January 27, 2021

A View from the Bench

A View from the Bench
By Steve McFarland

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, and disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

• George Orwell

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Perhaps Orwell was a little harsh in his assessment of sports but not far from the truth in light of recent events. The latest episode of sports violence has concluded with the sentencing of a dad who killed a dad over a hockey game involving their sons. The incidences of parents violently attacking parents over youth sports continue to pile on to the point that the heap can hardly be ignored. Where once America could cover over the sludge with character building idealism, the ever rising ugliness of youth sports can not only not be ignored, it seems to have gotten into the drinking water. The problem is officially out of control.

The mystery of this problem is not in how to fix it rather it is understanding why it exists in the first place. Why are Americans so caught up in their children’s sports success? What has caused this meanness and anger to exist? The questions are mounting without many answers.

The American sports revolution really took hold in the 1960’s when professional sports salaries and popularity began to increase. Some would argue that the change was directly linked to Curt Flood’s court victory in the early 70’s that paved the way for free agency. The “individualism” that spilled out of that ruling has been extended through the years to the point that the player is the focus of the media and fans rather than the team. Where once a team would scout out players, the new wave is for players to shop for a team.

It is not unusual to hear of high school players marketing themselves to schools for a better deal or better exposure or more playing time or the ability to play as a six foot six guard or whatever is in their best interest. I have been involved with youth sports long enough with my children to see first hand the way that mentality has changed the face of American sports. And it is an ugly face with an intention to get the best for sons or daughters, regardless of team success or school loyalty. I have known parents to pull their child off a T-ball team because they were not getting enough playing time.

There is a fine yet distinguishable line between safeguarding a child’s best interest and raising a child to be an adult. As parents become more aggressive in protecting their child from so-called sports injustices, they take away opportunities for character building and learning. It is an indictment on American values to hear parents ranting about sports injustices being perpetrated on their children and, quite frankly, embarrassing. Hypocrisy drips from the words of adults who blast away about their child’s lack of playing time while praising schools for character education activities. The greatest character builder America has going for it is a child’s time on the bench.

As team sports has given way to individual accomplishment, the bizarre notion that all children are equal on the court as well as the classroom took our culture by the throat. On only rare occasions have I encountered parents willing to accept their child’s lack of playing time as having anything to do with lack of ability. More often it is the fault of a poor coach or the belief that so and so is the son of so and so and yadda-yadda-yadda.

These conspiracy theorists hold to the belief that somewhere long ago, all the so-called influential people of the world got together and decided who would play and who would not. Oliver Stone would be proud of the underhanded, behind closed door politics that these parents would have us believe relegated their child to a brief stint in right field during late innings when the score was well out of reach. It would certainly have nothing to do with the fact that Junior has dropped the last sixty-two fly balls and couldn’t make contact with a tennis racket. One of the great pleasures of parenting is coming to the realization that a child may not be very good and you can relax and love them regardless.

Until proper perspective can be recaptured in this country regarding youth sports, the problem is only going to grow worse. There may soon come a day when police will be needed at all little league games and parents asked to stay home when their child plays. It probably won’t matter though. Little Johnny will probably drop the ball anyway.