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When the locker-room becomes a chamber of secrets

by admin February 16, 2010

TORONTO (CUP) &- The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.
This is the code followed by so many university athletic teams. Because there is such a strong emphasis on team cohesion in sports, athletes must succumb to the additional pressure of protecting their adopted family.
At Ryerson University, this has meant everything from the mass suspension of members of the women’s volleyball team because of a drinking violation to the departure of the men’s basketball coach.

Caroline Fusco, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who has researched the sociology of athletes, says that athletes are “not really people who rock the boat often when it comes to challenging team norms.”
Last year, Ryerson Rams men’s basketball coach Glenn Taylor abruptly left the team, and to date no coaches or players have been willing to talk about his sudden departure.
“We really as a team decided that none of us are going to make any comments on this,” said star forward Boris Bakovic, after Taylor’s exit.

It seems that the one thing athletes can agree on is that the code of silence does indeed exist.
Tessa Dimitrakopoulos, a fourth year member of the Ryerson women’s hockey team and former soccer player, has been one of few athletes willing to consistently speak publicly about team drama. While she was willing to discuss the reason she stopped playing soccer 8212; being driven out after too many headaches with coach Peyvand Mossavat 8212;she knows it’s not an easy task to go against the team.
“When it comes down to it, you don’t want everyone outside [of the team] to know what’s going on or know the weaknesses of the team,” she said, noting that speaking up is “what a leader has to do. Just to clear things up, you don’t want to hide things from people or not tell them the truth. That’s just one role.”

But breaking the code of silence can’t be done with just any member of the team. Depending on the culture of the room, some athletes may feel they don’t have the authority to speak out. Richard Dean, coach of the Ryerson basketball teams for 18 years before the axe fell this past fall, certainly believes in a hierarchy of powers.
“Everybody has a certain role. For a player, their role is to play the game and listen to what their coaches have to say. To speak to the media, it might fall to another person like the athletic director or the coaches,” Dean said.
Athletes also feel the pinch of peer pressure or worry they may get left out from the rest of team if they spoke out on a prickly issue.
“Without conformity, athletes are not going to be able to produce world-class times or personal bests,” Fuscos said.
“How do you produce these performances by taking into account everybody’s identity? Well, it’s not possible.”