When athletes fight inanimate objects, the inanimate objects inevitably win. Amar’e Stoudemire is merely the latest star to be defeated by the true champion of professional sports: arena hardware.
when he punched the case outside the American Airlines Arena tunnel exit after the ’ 104-94 loss to the Heat in an N.B.A. playoff game Monday night. Paramedics had to treat Stoudemire in the locker room; he left the arena with his hand bandaged and his arm in a sling.
The decision to punch a solid aluminum object inside a glass-and-metal case may be irrational, but the athlete who lashes out and punches something inanimate and injurious is rarely thinking rationally.
“Their emotions hijack them,” said Charles Maher, a psychologist for the Cleveland Indians and professor emeritus at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
Stoudemire joins a long list of players who lost bouts with walls, doors, water coolers and other clubhouse furnishings. Many of these players had New York connections.
when he punched a clubhouse wall after being pulled from a loss to the Baltimore Orioles in 2004. Brown was able to return to the mound two weeks later because he heeded the advice Crash Davis gave Nuke LaLoosh in the film “”: he punched with his nonthrowing hand.
Another Yankees pitcher, to his hands after he slammed them into the plastic announcement holders attached to two swinging doors after getting a quick hook from a 2010 game. Burnett’s injury suggested that the design of the sharp-edged holders may have been as much to blame as the pitcher’s temper.
Mets pitcher Jason Isringhausen broke his left wrist in 1997 when he punched a dugout trash can after a poor outing in a minor league game. He toughed out six more innings for the Norfolk Tides, and the injury was not diagnosed properly until 11 days later.
“He’s not the first player to pound something after a bad inning,” Mets General Manager Joe McIlvaine said at the time. “Unfortunately, he broke something.”
Isringhausen later had a much more serious ailment to contend with: he missed the 1998 season while battling tuberculosis.
McIlvaine was correct about Isringhausen not being the first player to pound something: New York pitchers have long found the clubhouse to be nearly as dangerous as their opponents. Pat Zachry of the Mets tried to kick a batting helmet in frustration in 1978 but struck a clubhouse step instead, breaking his foot. Yankees pitcher Doyle Alexander offered to forfeit a part of his salary after he broke a little finger when punching a wall in 1982. George Steinbrenner accepted the offer.
The list of players with wall-related injuries is dominated by baseball pitchers.
“When they come off the field, especially following a poor performance, they typically are left alone by teammates,” Maher said. “It is during this time period when their emotions can get the best of them.”
Basketball players have unique issues to attend to when trying to vent their emotions productively. There is no dugout to shield them from the eyes of fans, and unlike hockey and football players, they cannot take their aggression out on their opponents without risking a Metta World Peace incident.
“They are out in the open, always visible,” Maher said.
But because they have no easy access to punchable furnishings, basketball players rarely sustain wall or door-inflicted injuries. Darryl Dawkins is one of the few athletes to record a victory in the battle against the building: after being ejected from a Philadelphia 76ers victory over Portland in 1977, he ripped a urinal from a bathroom wall. Dawkins was unharmed.
(Urinals are clearly the wimps among clubhouse fixtures. Billy Martin destroyed one during an angry tirade in 1983 and escaped unscathed.)
Marshall Mintz, a sports psychologist who consults with the United States Olympic team, calls the ability to control the impulse to lash out the “executive skill.” The familiar term “anger management,” he said, is somewhat misleading.
“The other guys in the locker room are angry,” he said. “Thousands of Knicks fans were angry after the loss, but there wasn’t an epidemic of people punching fire extinguishers in the metro area.”