What I have witnessed in today's sports makes Ali look like Emily Post when it comes to sportsmanship.
For example I recently read were a mother of a 15-year old boy who scored the winning run in a youth league baseball game in salt lake City was beaten up by a number of angry parents who's son's played for the losing team. Actually, they just didn't beat her up they pounded her into unconsciousness. After the game, a number of women allegedly battered the woman with their umbrellas, punched her in the face and then hit her with a baby stroller knocking her into oblivion. Police said the woman was still unconscious when they arrived. She was eventually transported to the hospital and treated for head injuries and facial swelling.
Unfortunately, things like this are happening more and more in the sports world. Last year a high school wrestler head butted the referee after he was pinned by his opponent. The referee was render unconscious for more than five minutes and sustained subtle brain damage from the injury. A few months later a 40-year old father beat up a referee because he fouled his son out of a Youth Athletic League basketball game. Less than a week after that an assistant baseball coach with the local Police Athletic League was charged with aggravated battery after allegedly throwing a punch that broke an umpires jaw. That same week at a girl's softball game dozens of parents rushed the field and started scuffling after a player was tagged out: two mothers who were both coaches each served ten days in jail. And just last week, (the reason I am writing this article) a lifter beat up a judge because he turned his lift down.
Can you believe all of that? Well, you probably can in light of what happened at a Little League hockey scrimmage game recently. A father who was frustrated after watching his son take an elbow confronted another father who was informally supervising the play. The two men got into a shoving match. A short time later they got into a fight. The larger man at 6'1" 240 pounds, allegedly knocked the much smaller man (165 pounds) to the floor and, kneeling on his chest beat him to death while both men's children witnessed the beating.
And now as I am writing this article a fan who tried to grab a foul ball, preventing outfielder Moises Alou from catching it was blamed for the Chicago Cubs' collapse in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series. Give me a break! The guy did absolutely nothing wrong and nothing that 99% of the other fans at that game would have done. The ball was clearly in the stands as indicated by the umpire. Meaning that the fan had every right to try and catch the ball for a souvenir. Trust me, just about every fan in every ballpark would have reacted the same way in order to get a souvenir. Hell, if I were there in his place I would have grabbed the ball, Alou's glove, and hat if he came in the stands. Yet the guy was treat as if he was an Iranian Terrorist.
The fan, a youth baseball coach, had to be escorted by security guards from Wrigley Field after he was threatened by angry fans and pelted with beer and debris. If that wasn't bad enough a police guard had to be posted outside the suburban Northbrook home where he lives with his parents. The fans brother-in-law in a read statement to the media said that he "hiding somewhere because he feared what might happen to him. Angry broadcasters castigated him. A local newspaper found in a Web poll that thousands of people blamed him for playing a role in the Cubs' loss. Even the governor chimed in with what I would call a cynical statement. "Nobody can justify any kind of threat to someone who does something stupid like reaching for that ball," Gov. Rod Blagojevich said. The governor of Florida, Jeb Bush said an offer of asylum the fan might be a good idea, and an oceanfront retreat in Pompano Beach offered him a free three-month stay if he needed to get out of Chicago. Chicago fans also lit up the phones at sports radio talk shows to haul the guy over the coals.
It seems like we have lost the capacity to step outside of ourselves and feel the pain of others. Today we have kids in the little league talking "smack" and trying to denigrate their opponents, high school and college coaches cheating to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents, and professional athletes using drugs and illegal equipment to obtain an edge. What is all this about...a damn game? Let's be real. Sports are challenging, fun, and entertaining, but they are just games. Not life and death situations worth compromising your integrity or causing physical and emotionally tremia another human being.
In an age when violence, cruelty, and arrogance steal the sports headlines, it is often the smallest, most unnoticed acts of kindness that remind us that sports is merely a game and that winning is not as important as being the best that you can be.
Let me tell you about a story I read in Pat Croce's book I feel Great and So Will You. It's about this thing called winning. The incident occurred at the Special Olympics in Seattle a few years ago. There were nine contestants for the 100-meter race. Of course, each one of the kids had either a physical or mental disability. Still, these kids are as passionate and dedicated as any athlete you will ever meet. I know that to be the case because I worked with the Special Olympics for a number of years. Believe me these kids push their heart and soul right to the limit when they train. They want to win just as bad as you and I do.
Anyway, when the gun went off to start the race all nine contestants stormed out of the starting blocks. Unfortunately, one of the kids got his feet tangled up and fell down no more then five feet from the starting point. When he hit the ground he just lied there and started to cry. His pain was probably more a consequence of his disappointment and frustration then it was his injury. When the other runners who were a third of the way down the track heard him crying they slowed up and then stopped running. They looked at each other then turned around and ran back to the their injured competitor. It wasn't just one or two of them either. All of them back.
When they reached the boy they helped him up and brushed his shirt and paints off. A little girl who had Downs Syndrome gave him a big hug and kissed him on the cheek. "That will help make the hurt go away," she said. A slight smile appeared on the boys face through his tears.
Once the boy was back on his feet, the kids were going to continue on with the race, but they notice that the boy couldn't run on his twisted knee. So all eight of them lined up next to him, four on each side, and the nine of them linked arms and walked down the track together. They crossed the finish line in unison, united as one. Isn't that great?
Now that is what sports and sportsmanship is all about!
Yours in strength,