A cheating bully is ruining our racquetball games

His behavior is intolerable, but he gets away with it because he's a superior athlete.

Published April 13, 2007 10:10AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Several times a week, I play racquetball with a group of guys (and one woman) who have been playing together for several years. People have joined our group, and some have dropped out. One of the fellows who plays with us -- arguably the best athlete -- is, to put it charitably, a bad sport.

If he can't make a shot, he calls a hinder. For safety reasons we adhere to an "if you call it, you got it" rule, but some of his calls are ridiculous, especially since he can afford to lose a point and win the game with his superior athleticism. Meanwhile, if he disagrees with a call, he will harbor a grudge and even refuse to congratulate the winner of the game. Recently his bad behavior has escalated to include hitting an opponent with the ball, which is pretty painful. When we play doubles, if his team loses a point and there is no hinder to call, he blames his partner.

Off the court, he is a perfect gentleman. However, his bad behavior is driving some of our other friends out of the game. Sure, we enjoy the excercise, but we also expect to have fun, and it is becoming increasingly difficult with this bad behavior.

What to do?

Good Sport

Dear Good Sport,

I suggest that you talk this over with the other members of your group -- out of the presence of this guy. Ask them how they feel about playing with him. Ask if they would prefer playing without. If they do, I would propose that one of you approach this guy and tell him that you don't approve of his personal conduct, you think that he indulges in bad sportsmanship and that you don't want to play with him anymore.

Does that make sense? Can you do that? What would stand in the way of your doing that? I don't know the obstacles, but I can imagine a few:

You may fear the sheer discomfort of such an encounter. It would indeed be uncomfortable. It would be sort of like firing someone. Some of us will go to great lengths, putting up with almost intolerable situations, just because of the fear of having an unpleasant encounter.

There may be an underlying current of implied violence. If this guy is accustomed to intimidating others, then the threat might be quite real. If that is a concern, then confront him as a group.

You might believe that this is too drastic a measure. It might be tempting to continue to play with him and hope he changes, or warn him that if his behavior continues, you will ask him to leave. I wouldn't do that. I would stop playing with him. He needs to change. In order for him to change, things around him need to change. If nothing changes around him, I don't see how he's going to change. If this is how he behaves, people probably complain to him a lot. He knows people don't like his behavior. He's probably used to it. My prediction is that no matter what you say to him outside the game, once he's in the game, playing the same game with the same people, in the heat of the moment he will revert to the same behavior. And then you will be in a cycle of having him do these things and warning him and etc. I would make it really clean. Just tell him you've already made up your mind and want to end the playing relationship.

Maybe he can change. If he can change, and then come back to the group and audition, maybe that would work. But for now, I think you have to be honest and straightforward with him. It's better for him this way. It gives him clear feedback. It gives him the option of changing. The other way, you keep doing the same thing, only in a state of constant worry and disapproval. It's no fun.

Does the group have the authority to tell him he can't play with them? If it's an informal group playing on a public court or in a club of which he is a member, then the group may have no power to tell him he can't play on those courts. Then how can the group enforce its ban? Well, you can certainly refuse to play with him. If he walks on the court and demands a game, do not play. Use passive resistance. If that's all you can do, then do that.

The bottom line is that you shouldn't have to put up with bad sportsmanship. And if you make exceptions for him because of his talent, or because he is intimidating, then it's a sad little victory for a bully and a cheat. And it's a sad little defeat for civility.

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