Social media erupted with commentary after Aaron Kromer and Ryan O’Reilly were recently arrested in separate instances of reckless behavior. Mr. Kromer, the offensive line coach is now on paid administrative leave from the Buffalo Bills after allegedly punching out and threatening a 17 year old boy.
Incredibly, Kromer chose to take his 21 year old son with him for the confrontation on a beach over patio chairs (his son is charged and has pled not guilty at this time). Aaron Kromer’s history with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler adds to the evidence suggesting he may have some serious issues with anger management.
If that wasn’t enough, the ink had not yet dried on the contract extension for our shiny new star forward for the Buffalo Sabres, Ryan O’Reilly, before he allegedly ran into a Tim Horton’s coffee shop with his car and apparently fled the scene a la Brandon Spikes. Sigh.
Fans of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres reacted to these types of events in typical fashion, by freaking out. Twitter was littered with memes and titillation. This is how humans tend to react when presented with what we categorically refer to as ‘gossip’.
The dark side of gossip is that it reveals our human tendency toward taking pleasure in the misery created or experienced by others. Our brains light up when some novel piece of gossip goes viral.
The internet has replaced the public square of yesteryear. It “spreads the news” at a much faster rate, feeding our seemingly insatiable desire to acquire any tidbit of knowledge that will allow us to judge others.
However, gossip does serve a useful purpose. In ancient times, gossip provided a venue of shared information (right or wrong) that traveled between groups of people. Think of it as the precursor to ‘central intelligence agencies’ and their vital function in ‘keeping tabs’ on outsiders.
Furthermore, gossip provides something else that’s rarely used when bad things happen; an opportunity for self-assessment and personal growth. Wut?
We are all capable of making blunders of epic proportion. Life experiences give us a chance to learn not only from our own mistakes, but the mistakes made by others as well. Let’s chew on this a bit, because any chance to learn from the mistakes made by others is a very efficient way to actualize your own personal development (all the gain, less pain).
The obvious learning experiences from both the Kromer and O’Reilly situations are easy to identify. Don’t drink, drive, crash, and leave the scene of an accident (O’Reilly, B. Spikes). Don’t let your anger issues get out of control, and for heavens sake, don’t model it for your son (Kromer).
However, there are more lessons that are not so obvious that people tend to avoid because they aren’t as easy to admit. For example, when the Kromer and O’Reilly incidents happened, they presented an opportunity to explore our own reaction to gossip.
Are you quick to share your opinion and come to a conclusion about someone else’s bad behavior? Are your judgements of others used as a means for inflating your own self-esteem? Do you respect the opinion of others? How do you show this respect?
Instead of using gossip as a means for passing judgment, what if we used it as a means of self-assessment? Furthermore, instead of focusing on deciding how to punish someone for bad behavior, what if we instead created ways for them (and ourselves) to achieve redemption?
It doesn’t help the greater good of society if the sole focus of disciplining bad behavior is punishment. The focus solely on punishment as discipline robs both the perpetrator(s) and public of the important opportunity to become better individuals.
Furthermore, if punishment and shaming are how we respond to adverse circumstances without providing an avenue for that individual to reconnect in a healthy way with society, we deprive that individual of the opportunity to move forward and not be defined solely by their mistake(s).
Look no further than the mirror and you will find a reflection of someone who makes mistakes. If a person is willing to take responsibility for their actions and make appropriate behavioral restitution, then who are we to deny them the opportunity to reconnect with society in a healthy manner?
Let me use the example of Richie Incognito’s past behavior with the Miami Dolphins as an example. Mr. Incognito paid a dear price for what was described as bullying behavior toward teammate Jonathan Martin a few years back. He was completely out of football and his future as a professional football player was in dire jeopardy.
I’ve written in the past that I was very squeamish when the Bills signed Incognito again. After years of anger management work as a psychotherapist, I became jaded about the likelihood that Richie would be able to overcome his personal issues. Sadly, the vast majority of people facing these types of issues fail to rehabilitate themselves.
However, we are blessed with ownership that understands the power of positivity. Kim and Terry Pegula reached out to Richie, just as I expect they will also reach out to Aaron Kromer and Ryan O’Reilly. The Pegulas spent time with Mr. Incognito and determined the potential benefit for the Bills and Richie outweighed the risk of recidivism.
They are not only giving him a chance, they are publicly supporting his desire to play professional football. By openly supporting him, they increase the chance that Richie will be able to continue to become not only a great football player, but a better person as well.
This is exactly what I’m referring to when suggesting that if we support and encourage people as well as discipline them, their chance for success in life dramatically increases. I have closely watched several interviews with Richie Incognito since he joined the Bills.
Watching him comfortably answer reporters’ questions, no matter how inflammatory the question, raised my eyebrows. It would have been easy for Richie to slip into ‘mediaspeak’ and give politically correct answers. He did not.
Richie made appropriate eye contact, answered questions directly, and displayed a level of remorse and gratitude rarely seen by professional athletes today. Now Richie is back to doing what he loves best, wreaking havoc on the football field. We are all better off for his effort to get his life together.
As a result, the blueprint for Aaron Kromer and Ryan O’Reilly is right in front of all of us. The Pegulas demonstrated through their actions that they believe in forgiveness and allowing people the opportunity to redeem themselves. They appreciate the cumulative additive value to our community by providing support instead of simply punishing people by isolating them from doing what they love.
If rehabilitation efforts fail, you cut ties and move on. Allowing for a chance at redemption first does not mean being “soft on crime”. It means that if a person is willing to face the consequences of their actions, the community at large will benefit as much or more by supporting their journey to heal instead of vilifying and isolating them.