Every Group Needs an Outcast

The always interesting Bill Simmons, in his recent ESPN.com column, rejects the usual line that superstars like A-Rod or Barry Bonds, while cancers in the clubhouse in one sense, are on the whole destructive to team unity. On the contrary, the "guy everyone hates" can be helpful in fostering team dynamics:

There are undeniable positives to having one antisocial wild card in any close-knit environment. You know that one grating guy in your dorm hall or in your office? Don't you like bitching about him? You lob grenades at him as soon as he leaves the room. He's your running joke, an easy target. But he's also a galvanizing force, one of the few things that bring everyone else together: a mutual contempt for one human being that won't go away. You're stuck with him, so you make the best of it — by belittling him.

It's a common bond of sorts. Even as you believe he's tearing your group apart, he's bringing it closer and distracting anyone from turning on someone else. He's your mean decoy, your Paula Abdul, your Newman. He's your necessary evil.

As Simmons notes, baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team one, so this theory plays better in the field than on a basketball court for example. But I do think there's something worthwhile here — the benign role of group outcasts — that's applicable in other settings…

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