Enough is enough

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

There's one in every crowd -- that idiot standing on the sideline, ranting and raving at the officials, or the visiting team, or the home team.

Who knows why that person does it. Maybe it's the crowd mentality-- a chance to show off for the rest of the spectators.

In any case, no one tells this person to just shut up. We ignore the problem and hope it goes away. It's embarrassing, after all, but is it really doing any harm?

That question was answered last weekend at the Region III soccer tournament for all 200 fans within earshot of the boys third-place match.

A player was issued a red-card ejection at the end of what had been a well-played, intense match. Instead of taking his card for an obvious foul tackle and leaving the field of play in a sportsmanlike manner, the player launched a string of obscenities at the referee.

Go back about a week before that, to a match involving the same team. There's a parent on the sideline, unhappy with the way things are going. This parent starts screaming at the referee, using language that would make a trucker blush.

Is there a pattern here?

While it illustrates an extreme, the incident is part of a trend that is becoming more and more a part of youth sports. Everything always starts out all well and good, with cheers for both teams from the stands.

Inevitably, one team falls behind. That's the nature of sport. Once you get to a certain level, there's winners and losers. You can't be both in the same game.

In any case, something happens in the crowd. Somewhere along the line, the cheers turn to jeers -- for the officials, for the team that's doing well and for the coach of the team that isn't.

Ironically, all that blame tends to be misplaced. A team falls behind because the other team is simply better -- bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled, more disciplined and better conditioned.

You can't blame the other team for hitting its foul shots, nor is it the referee's responsibility to slow the game down so the losing team can catch up.

The athletes involved know where fault lies. Whether or not they admit it to themselves, they know when they've been schooled by a better team and when they haven't played to their potential.

But tell someone it wasn't their fault long enough, tell them they got hosed by the refs, tell them the other team was cheap or played dirty, tell them that their coach doesn't know what he's doing, and maybe the line blurs a little bit.

And there's the rub.

Who do you blame when players lose their cool?

It ought to be the players' fault -- their foul, their tantrum, their responsibility -- but if they don't have to shoulder the blame for anything else in the game, how can you hold them accountable for that?

Do you blame the coach that put that player into the game? Or is it the referee's fault for letting the game get out of hand?

Coaches and referees are no longer treated with the respect they're due -- everyone's an analyst now, and everybody knows better than a professional with formal training in that sport.

Just listen to the second-guessing going on in the stands during a football game, or stand in the hallway outside the locker room after a hockey game and listen to a parent berate a coach about playing time, or lack thereof, for his or her kid.

Watch a player strut all the way to the penalty box or grin when a card is issued for taking a cheap shot at an opponent, and listen while the fans on the sideline actually cheer poor sportsmanship.

One of the strongest arguments for preserving varsity sports every time the budget ax starts swinging is the life lessons they teach and the character they build.

Perhaps the most important lesson and the most significant character-building experience involves learning how to cope with failure.

In athletics, as in life, failure is inevitable. It happens to some degree to everybody at some point in time.

Those athletes we consider good sports simply learned to deal with disappointment in a mature and healthy way.

They take their penalties or fouls or red cards without showing up the official. They serve the penalty without complaint, and when they're ready to return to the game, they do so with class.

They shake hands after the game and they're sincere when they congratulate the other team.

They might even ask that person ranting on the sideline to shut up.

Will Morrow is a sports reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. Send comments via e-mail to clarion@alaska.net

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