Imagine that you are at a basketball game between your beloved Sweetest Angels and the hated Evil Ogres. You don’t like the way the Ogres compete; as a matter of fact you conclude that they must be coached to play dirty since every Ogre swings her elbows and shoves their closest opponent in the back. Not only are the Ogres dirty, they are whiners. Every whistle is met with a player pulling a face or rolling her eyes. That’s because they were all spoiled as children and are self-entitled babies Sure, sometimes an Angel might contest a whistle, but only when they have a good reason. Finally the game is over and the Angels and Ogres line up to shake hands. The leading scorer on the Ogres doesn’t stick around. Instead she runs directly into the locker room. This confirms all your suspicions – she is a bad sport and a selfish diva. You see the leading scorer for your Sweetest Angel run immediately into the locker room without shaking hands as well. But you know that she has been fighting the flu all week, so she gets a pass.
What I just described is an example to fundamental attribution error. This is a phenomenon in social psychology that describes the tendency for people to judge someone else’s character or personality through their actions. The less well known that person is, the more likely one is to do this. And nowhere is this tendency to be more pronounced than in athletics.
The only way most fans can judge opposing players or game officials is through their actions. And more often than not, their actions are interpreted in the worst possible light. Because of this, judgements about a young women’s character are often made and then held by entire fan bases due to a random facial expression or a single act that actually has an innocent explanation. (See Prahalis, Sammy. On second thought, never mind)
Fans watch a team for forty minutes and conclude that the point guard who goes straight to the basket is selfish; the post player who calls for the ball on the block is a diva; and the wing who sets a solid screen is dirty. It’s time for those watching the games to take a step back and understand just how crazy and unsupported those snap judgements are. Thousands of factors influence a player’s performance, and the vast majority of them are unknown. We have no idea what players have been told by their coaching staff, or what is going on with the rest of the team.
It’s important to bear in mind that no matter what players DO on the court, it doesn’t reflect on their basic personalities. The season has yet to start, and I honestly have no idea how this year’s Purdue Boilermaker team will perform in games. Because the team is composed of college-aged people, I fully expect that some of their individual and collective actions will be, um, counterproductive. There is one thing I do know completely, however, and that is the fact that the team is composed of exceptional young women of outstanding character. What happens between the opening and closing buzzers of basketball contests cannot change that one bit – no matter what they do when I am watching.