May 22, 2016

For years, I have been bothered by the “win at all costs” philosophy that seems to be predominant among our national thought process. Somewhere, the values we are supposed to have learned while growing up and competing have gone awry.

Years ago, my late friend John Chaffetz, father of Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, along with Ernie Vandeweghe and myself used to meet for lunch on a frequent basis. Ernie and I decided to take John out for lunch to celebrate his six-month anniversary as Commissioner of the AYSO, (The American Youth Soccer Organization).

Instead of it being a happy occasion, we found John down in the dumps.  Upon investigation, we learned that he intended to resign. He turned to both Ernie and myself asking if we would like to take his place.

We were astonished! After all, this was a position he had sought and a most coveted one at that. The revelation he made to us was: he loved his job and had many ideas he wished to implement, but he just couldn’t take the parents.

Parents, with absolutely no knowledge, were trying to dictate to this Professional what he had to do, what he couldn’t do and what he shouldn’t do. Shortly, after that luncheon, John did resign. Overbearing parents had caused a wonderful organization to lose the talent of a brilliant and dedicated leader.

It was at that lunch I first heard the term, “Soccer Mom”. However, that personage was familiar to me from many of the other walks of life that I travelled… ergo, “stage mother, hockey dad” etc;

As many of my readers know, I was involved in the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics, as well as the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and still, although inactive, am a member of the USSA (United States Sports Academy) Advisory Board.

What triggered this column was the recent flare-up of tempers exhibited when the Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals engaged in the kind of brawl that besmirches the name of Baseball.

Moreover, I think of all the kids who saw this exhibition by some of the men they wish to emulate. One of the combatants was the Nationals’ Bryce Harper… without question among today’s Baseball luminaries.

Think of what the kids take away from that scene… “If Bryce acts that way, than it’s okay for me to do the same”.

This is wrong! 

Parents and celebrities should be held to a higher standard. As a result, I decided it’s time to review the creeds of various athletic organizations and to get a feel of what their Mission is.

The Olympic Creed: “ The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well”. Literally translated if you do your best, you have a chance of emerging victorious.

The Little League Mission Statement has the same principles but is stated differently. It says in part: “to promote, develop, supervise and voluntarily assist in all lawful ways, the interest of those who will participate in Little League Baseball and Softball”.

In such a way, the league through proper guidance and exemplary leadership assists children and attempts to develop the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being.

The Pop Warner Mission is to enable young people to benefit from participation in team sports and activities in a safe structured environment.

The above lofty statements and those of all other junior athletic organizations in no way accentuates a “win at any cost” attitude. Unfortunately many parents who must live vicariously through their children’s achievements, have hijacked and prostituted these goals.

These bastardizations lead to a complete moral decay and displays by adult athletes, a temperament that demoralizes us all. It is an indication of the feeling that it is alright to cheat as long as you win.

Let me cite a few extreme examples of what has happened.

At a Stockton youth football game, coach Cory Petero rammed a player in the back who had just blocked his son. Petero was charged with felony child abuse.

A T-ball coach from a Pittsburgh suburb offered one of his 8 year old players $25 to throw the ball at a teammate, a mildly autistic 9 year-old, during warm-ups.  His idea, the 9 year-old would be too sore to play in the playoffs. Then, he would not have to be used in the Playoff Game defying the rule that everyone on the team must get into the game.

His first pitch hit his teammate in the groin whereupon the coach ordered the 8 year to throw again, but harder at his head. The 8 year-old did as he was told and hit his teammate in his ear.

Unlike the parent/coach who felt winning was so important, the judge didn’t see it that way and convicted the coach of corruption of minors and conspiracy to commit simple assault.  He was sent directly to prison for six months.

In Boston, a Hockey Father Thomas Junta was charged with manslaughter in the fatal beating of another father over rough play at a Youth Hockey game. He was sentenced to a 6 to 10 year prison sentence.

Then there is the case of Timothy Lee Forbes, his son’s team lost their sixth grade Catholic League basketball championship. So angry, he sucker punched the winning coach before biting off part of his ear. Forbes was sentenced to four years in prison.

The are many horror stories, but one of the worst is about that of a Dentist, Dr. Stephen Cito. Dr. Cito sharpened his son’s chin-strap in an effort to literally slash the competition.

After five kids left a single game due to lacerations, (one went to the hospital for more than a dozen stitches), officials stopped the action to investigate.

For failing to stop his crazy dad, young Cito was expelled from school and his father received a year’s probation plus 400 hours of community service. The irony is the father is back practicing as a children’s dentist. Would you go to him?

There are countless more tales of this nature.  Too many to list in this Blog. To me, it is a national crisis. I do not have any answers. I grew up in quieter times.

We didn’t have fancy civic parks to play in.  We played in sand lots and on the streets. We were our own officials.  We had our fights and our arguments, but without parents and coaches who want to prove they are winners.

You know what, the same kids came out to play the next day.  Oh, we remembered what went on the day before, but the only way to settle the dispute was to play harder and try to win cleanly.

Overzealous parents and coaches who place the emphasis on winning at all costs are a severe detriment to the good that the youth programs can achieve.  In recent years, unprecedented media attention has been focused on youth sports.

I have queried a few of my Psychologist and Psychiatrist friends why it appears the violence in youth sports has dramatically escalated over the past five years. A great deal of it has been because of parent and coaches engaging not only negatively, but often times in violent behavior.

Many times, my friends tell me, the reasons have more to do with personality traits, the rapid pace of modern society and underlying societal pressures rather than actual circumstances surrounding that particular game. Thus, attitude transcends sports and is evident even in today’s political scene whereby so many candidates who have media exposure express callous, thoughtless and unsubstantiated remarks… breeding disrespect

I certainly have no answers.  However, I do believe people smarter than me should, in a calm fashion, look to making positive changes.  This happens first in the home, then on the filed of play.

One thing that some leagues do, I do not believe in.  I believe Trophies, medals, or awards should only go to the victorious.  No child should be honored for just showing up. They have to work hard to achieve a goal.  Which achievement should not be trivialized.

Let me close today with a positive note.

It happened last week in Newton, Massachusetts. In the Newton Southeast Little League, 8 year-old Jordan Bornstein pitched a no-hitter, had three hits including a Home Run and his team won.

But, the nicest thing I learned was that afterwards both teams went out together for Pizza and Ice Cream which the winning team paid for.

That’s what youth sports should be!