After reading Ryan’s, my colleague’s, blog about “What Every Parent Needs to Know” I felt compelled to explore the persistence of injuries and violence in sports. Let me start at the beginning:
Where the problem festers
As I made forward progress through the arena of my high school it was common to be assaulted with barbaric and mundane taunts from underclassmen, those older than me and a few that could actual do me harm or read. The common recessive trait? Each bore the mark of the biblical Able and therefore were the favored and dutiful slaves of the overly slowly played game of American Football. To complete the analogy, I on the other hand preferred to focus my talents and energy towards the pulsating and continuous improvisational game of futbol, ah soccer.
Our shorts where mocked, our testosterone levels questioned and above all we were painted as less heroic and somehow not dissimilar to our sisters. All of this was immediately forgiven as our brethren were simply Manchurian candidates elected to continue the preposterous defense for the superiority of American games. Because regardless of which sport you played you knew that American sports were tougher, required more guts and were played by “men”. The fact that some NFL players have been known to take part in Ballet companies during the offseason should be of no consequence. That fact that fascists and communists created and refined ballet should also have no bearing on this discussion.
We are motivated by opportunity
A pick-up game of basketball with friends rarely results in elbows to the face or anything close to warranting a technical foul as there is little in the way of opportunity or prizes. However, achievement in High School sports can deliver College scholarships and the whisper of a professional career. Achievement in College sports can caste off the shackles of poverty for not only the athlete but for their family and friends too. Holding back, taking it easy, not establishing territory or imposing ones will is in direct conflict with success. Those tactics are better employed when one is feeling road rage rather than on the defensive line in the 4th Quarter of a nail bitingly close game. Even after you make it to the big leagues you must continue to secure and protect your spot to lengthen and improve your career and salary. Would you put the hurt on a player in the open field if it meant you caused a fumble, your team gained possession and you ultimately won the game? The only reason you are out there in the first place is to stop the play. Should you give 100%, 90% of 50 % effort?
We raise our boys and girls to be soldiers, warriors, athletes, to not cry, not to complain and to “take one for the team”. And it is not just in sports and military service that aggression is rewarded. So how do we amplify the negative repercussion of the physical damage that is being absorbed and dished out in today’s youth, collegiate and professional sports? Who should we be speaking to? This is not just about boys, girls can share in the blame as well. It is also not just about what’s happening in the game either, it is happening on the sidelines as well.
There are rules
Don’t most sports already have a means of dealing with “excessive” aggression? Soccer has its red card, the NFL has its new rules on Dirty Hits , hockey which accepts fighting as part of the game still has a penalty box, basketball has its technical fouls. Wouldn’t this suggest that there is awareness that competition often breeds rule breaking which in many situations is expressed in the form of an overly violent open field hit, unexpected blindsided-cleats-first slide tackles or a premeditated elbow to the face while in the paint?
Is it really an issue of parents not being aware of the problem and can parents really be lumped together in this discussion? Do mom and dad have the same opinion about what constitutes acceptable roughness? Who changed the focus from participation to competition, Ryan asks. Perhaps participation is unknowingly molested by the opportunity and prizes afforded to the victorious as it becomes competition? All you have to do to participate is to show up but to be competitive is truly another thing. After all Ryan sports today are about winning and losing and those that lack the skill, speed or strength can always rely on dirty tricks to even the playing field.
When you lose control you lose
I am by no means advocating violence in sports that lead to youth sports injuries but I think you need to understand the motivation behind it to address it. One idea would be to highlight the players that win “clean” like, Derek Jeter, Eli Manning and Grant Hill opposed to Shane Victorino, Hines Ward or Ron Artest. Take the prize out of the competition and support games for kids that promote participation. Colleges provide scholarships to not only top performing Athletes but why not Sportsmanship Scholarships as a way to promote your schools desire to produce the best, brightest and most courteous? Take points away from a team that commits an overly aggressive play. Show the players that violence will negatively impact your teams ability to win. I know teams already loose yardage, gift the other team free throws or handicap their side by losing a player but losing points may have an even bigger impact.
Create a series of commercials for each professional and collegiate league about playing clean to run on(in) TV, Radio, Magazines, Outdoor Ads, in video games, online and on the back cover of the local newspaper. When you lose control you lose. Okay this may not be the best tag line but you get the point. Can ESPN highlight the Top 10 “Dumb Moves” that shows how a player did something violent and cost his/her team the game?
To hear more, listen to Ryan and Leith’s podcast.