For as long as he's toted his swaying nut sack, the human male has expressed extraordinary interest in his package's condition—and in the condition of his brothers' packages. Our cousin the chimpanzee takes this testicular interest to a primal extreme, says science journalist Jon Cohen, who has observed lower-status chimps in the wild grooming the gonads of higher-status chimps.
So the hot news broken late last month that a teen-age boy in Minnesota got carried away while playing the dominance game called "sack-tapping" and punched his 14-year-old acquaintance so hard that he had to have a damaged testicle removed should surprise nobody. For a sampler of sack-tapping coverage based on that incident, here's the May 28 report from the Minnesota NBC affiliate KARE-TV, the ABC News piece from May 28, the May 29 Times of India item on the scrotal punch, the June 2 blog item from the Los Angeles Times, and a June 3 dispatch from MSNBC.com. Back in January (if the YouTube time stamp is a guide), Judge Judy adjudicated a case of teen-on-teen sack-tapping that sent the punched to the doctor.
Is sack-tapping a trend? Yes, says ABC News: "The trend isn't restricted to Minnesota. A search on YouTube reveals hundreds of videos of young boys, teens, and even members of the U.S. Navy, catching a friend (or enemy) unaware with a quick punch or slap to the genitals." The Los Angeles Times calls the practice "the latest dangerous craze." MSNBC.com, consulting a poll of urologists that it commissioned, reports that "more teen boys are being treated after cringe-worthy attacks in which they're slapped or punched in the groin."
How new is sack-tapping? I remember taking shots to my crown jewels when I was a 1960s teenager better than I recall delivering them, but that's probably because intense pain fixes an incident into memory better than aggression does.
But we don't have to rely on my adolescence for evidence that playful ball-busting isn't breaking news. For instance, 12 years ago, in the first season of South Park(Episode 112, Feb. 18, 1998), Cartman urged Pip to play "Roshambo" with him. "I'll kick you in the nuts as hard as I can, then you kick me square in the nuts as hard as you can," said Cartman. To "Roshambo" entered the Online Slang Dictionary on Jan. 15, 1999, defined as "to get flicked in the testicles; usually causing extreme pain." A definition for "sack tap" appeared on the site on Sept. 27, 2002. "Nut tag" has been listed in the Urban Dictionary since Feb. 27, 2003.
MSNBC.com makes the greatest effort to show that sack-tapping is an out-of-control growing and dangerous trend. It reports a Consumer Product Safety Commission estimate that 8,000 males between 10 and 20 were treated for "pubic region injuries in the nation's emergency rooms last year." Those numbers were up from 7,300 in 2008 and 5,500 in 2007, according to MSNBC.com. (Both of those numbers are estimates, one would assume.)
Then MSNBC.com states, "Most of those injuries were caused during sports or by accidents involving bicycles or skateboards, a review of cases reveals." But if the cases under review are only estimates, how can MSNBC.com know what percentage were sports or wheel injuries? Likewise, when MSNBC.com goes on to claim that a "growing number" of pubic-region injury cases were caused by sack-tapping, why doesn't it show its calculations to prove that growth or indicate the period over which that number has grown?
The survey that MSNBC.com so proudly cites was conducted by the Truth on Call service, which asked 100 urologists whether they had seen any "sack-tapping" injuries among teens in the past year. Of the 100 urologists polled, 30 had seen such injuries. How reliable is such a survey in which the respondents self-select and are paidto answer questions related to their practices? If MSNBC.com really wanted to prove that sack-tapping injuries were on the rise, shouldn't it have asked the urologists whether those injuries were on the rise? (I failed to find any discussion of this dangerous craze in PubMed, the National Institutes of Health database of biomedical literature.)
Is sack-tapping a new and growing trend? I say, balls, and move on to the next bogus trend, "vodka eyeballing." This topic entered the media conversation on May 15 in a London Daily Mail piece describing the practice as "the latest drinking craze to sweep through Britain's universities." (Wanna know how to vodka eyeball? Pry eyelids apart and pour shot of vodka into your glazzies. You can guess how it feels.)
The Daily Mail claims that the trend started in the United States, "where it is a popular nightclub trick performed by waitresses for tips in resorts such as Las Vegas." How popular is the nightclub trick? So popular that the phase "vodka eyeballing" first appeared in Nexis in response to the Daily Mail article. The Daily Mail piece makes no effort to collate the U.K. anecdotes it's collected into anything that would approach a trend or a craze, and it undercuts its own assertion that vodka eyeballing originated in the United States by pointing to its depiction in the 2000 British film Kevin and Perry Go Large.