A few nights ago my adult son and I were lucky enough to score two first-row seats to a college basketball game between the University of Missouri and University of Illinois. It’s a St. Louis annual event to establish “Braggin’ Rights” to the city that is home to many alumni of both schools. We were right behind the scorer’s table, in easy earshot of the players, the coaches and the referees. Unfortunately, in the seat right behind me was a local radio personality who spent most of the game shouting obscenity-laced, violent taunts and insults at those same players, coaches and referees.
It ruined the experience for a father and his 10-year-old son sitting next to us, and made all of the people around us cringe. I suspect from his puffy face and the beer in his hand, the outspoken loudmouth doesn’t really care about kids, the ones in the stands or the ones playing the game. It’s been a while since I was involved in kids sports, but his low class behavior got me reflecting on youth sports and problem parents.
No less than 21 states will now have laws governing the behavior of parents and spectators at youth sports events. Some adult behavior at children’s games has become at best, disgusting and at worst, deadly.
In California, a father was sentenced to 45 days in jail for beating and berating a coach who took his 11-year-old son out of a baseball game.
In New Mexico, a dentist sharpened the face guard of his son’s football helmet so he could slash opposing players. Five players and a referee were hurt and the father was sentenced to two days in jail and community service.
A police officer in Pennsylvania was convicted of giving a pitcher $2 to hit a fellow 10-year-old Little Leaguer with a fast ball during a game. The man, not related to players on either team, was sentenced to up to 23 months in jail for corruption of minors and solicitation to commit simple assault.
A parent in Massachusetts was beaten to death while supervising his son’s hockey pickup game. Authorities say another father became upset at rough play and fought with the single father of four. He was convicted of manslaughter.
Yes, the outrageous behavior of adults at Little League baseball games, AAU basketball games, and Junior Hockey tournaments has gotten so out of hand, that we now need laws so that the violators and be more easily prosecuted – like thieves or other nefarious felons.
What has happened in youth sports? Wasn’t it just a generation ago that kids got together on the vacant lot next to the Dairy Queen, chose up sides and played without supervision? Well forget that. Those days are over.
By the time a kid with any coordination at all reaches the age of 8, he and she are being fitted for a $200 pair of soccer cleats or Air Jorden XXIs or god forbid, Big Baller brand apparel, made by behavioral problem poster parent LaVar Ball. All over America, parents are financially and emotionally overextended in their kids’ sports involvement. But every day at youth sports programs around the country there is verbal abuse being heaped on children by coaches, fans and yes, the parents of the child/player.
There are some who are blaming this phenomenon on the high cost of college. Earning a college athletic scholarship has become the Holy Grail of parents with coordinated children. Overly aggressive kids of overly aggressive parents are pushed, and pushed and pushed to be college linebackers, tempered only by increasing evidence of the long term effect of concussions.
These parents are mistaken in thinking that their pushing translates into a free education. Only about two percent of high school athletes earn college athletic scholarships. Yes, the odds are that dismal. For those few talented enough, the average scholarship is less than $12,000 when the cost of an education is much more than that.
If a parent is concerned with the high cost of college, then the parent ought to be pushing literature or math or biology. Hey crazy parents out there: There are a thousand times more scholarships available for high arcing SAT scores than for high arcing jump shots.