Whatever happened to good old trust falls?
Sports teams, at both the college and professional ranks, have been getting very creative about their team-building exercises in recent years. Perhaps a little bit too creative.
Every team needs some bonding time to get to know one another a little bit better off the ice/court/field/diamond. But when that bonding involves the likes of dangerous live animals, playing ball on ice skates and dodging mousetraps in your own locker room, you have to wonder—how important is team building, really?
Granted, trust falls can go wrong, too, but generally, they're a better bet than anything that involves guns/knives/mousetraps.
Swim Olympics! An excellent team-building idea for a college football team, right?
It's creative, for sure. But anytime you have a bunch of grown men goofing off by diving into a pool, you have to wonder about all the things that could have gone wrong.
In 2010, the Beavers coaching staff sought ways to "bring the guys together," as told by assistant head coach Jay Locey, and among the ideas they settled upon were bowling, a rock-paper-scissors tournament, running into each other with three inner tubes taped around themselves and, of course, Swim Olympics. Part of the Swim Olympics was a diving competition.
Fortunately, there were no freak injuries this time. But perhaps next time they should stick to the inner tube wrestling matches.
Last May, Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones found a bloody pig head in his locker. A harmless prank, right?
You see, Jones is a Rastafarian who does not eat pork. Therefore, putting a dead pig head in his personal space was highly offensive rather than funny.
So how did he retaliate? According to Fox Soccer, he put a brick through the car window of the suspected perpetrator, teammate Glenn Whelan.
That'll teach him.
It seems that whenever professional athletes try their hands at pickup basketball, it always ends poorly.
Now, Zack Greinke knows that firsthand.
The current Dodgers hurler and then-Milwaukee Brewer put himself on the 15-day disabled list when he suffered a fractured rib playing pickup basketball at his brand new spring training site in 2011. Greinke, ever the terrific decision-maker, told ESPN.com afterward, "Everyone always told me not to do it because I was going to get hurt. It finally caught up to me."
Perhaps he should have tried team building by way of self-defense classes instead. Those would have come in handy.
As Zack Greinke so eloquently stated, pickup basketball is, in general, a terrible idea for professional athletes. Save it for post-retirement.
Chad Pennington put himself into retirement because he just couldn't resist a good old pickup game.
The oft-injured former quarterback, who spent time with the Jets and Dolphins throughout the course of his 11-year career, went down once and for all in March 2011, when he was playing hoops in Miami, which he called home while a member of the Dolphins from 2008-10.
At 34 years old, his career was over.
Just like there is a stipulation in most professional athletes' contracts that forbids them from riding motorcycles, there should also be one that forbids them from playing pickup basketball.
It was supposed to be funny when notorious prankster Brett Favre filled teammate Eric Barton's locker with a dead animal carcass.
It wasn't funny when the entire locker room smelled like a rotting animal.
Playing pranks on one another is one of the best ways for teammates to bond. It requires creativity. It requires humor. It requires knowledge of the kinds of things your teammates will find the most annoying, grotesque and (hopefully) hilarious.
But Favre misfired here.
The QB stuffed the blood and guts of a still unknown animal into Barton's locker early in his short tenure with the Jets, filling his new locker room with "the overpowering stench of death."
Dodgeball. Harmless, right?
In theory, yes. In this particular situation, yes. Fortunately.
Dodgeball is one of those things that can go very wrong. Any time you have a group of super-athletic, super-competitive people hurling balls at each other with brute force, you have to expect that things may go wrong.
Still, Vanderbilt's football team turned to the age-old schoolyard game in order to foster team-building vibes during last year's spring practices. Head coach James Franklin canceled the regular workouts in favor of a good old game of dodgeball, and while it certainly looked like a spirited and exciting game, you probably wouldn't want to be QB coach Ricky Rahne or offensive line coach Herb Hand.
Fortunately, this worked. Very fortunately.
If the fates didn't play out the way they did and the Red Sox did not, in fact, win the 2004 World Series, there would have been a lot of people who were very distressed about the fact that the players used to take shots of Jack Daniel's before playoff games.
"Cowboy Up" maestro Kevin Millar was the one who spilled the beans about Boston's unorthodox pregame ritual and, thankfully, he waited to do it until after the Red Sox had completed the most epic comeback in sports history. Millar said, on The Best Damn Sports Show Period (h/t Peter Gammons), that he and his teammates started doing shots before Game 6 of the ALDS and then kept doing it thereafter because it worked.
