Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

November 2016

Gorgeous George was a professional wrestler who somehow is related to the Hawthorne effect.

George was an outrageous showman with bleached blond hair styled with gold bobby pins, dressed in satin robes, and accompanied to the ring by a butler who sprayed perfume in George’s corner while the fans booed. He was the archetype wrestling baddie who set the bar in the ’50s that Macho Man and Hulk Hogan would adapt and earn millions with in the 21st century.

Muhammad Ali is reported to have been impressed with George’s success and patterned his pre-fight poetry and trash-talking after it.

Right: So the “Hawthorne effect” is the name given to conclusions formed after industrial productivity experiments way back when (1930s ?).

The essence of the effect is that behavior can be changed by observing it. In one of the classic experiments, lighting in a workplace was improved and productivity increased. As scientists are wont to do, rather than accept the gain to better lighting, they changed the lightning back to its previous lumens and efficiency improved even more.

What Ali did by claiming to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee was to change how fight fans (and his opponents) observed him. Like Gorgeous George, he gained fame and fortune by behaving in an unconventional way. To annoy became a way to win the hearts and minds and, begrudgingly, the respect of all.

The Hawthorne effect in sports has evolved to the point that to be good, to be a champ, you need to be smug, brazen, dismissive — even obnoxious.

Think Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Dennis Rodman and the old Detroit Pistons, Celtic coach Red Auerbach on the bench lighting up a cigar before the end of the game to signal a win.

Lest you think I’m now going to make a reference to Donald Trump as I conclude my Hawthorne effect analysis, not a chance. You may if you wish, but I confess that my insight into all this was because Google included references to the Hawthorne effect when I searched on Gorgeous George for an Extra Point about home-field advantages.

Turns out George lived in Hawthorne, California, when he first had his hair styled.