrifices, which are sacrifices only in name, with ostentatiousness and against prescribed rules 3; indulging (their) vanity, brute force, arrogance, lust, and anger; and hating me in their own bodies and in those of others 4. These enemies 5, ferocious, meanest of men, and unholy, I continually hurl down, to these worlds 6, only into demoniac wombs. Coming into demoniac wombs, deluded in every birth, they go down to the vilest state, O son of Kuntî! without ever coming to me.” The Bhagavadgita Chapter XVI (34, p. 115)
Writers and philosophers over the ages have also observed that pride may become something negative and destructive as evidenced by the following quotes (13):
Samuel Johnson: “Pride is seldom delicate; it will please itself with very mean advantages.” (p. 517)
Louis the Eleventh: “When pride and presumption walk before, shame and loss follow very closely.” (p. 518)
It is evident that pride can become something problematic in the lives of human beings. Though pride may benefit us, it may also be the cause of pain, suffering, and destruction.
Hubris is a term taken from the Ancient Greeks. Originally hubris described those who thought themselves superior to the gods and it entailed the moral failings of not knowing one’s place in a hierarchical scheme and vaingloriously sticking to it (23). Hubris is a false pride (9). The hubristic are puffed up with pride, exaggerate their importance, act recklessly in pursuit of glory, and may believe themselves to be infallible (19). Hubristic pride is associated with arrogance, conceit, narcissism, hostility, aggression, and it results in interpersonal problems (36- 37). Hubristic pride is not to be confused with the satisfaction one receives from successful performance and positive feedback. It is pride that has morphed into prideful. Hubris is pride that has gone wrong.
When individuals engage in a harmful act or transgression against another, the perpetrator may experience either shame or pride. If the choice is to experience pride, it is an indication that the perpetrator has morally disengaged from the victimized. The personal benefit gained through the harmful action is considered to be more important than the negative impact it has upon the victim (24).
In order to illustrate the real evil that can be caused by hubristic pride, three examples taken from outside the world of sport are presented below. Rapes occur frequently in war-zones as a consequence of narcissistic pride. Rape is deemed acceptable by the rapists because they believe the victimized deserve to be shamed through the act of rape. Shame displacement and narcissistic pride preclude the rapists from feeling shame over the horrible act of rape (3).
During the “Holy Wars” known as the Crusades, Byzantine Christian and Muslim writers characterized the Latin intruders as being prideful and arrogant (27). Who could war over religious beliefs and practices? Only the proud and arrogant could. The Byzantines believed that God would ultimately punish the pride and arrogance of the invading Latins. To the Muslims, Latin pride and arrogance was considered to be the gravest of sins. Those who acted with arrogance and pride, they believed, could not be true believers in their conceptualization of God.
The colonization and expansion of European settlements in North America resulting in the death of countless Native Americans required a measure of hubris. According to Lewy (17):
The new Americans, convinced of their cultural and racial superiority, were unwilling to grant the original inhabitants of the continent the vast preserve of land required by the Indians’ way of life. The consequence was a conflict in which there were few heroes, but which was far from a simple tale of hapless victims and merciless aggressors. (68)
If indeed hubristic pride empowers individuals to engage in behavior that harms others in the quest to achieve their goals, it seems that sport would provide a context in which those who have achieved success and those committed to athletic success might display hubristic pride. One would also expect to observe conflict, pain and suffering in the wake of the hubristic sport participant.
During a televised speech, professional golfer Tiger Woods apologized for extramarital affairs that gained worldwide attention, garnered negative publicity and cost him millions of dollars in commercial sponsorships. The words of Woods (42) illustrated how athletic success can lead to hubristic pride and a sense of entitlement:
I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules did not apply. I never thought about who I was hurting… I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them. I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. (¶ 11 – 12)
Many who find success in sport are seduced by the calling of hubris. They grow to feel that they are special; that they are more important than others, and that they are entitled to have what they want and to act as they please. Actions taken as the consequence of hubristic pride held by coaches, athletes, and parents often impact others negatively.