When the controversy flared up, Millar clarified to say, "We had one small Gatorade cup, with a little Jack Daniel's in it. We passed it around and everyone symbolically drank out of the same cup, because we are a team."
Poor Dale Sveum.
Not only did he just get fired as manager of the Chicago Cubs, but he also had to suffer through a gunshot wound to his right ear, courtesy of old buddy and former Brewer Robin Yount.
The two incidents were unrelated, but Sveum did admit that in winter 2012, during a quail hunt, Yount attempted to shoot at a bird that was behind Sveum but instead got his friend in the ear.
The ensuing scene was "bloody," Sveum said.
Let's all agree that bonding via hunting isn't a good idea when at least one of the hunters has no idea what he's doing, shall we?
It seems obvious that when knives and/or guns are involved, things can go wrong for a professional athlete. Just ask Gilbert Arenas.
But, still, nobody really expects a pleasant afternoon of hunting to jeopardize his season.
Last year, San Diego Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner was enjoying his offseason and hunting with friends, like many Major League ballplayers are wont to do. Unfortunately, though, one of Cashner's buddies accidentally stabbed him while dressing meat, cutting one of Cashner's tendons and forcing him out for three months.
It's time to find bonding hobbies that don't involve knives and guns, guys.
Professional athletes are the ultimate competitors. We all know that. They wouldn't be playing a professional sport if they didn't pour all of their blood, sweat and tears into competing. They wouldn't be where they are if they didn't care.
You can't really turn the competitive juices on and off. They're always there, always flowing—even during seemingly innocuous card games during team plane rides.
Playing cards is one of the most common ways teammates bond during long flights. But sometimes, playing cards goes wrong, particularly when Tony Allen is involved.
A couple of years ago, the then-Grizzlies guard punched teammate O.J. Mayo because Mayo owed him money from a card game. Mayo mouthed off a little bit, and Allen's fist eventually landed on Mayo's face.
No more card games for the Grizzlies.
So this one time, then-Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio thought it would be an awesome idea to put an ax in his locker room.
Then, the Jaguars punter thought it would be fun to play with the ax, and he ended up missing significant time after impaling himself.
Great idea, Jack!
Del Rio's intentions were fine. He wanted to remind his players to "keep chopping' wood," despite their struggles. Chris Hanson chose to end his personal struggle by giving himself a gash so deep he needed to be rushed to the local hospital.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that an ax does not belong in an NFL locker room. There are better ways to motivate.
We all know that Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon is the king of the outlandish team-building exercises. But at what point is it better to just sit back and let your players do their own thing?
That point comes when you bring a live python into your clubhouse.
It does not make you less of a man if you don't want to be around a live python. In fact, it probably means you just appreciate the value of life. Still, the Rays were all forced to pretend it was awesome when Maddon introduced Asia to his clubhouse in order to foster an environment of "risk-taking" and inspire "a wellspring of ideas."
There are better ways, Joe. For sure.
It's really shocking, in light of this, that UMass is 0-5 this season.
Clearly, the Minutemen's plan to build team chemistry by beating the crap out of each other just didn't work. Again—shocking.
The Daily Hampshire Gazette (h/t Deadspin) revealed a video from the 2012 offseason in which UMass football players are seen warring with one another in an effort to "instill mental toughness," as head coach Charley Molnar called it.
It is worth nothing that a backup quarterback suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during this "team-building exercise."
The dreaded trap game. It's a real thing. Players get caught off-guard by an opponent that wasn't supposed to be a challenge (hello, Broncos vs. Cowboys) and find themselves fighting for their lives against a far inferior team.
The Indianapolis Colts have started off the 2013 season in incredibly impressive fashion, most recently taking down Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks to move to 4-1. But perhaps that record wouldn't be so pretty if head coach Chuck Pagano hadn't put mousetraps in the locker room prior to a game against the winless Jacksonville Jaguars to remind his players that any team could win on any given Sunday.
Granted, the mousetraps were fake, but still. Does Gosder Cherilus really need a cheese-filled mousetrap inside his locker to remind him to actually try?
I understand the fact that the Penguins need to generate some serious team-building juju after the way they were unceremoniously excused from the playoffs at the end of last season. And the fact that they wanted to celebrate the fact that their comrades, the Pittsburgh Pirates, had made the MLB playoffs for the first time since 1992 is cute.
But next time they want to get creative about celebrating the start of their own season and the start of the local baseball team's postseason, they could pick something that doesn't have the potential to go horrifically, horrifically wrong.
Fortunately, nothing did go wrong this time. But there's something that doesn't sit well about the idea of jumping up for a fly ball while wearing ice skates.