Word on the Street

Pickup Martyr (pik’-up mart’-uhr) noun. Refers to those pickup basketball players who refuse to call fouls committed against them – ostensibly because they’re too tough or principled to do so – but nonetheless never fail to communicate (either verbally or non-verbally) that the foul occurred …sometimes (or even often) quite loudly. These players might also labor fruitlessly on terrible teams without suggesting roster changes. And, of course, they won’t miss an opportunity to inform various members of the opposite team that their squad sucks.

Usage example:That one guy never calls a foul, but he always lets you know he’s not calling it. He’s a regular Pickup Martyr.”

Word history: I thought up this term right after finishing the Pickup Judas post. If you’re a baller, chances are you’ve played with and/or against a Pickup Martyr. Some examples of Pickup Martyrdom include:

1. Someone fouls the PM in an obvious way. Play slows noticably while everybody watches the PM to see whether he’s going to call it. The PM then makes eye contact with one or more people, sighs heavily (to openly acknowledge that he was indeed fouled), shakes his head (to indicate he’s “better” than to make the call), and trudges despondently downcourt to play defense.

2. Someone fouls the PM in a slightly less obvious way. Play continues while the PM groans, sighs, laughs in mock disgust, or maybe taps his arm or wrist to indicate he was hit. This behavior continues until at least one other players notices and tells the PM to call the foul. The PM will respond by shaking his head and/or saying something like “Nah, forget it” in a highly dignified manner.

3. Someone fouls the PM in either an obvious or not-to-obvious way. The PM will stop and stand stock-still for a moment, which in many pickup leagues is the same as calling the foul out loud. Play stops and one or more players will ask the PM if he wants the call. The PM will then say something like “Forget it” or “No, it was clean” even though everybody pretty much knows it wasn’t clean. On some rare occasions, the opposing players will insist on giving the PM the call no matter how strongly he resists accepting it.

The goal of Pickup Martyrdom seems to be twofold. First, the PM is trying to establish a sort of moral superiority among the players who are present. This often provides the PM with a sense of pride and personal satisfaction that he can use to feel victorious regardless of whether his team wins or loses. Second, the PM is often trying to passive-aggressively modify the behavior of the other players. Some heartless pickup ballers won’t care how much the PM suffers, but many players develop a heightened sensitivity to the PM, so that they will either try their best to never foul him or insist on repeatedly calling fouls for him …even in situations when they might otherwise not be called (such as with ticky-tac fouls and embarrassment calls).

The downside of having a PM on your team is that the fouls he doesn’t call could very well end up costing your team a close game, especially if the PM is relatively talented. This has often happened with my buddy Mister P, who never, ever, ever calls it when he gets hit driving to the basket. This drives me absolutely batty. Fortunately, Mister P usually spots up at the three-point line in lieu of taking it to the hoop.

Update! Some followup thoughts from Silent Assassin reader Tony: “I was a little skeptical about your definition of the PM at first, but your explanation makes sense. Being a martyr isn’t about dying silently for your cause; it’s about making as much noise as possible while dying for your cause. For some PMs, the ‘dying for his cause’ part means he won’t call fouls because he feels he’s ruining the integrity of pickup ball like that (or something), but he will bitch and moan as much as possible about it so other will know what happened. But your definition seems a little narrow. It defines the PM as a passive-aggressive asshole who keeps muttering under his breath. But what about those loudmouths who go all out and keep yapping off about everything, except they don’t actually explicitly call foul?”

Solid point. Some PMs do indeed make a spectacular and flamboyant show of thier martyrdom, yelling, sreaming or cackling about this or that call they didn’t make but totally should have. Some of them even use this as an excuse to retaliate with similar fouls, which they will complain about if called. So I suppose you could say there are two types of PMs: The silent, stoic kind and the loud, obnoxious kind.

This image was found doing a Google search for “martyr.” Seriously.

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Labels: Word on the Street

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