Bad sportsmanship by parents of high school players echoes in pro athletes’ wrongdoing. Yesterday’s Boston Globe story of a hockey dad in Winthrop ejected from a girls’ playoff game for shining a laser pointer on the ice and in the opposing goalie’s face to distract players shows how twisted parental involvement in their children’s sports activities can become. Appropriately, he was banned from future school events. What is wrong with this parent, and why did the newspaper and other news media protect his identity? Shouldn’t he be made to feel shame over trying to influence a kids’ game and jeopardizing the players?
Interscholastic sports rules prevent forfeiture or a rematch. But aren’t criminal charges of child endangerment against the miscreant a step toward justice? Sadly, the unnamed father may even now be chortling about the incident over a beer with his buddies, amused by his gambit, especially since it may have played a decisive role in helping his daughter’s team win.
While I can’t pretend to know what he was thinking, I can see a connection to another Saturday story, that of the revelation that for three years the New Orleans Saints were rewarding players with bounties when they injured opponents. According to the New York Times, players could be rewarded with $1500 for knocking a player out of a game and $1000 if the opposing player were carted off the field. Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre was one victim of the injury strategy, in a January playoff game last year.
Bounties are a violation of the rules, but supposedly Saints officials knew about the player-run bounty system and did nothing. To me, it’s the same do-whatever-it-takes-to-win mentality displayed locally by the Winthrop hockey father, and I hope the NFL throws the book at the Saints, not only imposing stiff fines, taking away top draft picks, but also suspending the entire team for a period of time. This behavior is much more dangerous than “Spygate.”
Our sports-crazed society (and I admit to being an enthusiastic fan) is altogether too dismissive of those who don’t play by the rules, or worse. But failure to remedy problems early in the process breeds far worse patterns. Conservative political scientist James Q. Wilson, who died Friday, developed a “Broken Windows” theory of community crime. He linked disorder, broken windows, and graffiti to the increased incidence of crime. Failure to do something at the early stages sends a message that no one cares. Failure to identify, shame and punish the Winthrop hockey dad sends a message that such outrageous behavior is okay. Failure to punish the New Orleans Saints team makes it easier for another team to bend and break the rules.
Whether it’s behavior in kids’ intramural sports or high stakes professional games, the fans deserve better behavior, as do the players who are out to win the game fair and square.
I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.