An acquaintance I know through one of the social networks watched in horror this past weekend as her son was attacked, with the obvious intention of causing as much bodily injury possible, by a slightly larger opponent during a high school wrestling match. This is how she reported the incident to her circle of friends:
“… the worthless beast who just slammed my son onto the mat … was disqualified from the meet and ordered to leave the building by the ref. His insufferable coach had the audacity to tell me it was “unintentional. He “lost control of a move.” My response: “maybe I should also ‘lose control,’ pick you up over my head and slam you face-first on the mat to see how you like it.”
As a parent, I can relate all too well to what was going through that mother’s head then. Just a few weeks ago, at my son’s recreation league basketball game, I watched a much larger boy intentionally throw an elbow to one of our player’s faces, causing him – the coach’s son, no less – to need stitches as a result.
These are not isolated incidents and many parents are guilty of fueling the fire that leads to such bullying and abuse. In another game last season I watched in horror as a parent from an opposing team screamed from the stands for his son to, “get that smile off (his) face,” because he wasn’t there to have a good time. Just what exactly I wondered are we there for if not for our kids to have a little fun and physical activity?
This is a recreational league for boys 10 – 12 years old, not professional, collegiate, or even high school sports.
Incidentally, the team that parent was there pulling for was stacked with highly skilled, advanced players, many of whom I am almost certain were older than the age group they were playing against. They beat our boys by something like 13 or 14 points to every one our team scored; not a victory any sane person could take much pride in.
Is it ever really necessary to brutalize the members of any opposing team? Must we always place winning above all other considerations? When did it cease to be appropriate for our kids to have a good time playing a sport they enjoy?
This kind of crap has been going on for generations. I recall seeing players and parents alike misbehave like this more than thirty years ago when I played a few seasons of recreation league baseball. After a couple years of it I’d had enough and stopped playing. A few years later, in what was then called junior high school, I played football one season and tried out for the school wrestling team, where things were even worse.
I understand that winning, or trying to win, is an important part of any competitive sport, but it seems to me that there are other aspects of the experience that we as a culture have forgotten, or simply chosen to ignore. Sportsmanship and fairness leap most readily to mind.
No wonder so many of our business leaders today, often products of these very same childhood experiences, seem to have no qualms at all with cheating to reach the next weekly of quarterly profit goals. It’s no surprise that children growing up in the win-at-all-cost culture we’ve allowed to flourish, unchallenged, are willing as adults to abuse co-workers or employees in order to attain modest end-of-year bonuses or promotions that give them only a slight economic advantage over their peers.
To paraphrase the conclusion my friend on the social network drew at the end of a long discussion, we’ve got to teach our children that dominating others – just because they can – is never okay. Kids will continue to commit suicide or violence against others until we change this culture, starting with how we treat the poor and disadvantaged among us… how we invade defenseless nations because they have something we want that we don’t want to pay for, all the way, when you get right down to it, to capitalism itself.
Anyone who can’t see that these bad behaviors are simply expressions of the primitive way we allocate resources among ourselves just hasn’t thought things through. These kids are doing what’s been role-modeled to them: take whatever you can get, legally or otherwise; you’re a fool if you don’t.
In the ultra-competitive culture we’ve created, nice guys almost always finish last, and that has got to change.