Public opinion of our sport is directly proportional to our growth. If the public has a negative opinion, we are doomed. Many areas in North America (and around the world) have laws that restrict the use and ownership of paintguns. There are zoning laws that will prohibit the establishment of fields. Paintguns get thrown into anti-firearms legislation. Why? Because of poor, or incorrect, public opinion.
Now, what can we do about it?
PROMOTE THE SPORT AS SAFE AND FUN
We can portray the sport as a fun and safe hobby. Using the proper goggles and face mask, barrel plugs and safe gas handling practices will keep the injury statistics down. These statistics are important as they are compiled by an independent and respected organization with no ties to our sport. This helps enormously in legitimizing the sport. Every player who is injured because they were unsafe are damaging the sport as a whole. Not to mention themselves and others.
We promote the sport as non-military. Especially in the shadow of the "militia scare" in the United States and racist paramilitary groups around the world. If you are going to wear camouflage, don't wear it to the field, and tell folks that you wear it for concealment reasons, as part of playing the game. We wear camouflage, mostly because it looks cool, but there's nothing wrong with NOT wearing camouflage, either.
There are some military aspects and tactics that apply to paintball. You must realize, however that the job of the military is to destroy and kill the enemy. That is not our objective in paintball.
Speaking of the military, unless you (or a direct relative) actually served in the particular unit, you shouldn't be wearing insignia of military units. One, it gives the sport that militaristic look we don't want. Two, (and most importantly, in my eyes) men and women trained and fought hard for the right to wear that insignia, many died wearing it. I know a few players who wear the insignia of the unit they served with in Viet Nam or the Gulf War. Others lost a loved one in an armed conflict and wear it to honour them. They wear it as a symbol of pride, or remembrance.
The basic message is: If you haven't earned it, don't wear it.
It is more than just a piece of embroidered cloth that looks cool. It shouldn't be taken lightly, or treated as some sort of Christmas decoration for your cammies.
CLEAN UP THE LANGUAGE
We can clean up our language. Don't say "kill", "gun", or "shoot". These terms just give people the wrong idea of the sport. Without these words, we can more easily portray the sport as non-violent.
We can stop using markers that are purposely made to look like real firearms. The marker already has a firearm-like appearance, let's not make it any worse. Make it look like a firearm and it will begin to be thought of as a real firearm. Soon it will be legislated like a firearm. I'm not talking about Second Amendment rights, or that firearms are bad. These two issues just don't apply to our sport, and they should never apply. The sport and firearms have no association, either positively or negatively. So don't right in about your Constitutional Rights to Bear Arms, it doesn't apply here.
I realize they look cool, but only to us.
Personally, I try to make mine look like props out of a sci-fi movie.
CAREFUL CHOICE OF TEAM NAMES
We should chose team names that don't make us look like a bunch of paramilitary commandos plotting to overthrow the government. With a little thought, an aggressive -- non-militaristic, non-violent -- name can be thought up. I've personally had it with the macho-militaristic names. They will work against you. If you place well in a tournament, the name 'Eradicators' looks good. If you place last, you look like fools. If you place last with a name like 'Smart as a Carrot' (actual UK team name), no one will bat an eye. If you place first, folks will be that much more astounded. Macho-poser names carry an implied reputation that most teams have a hard time living up to.
INACCURATE PORTRAYAL OF THE GAME BY THE MEDIA
When a TV show or motion picture shows paintball in a bad or unsafe light, don't write the paintball magazines. We already KNOW they did wrong. You should be writing to the producers, the stars and the writers of the entertainment industry. If you don't, they won't know they're doing something wrong. (Contact local fan clubs, use the Internet, if you have access.) Aircraft enthusiasts will write when the wrong aircraft, for the time period, is used. Historians will write when a "historical" movie or TV show is not historically accurate. Christians will complain when their religion is shown in a bad light. Groups will protest when their particular group is being race- or gender-stereotyped.
When someone commits vandalism or terrorizes the community with a paintball marker, you should start writing your local newspapers, police departments and prosecuting attorneys. To give you an example: The four morons in the LA paintball drive-bys were given stiff sentences. This happened, in part, because the local paintball community deluged the Los Angeles District Attorney's office with faxes, letters and calls. They didn't defend the actions. On the contrary, players stated their displeasure with the culprits' actions, and many demanded that the maximum sentences be carried out. The LA District Attorney said as much.
Let me state that I am not a "politically correct" person, by any stretch of the imagination. I am neither a racist, or a para-military commando, either. Like many people I take the middle ground.
You may see many the things I have mentioned as "bending to the will of the masses", and catering to special interest groups. In a way they are. The masses form public opinion and the masses support, and often initiate, government legislation.
I am not talking about radical special interest groups. Special interest groups have already made up their minds about our sport and there's no talking to them. They, however, are a small minority of the general populace. However, they are saying some pretty harsh things about paintball, all of them are not founded on facts, but emotion. They are standing on their soap boxes and spreading lies about our sport.
Their voice is being heard by millions of people who have no opinion of paintball. Their objective is to sway the undecided to their view point.
I am not pandering to the vocal few, I am making an effort to convince the silent majority, the ones who vote and influence political decisions. I'm talking about people YOU have direct influence on; family, friends, neighbours and co-workers. We should all do our part, even in a small way. If you play paintball, you are Paintball's Official Ambassador, start acting like it.
Let's put it this way. If it makes the public's opinion of our sport improve, then it helped our sport. If it doesn't make the public's opinion any worse, it still helped.
Play hard! Play fast! Play safe!
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~durtydan"Durty Dan's Paintball Information Services
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