Dodgeball Bullies: Are School Bans On The Game PC Run Amok?

Mention dodgeball, where the object is to hit other players with a rubber ball and eliminate them, and people are likely to quickly take sides — just like the game that once was a recess and phys-ed staple in schools across the country. People either like or loathe it, but few seem willing to sit on the sidelines without an opinion.

Whether dodgeball is bullying or labeling that is political correctness run amok is a question open to much debate.

Some researchers in British Columbia concluded it’s the former, calling dodgeball “a tool of oppression” that unfairly targets some kids, teaches them to dehumanize each other and reinforces negative behaviors parents teach their children to avoid.


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If you need a refresher, players divide into two teams, and the aim of the game is to eliminate the opposing players one by one, either by hitting them with a ball or catching one of their throws. The ability to land hits on opposing players while avoiding getting hit, requiring agility and wit. The fast-paced matches only last a couple of minutes, and though it certainly has detractors, dodgeball enthusiasts defend it as a great cardio workout.

The study was recently discussed at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education in Vancouver, British Columbia. David Burns, a co-presenter of the study and an educational studies professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia, told Canadian broadcast station CTV that dodgeball doesn’t set young people on a path to become kind adults.

“If someone is going to be a good person when they get older … they need to have practice when they’re young and in school exhibiting those characteristics,” Burns said. “If you want people to practice the disposition of ganging up on people, if you want them to practice really enjoying throwing things at people, it can lead to all sorts of other things in the future.”

In other words, dodgeball sends the message that it’s acceptable to “dehumanize or hurt” the other player, researcher Joy Butler, a professor who studies pedagogy and curriculum development at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, recently told The Washington Post.

The researchers said dodgeball “reinforces the five faces of oppression” — exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence — as defined by political theorist Iris Marion Young.

The problem isn’t so much a pickup game of dodgeball at home or in an adult league as it is dodgeball as a required activity in school phys-ed classes.

“When you play a game in a school, rather than simply playing at home with your friends or something like that, you’re doing that for a particular educational reason and you really need to know what that reason is,” Burns told CTV, adding that schools that choose to add dodgeball as an activity “have a responsibility to children to choose it for a particular reason.”

“And to be clear about what we are trying to learn from it,” he said.

The game enjoyed a resurgence after “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” a 2004 movie starring Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor and Vince Vaughn. Many U.S. schools have eliminated dodgeball from gym classes, dating back to well before the new study, but adult leagues popped up in several U.S. cities.

Alix Piorun, a 33-year-old nuclear medicine technologist who has been throwing and dodging the rubber ball in recreational leagues for the past decade, defended dodgeball in an interview with The New York Post.

“I’ve always been a good athlete, so I guess you could say I’ve been on the oppressor side,” Piorun, who has placed in national dodgeball competitions and served as a referee for the Dodgeball World Cup last year, told The Post.

Piorun thinks dodgeball gives everybody a fair shot, even if they’re not great athletes.

“Kids who aren’t always the best athletes are sometimes the best catchers…there’s always going to be people bigger and stronger than you, but you have to figure out a way to outsmart them — whether it’s dodging or catching.”

A key in the game, she said, “is throwing to your opponent’s ability.”

“If you’re trying to hit someone who’s really good, you can throw harder,” she said. ” If someone’s not as great, maybe slow it down.”

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