Hubristic coaches dish out strong humiliation to athletes in an effort to achieve success that brings to them wealth, sporting glory and enhancement of their pride (23). Strong humiliation comes in the form of abusive and degrading language meant to embarrass and degrade the athlete’s self-concept. Strong humiliation is a violation of the basic respect one human being should have for another. It often results in more than an athlete’s loss of self-esteem that may come as a result of a loss; even an embarrassing loss. Athletes experience mental anguish, embarrassment, shame and may come to hate sport as a consequence of strong humiliation. More sinister is the prospect of the athlete feeling poorly about him or herself as a human being. Hubristic coaches coldly and calculably do harm in the name of athletic success and toward the enhancement of their personal reputation, fame and pride.
Recently, a college football coach at high profile program was accused of physically attacking and verbally abusing his players. A second was accused of grabbing a player by the facemask, shaking him, choking him, and punching him in the face (38).
Losses and insubordination enraged the coaches who suffered humiliation and a loss of face. The violent actions taken by the coaches as a consequence of assaults upon their pride made it clear that pride was more important than the athletes they chose to abuse.
Hubristic, glory-seeking coaches may violate rules and regulations in an effort to increase their chances of winning. For example, the New England Patriots’ coaching staff videotaped the defensive signals used by opposing coaches during games and practices. The Patriots used the information in order to call offensive plays to best take advantage of the defense, thus increasing their chances of success. The illegal activity was found by the National Football League to have taken place during the 2007 season, however, additional allegations of illegal filming surfaced during the 2008 season. It was also reported by a former Patriots’ employee that the team had filmed opponent’s signals beginning in 2000 during head coach Bill Belichick’s first season with the team (4). It is worth noting that the Patriots won three Super Bowl Championships between 2000 and 2006.
Hubristic coaches are found in youth leagues, high schools, and colleges. They feel as though they are above having to adhere to rules and regulations. Operating rules, they believe, are for everyone else to follow. In a sense, the hubristic do not believe they are cheating. They are simply doing what the timid and uncommitted will not do to achieve success.
Hubristic pride can lead to poor coaching decisions. A coach may leave a player in the game longer than appropriate because replacing the individual may make it clear that a mistake was made by either playing the athlete or by having left him/her in too long (28). Hubristic pride can lead coaches to make decisions concerning who plays where and when entirely upon opinions rather than the objective utilization of statistics as a part of the decision-making process. When athletes question hubristic coaches for reasoning behind opinion-based coaching decisions they indignantly respond, “Because I am the coach!” Sadly, hubristic pride hampers their ability to make good decisions. It prevents them from effectively motivating and communicating with their athletes. It thwarts the coach’s desire to learn and grow.
President Bill Clinton engaged in an adulterous sexual encounter with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. When asked some years later why he had the affair, he replied that it was for the worst possible reason, “Just because I could” (20, ¶ 16). Clinton felt special and entitled to do as he pleased. His actions were motivated by hubris. Illicit sexual activity is observed in coaches and it can also be motivated by a sense of hubris. Between 1993 and 2003, 159 athletic coaches were fired or received reprimands for sexual misconduct in the state of Washington (41). Coaches form strong bonds with athletes. They may take advantage of the closeness of their relationships and the power that they have over their athletes to garner sexual favors. They engage in the behavior because they can and because they do not consider the impact that the act has upon the victims.
Hubristic pride allows coaches to believe themselves to be exempt from the moral imperative of the “Golden Rule.” For example, they expect to be respected by officials, yet berate them when calls do not go their way. How many coaches refer to officials as “blind man,” “zebra,” and worse?
Hubristic coaches may demand respect from athletes, but give none in return. They wish to have athletes attentively listen to their instructions, wants, and needs, yet they fail to consider those of their charges. Though hubristic coaches may find success, their actions result in athletes who resent and despise them. The hubristic demonstrate to the world that they alone are important and spread the message that the self is important above all. Hubristic coaches simply use athletes to achieve their personal goals.
