There is nothing wrong with being competitive. In any sport, a passion for the game improves performance.
But when a competitive fire becomes a criminal force, we have to look at causation to find a cure.
Most problems in sports tend to revolve around the referee, umpire or line judges who are the police, judge and jury for the event.
Anytime a controversy occurs, the person controlling the game has to determine if a foul occurred, if the ball was in bounds or out or if the player was in a legal position.
Because of my job I have watched a lot of sports from the sidelines. I also coached baseball for 10 years. In my experience, 99 percent of the time the officials are trying to call the games correctly.
I know the common complaint is that referees and umpires favor home teams. Parents in the stands yell things like, “How much are they paying you?” and other classy and clever sayings. Is the idea that you don’t pay umpires at your home games? Do you expect them to cheat for you to get a paycheck? Obviously, only those evil villains from two counties over would do such things.
As long as there have been officials, there have been fans, coaches and players questioning abilities and loyalties of those officials.
Those players, fans and coaches are almost always wrong and almost always overstate the importance of the call when they are right.
I know everyone has that mental Rolodex of incorrect calls that have cost teams games.
But those occasions are so rare that the data barely registers as statistically relevant.
A far more common occurrence is when coaches, fans and players make such fools of themselves that an umpire subconsciously calls in favor of the other team.
As hard as you try to be impartial, if you watch a punk kid storm around a soccer field or football field and bully and abuse other players, it has to become easier to see him as being wrong if he is involved in a play that could be called either way.
I really wish people could try to put themselves in the shoes of these people who are trying to do a tough job well. It is easy to sit in that lawn chair or in the bleachers and yell stupid things. It is far more difficult to actually call the games.
But the biggest problem we have is how these situations are becoming less embarrassing and more threatening.
Phrases like “kill the ump” used to be commonplace at baseball games across the country even though no one really wanted to kill the ump. Now, states have had to pass laws that make touching an official a felony to keep Little Johnny’s dad from assaulting someone after each game.
Page 2 of 2 - Some recent events make you question whether those laws do enough. One teenager in Utah struck an official on the field and knocked him unconscious. That would be bad enough, but the official went on to die from complications to the injury that punch caused and now the juvenile faces murder charges – over a soccer game.
In Brazil, a 20-year-old soccer referee ejected a 31-year-old player. During the fight that ensued, the referee produced a knife and killed the player. Fans and friends stormed the field and decapitated the 20-year-old man and displayed his head on a stake at midfield.
That is so ridiculous that if it happened in a movie, it would be unbelievable. But in Brazilian soccer, I guess it makes sense.
ESPN recently produced a feature for its program “Outside the Lines” that showed dozens of youth sports fans and coaches attacking officials here in America.
What is wrong with us?
I know that no parent wants their child to be cheated. No fan wants the opponent to have an upper hand.
But that happens so rarely. And, even when it does, it is still just a game.
How do we take back the ground that we have lost? How do we maintain that competitive fire without letting it burn out of control?
We have to do something. Every youth league has incidents. Every referee ducks out a back door from time to time just to be safe. How many youth league officials have had to be escorted to cars for their own safety?
That is crazy. The fact that it is common is worse.
I don’t know how to restore sanity to sports. Every dad sees a major league all star when his son makes a routine play at shortstop. Every time a kid makes a layup, daddy sees a young LeBron James on the court. If a kid happens to score a touchdown in a 12 and under football game, dad starts clearing off a place on the mantle for the Heisman Trophy.
That’s part of the problem. But parents living out their sports fantasies through their kids existed long before people who officiated games had to be in fear for their lives.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I know we have to find one.
Kent Bush is the publisher of the Augusta Gazette, the El Dorado Times, and the Andover American newspapers. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org