What insidious actions will hubristic coaches take in an effort to achieve victory and bolster their pride? Before a T-Ball playoff game a coach offered to pay one of his players twenty-five dollars if he hit a teammate on purpose with a thrown ball. The intended target was Harry, a nine year old who was autistic and mildly retarded (2). The goal was to avoid having to play Harry in the three innings required by league rules. Participation by the autistic and mildly-retarded child would naturally decrease the team’s chances for success. If Harry were hurt, he would most likely go home. When hitting Harry in the groin failed to have the desired effect, the coach asked the player to hit Harry harder with a second throw. The child hit Harry in the side of his face and ear drawing blood. Traumatized, Harry did not play in the game. The coach was, however, able to bask in the glow of an epic T-Ball playoff victory.
Successful athletes often feel entitled to special treatment from others. Earlier in this paper, the words of Tiger Woods illustrated how athletes may convince themselves that hard work and success entitle them to special treatment. Athletes who feel entitled to special treatment negatively impact others and at times, harm themselves.
Few athletes in history have been the embodiment of perfection. How can athletes improve if they believe themselves above the need for improvement? How can they better contribute to the success of a team if they do not realize their potential? Hubristic athletes cannot honestly consider these questions, because they have been successful and their attitude toward instruction becomes hardened. They have an unrealistic assessment of their abilities and cannot see that their current abilities may simply make them a “big fish in a small pond.” They do not achieve their potential because they have an inflated perspective of their abilities. They lack perspective.
Hubristic athletes often feel as though they should not be required to adhere to policies and expectations set forth by the coach. For example, they are offended when they are taken out of a game in order to allow a substitute to play, when they are punished for being late, when they are asked to stop talking while the coach is trying to instruct, and when they are required to perform in tactical roles determined by the coach.
Hubristic athletes are less than a joy to have on a team in spite of how talented they may be. They cause frustration, irritation and resentment. They do so because they believe their perceived self-importance is worthy of special treatment and understanding. They believe that because they are gifted, the team cannot do well without them. They deceive themselves.
The hubristic individual is a poor teammate for it becomes clear to all that their own views and their personal success are all that is important. The hubristic athlete feels entitled to tell others what they are to do instead of making suggestions. The hubristic quickly express their displeasure in the poor performance of others and are incensed when others have the audacity to suggest that their play could be improved. Teammates come to fear and in a way despise them.
Hubristic athletes may even come to expect special treatment from officials. Some professional basketball players receive favorable calls because of their historical success and fame. They also receive favorable calls because they complain to officials to the point of embarrassment when calls do not go their way (29).
Hubristic athletes may see no problem with intentionally harming opponents in response to a loss of face experienced during competition. For example, an opponent was dominating NFL defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth during a contest. In the midst of a play the helmet of Haynesworth’s opponent had fallen off. With his opponent lying unprotected on the ground, Haynesworth intentionally stomped upon the face of his tormentor with a cleated foot. The stomping resulted in the victim being removed from the game and receiving several stitches. When asked about the motivation for the reprehensible act, Haynesworth replied, “You come to a crossroads in your life. I’m a prideful guy and I hate to lose, and I thought I was losing or at the point where it was make it or break it. I wanted to make it.” (15, ¶ 26).
Modern parents often believe that the successes and failures of their children are an indication of their parental prowess. According to Coakley (10) the moral worth of parents is often tied to their children’s sporting success. In the sports setting the consequences of a child’s success and failure therefore takes on high importance concerning the pride an individual may take in being a parent.
Parents may display symptoms of hubris as they seek glory for their children. They feel entitled to impose their will, opinions, and desires upon anyone who may have an impact upon their child’s ability to shine. According to Dominowski (12):
Some parents become obsessed with their son’s or daughter’s athletic success. Making all-conference, all-county, all-district, or all-state, for some parents caught in the web of showing themselves and their neighbors they are somehow ‘better’ because of their child’s success, is a case in point. Playing up to a coach, beseeching administrators, or running to the athletic director is a common occurrence among those with a do-or-die fixation personality. When things don’t go the way these individuals want them to go, out come the personal bashing, invective, provocative personal assaults, name-calling, and ‘get-even’ determination to end a coach’s career. (18)
Hubristic parents become a bane upon the lives of coaches. Parents evaluate all coaching decisions in light of how they may benefit or harm their child’s chances to achieve success and glory. Coaches are frequently second-guessed and criticized. Emboldened parents will often attempt to influence the decisions of coaches and become enraged if and when their attempts fail. Parents become incensed when it is perceived that their child has been “mistreated” or subjected to “humiliation” because it indirectly serves as an attack on their pride. Too frequently, their rage erupts into violence. Some salient examples are presented below.
How many engage in violent activity because their parental pride has been wounded? How many angry parents believe that violence is justified because their pride is more important than the health, safety and even the lives of others? Those who do posses a puffed-up hubristic pride that makes them dangerous.
Parents may justify cheating as a means of assisting with their child’s success. The importance of success to the hubristic parent takes precedence over values such as fair play and sportsmanship. In an effort to achieve success, parents may falsify birth certificates or purchase performance-enhancing drugs for their children to ingest (16,32).
Hubristic parents may be despised by others because their conversational focus centers around their child’s talents, successes, future greatness, and because they often erupt into tirades concerning “unfair” treatment doled out by coaches and officials. Not to be forgotten are the stories of financial sacrifice, time invested and personal involvement in the skill development of their children. If people are not told, hubristic parents believe, how can they recognize the important impact that their actions have had upon the success of their children?
In a capitalistic society, competition is ubiquitous and the standing afforded us through our successes and failures has a tremendous impact upon our self-concept and experienced pride. Pride can indeed be a positive emotion. It serves to motivate human beings to accomplish great things both individually and collectively.
In the pursuit of success and in the afterglow of achievement we may deem ourselves special and, therefore above following the rules and standards of behavior set forth by society or the governing bodies of sport. We may come to believe ourselves to be worthy of special treatment and to take license to do as we please regardless of the harm we may do to others. When we do, we have chosen to be hubristic (27). We become a source of conflict, pain and discomfort. We may literally become a danger to others as well as to ourselves.
The perspective unknown to or unappreciated by the hubristic is that success and fame soon fade. Eventually time has its way and the mantle of greatness once bestowed upon the prideful is unceremoniously taken by vigorous youths. “In sports, more than most cultural pursuits, greatness is indeed on loan temporarily from the Gods” (23, p. 51). We cannot win forever. The applause we receive for our achievements does not echo throughout eternity.
Even those who achieve international renown should understand that to some, they are nothing more and nothing less than one of the 6.8 billion inhabitants of the earth. In an interview following Tiger Wood’s public apology for his hubristically motivated indiscretions, the Buddhist religious leader, Dalai Lama, stated that he did not know who Tiger Woods was (31). It is clear that the monumental achievements of some are unknown by and irrelevant to the many. Perspective yields humility. Perverted is the perspective held by the hubristic.
There is nothing wrong with the positive feelings of pride associated with athletic accomplishments. Athletes fittingly take pride in their abilities and performances. Coaches justifiably take pride in their work and successes. Parents rightly feel pride in the performances and accomplishments of their children. The desire to obtain a sense of accomplishment and pride drives individuals toward excellence in sport and life.
The danger to individuals and to society surfaces when pride in one’s athletic accomplishments leads them to believe that they are entitled to special treatment. At this point, pride has gone wrong. Pride has morphed into hubristic pride.
If sport is to prepare individuals to work and to live in harmony with one another, hubris must be eliminated from the competitive milieu. Athletic administrators, coaches, athletes, and parents must be vigilant for traces of hubristic behavior and sanction it quickly and effectively. In doing so, the spread of hubristic behavior through sport may be lessened.
Dr. Steven Aicinena
Professor of Kinesiology/Athletic Director
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin
4901 East University
Odessa, TX 79762