Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winning at What Cost?

By now most of you have probably seen the video of a trick play pulled off by the Driscoll Middle School (Corpus Christi) football team. The video went viral rather quickly, and a column about it by Frank Deford has appeared on both and This post will echo some of Deford’s points—although I think he goes a bit far in equating it to child abuse—and, I hope, put my own spin on this.
When you first watch the play, it can be easy to agree with the 92.1% of poll respondents who called the play “genius.” It is creative and totally effective, and it’s within the rules of game. But I’ve grown dismayed as I’ve read some of the comments on various sites about the play. Most people see absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Here’s what wrong with it. The players are kids. Not even high school kids. Middle school kids. They are at an age when they should be learning fundamentals and teamwork and sportsmanship. We should be teaching kids not just how to be good losers, but gracious and dignified winners. Instead, this sort of antic introduces the notion that only the result matters, not the manner in which it may be attained. Yes, the play is within the rules. But it’s very easy to make the leap from this to breaking the rules, and that it’s okay if the official misses it. That is, unless it’s being done to your team.  I’m reminded of how the rector at my church recently told of a conversation he’d overheard. A father had violated a traffic law. His son said, “Dad, isn’t that illegal?” The father responded, “It’s only illegal if you get caught.”
Speaking of the adult in charge, he may have shown a spark of genius in designing this play. But keep one thing in mind. He used kids to pull this off on a bunch of other kids. That doesn’t require genius. It requires narcissism. It necessitated his need for everyone to see just how clever he is. It reminds me of those teachers who are always teaching over the heads of their students, just to illustrate how brilliant they are. It feeds their egos, but not the kids’ growth.
Also, the play may not violate the literal rules of American football. It does, however, seem to violate the spirit of the game. That’s debatable. But part of the deception involves a coach yelling that his team has committed a penalty. He may not deserve a yellow flag, but he certainly breaks a pretty basic life rule: thou shall not lie.
If this had happened in a professional game, I would cut the coach a bit of slack. A tiny bit. At least there he would have been competing against athletes with a richer understanding of the sport who could react to such chicanery. Professional sports are rife with it. A long-time soccer player and fan, I’m particularly aware of the “gamesmanship” associated with my sport. I’ve heard more than enough jokes about players taking dives and faking injuries. It’s a sport that has “the professional foul.”  Growing up and moving higher in the ranks, I encountered more and more of it; sometimes I was even coached how to do it. But I had no patience for it as a player, and I hate it as a fan. I was fortunate that most of my coaches didn’t let us get away with such cynical play, and I’ve never allowed it from my own players. It’s about integrity.
I know from personal experience the powerful impact sports can have on individual development. I attribute most of what now serves me well to my soccer background. So I worry about what the kids on the Driscoll team are learning. I also wonder about something else. Suppose your child/player were on the opposing team. How would you turn this into a learning experience for them given the cultural reaction to the incident?


Christina Bovard said...

Kids, high schoolers, professionals - the whole thing is just wrong. There is a certain code of ethics that is expected to be maintained whether in sports and most definitley in life. Lesson to be taught if it were my kids? Always have character and integrity and have the courage to insist that others do, too.

Mark Crotty said...

Christina, the idealistic part of me agrees completely. The intellectual part of me sees you potentially kicking off a wonderful discussion of situational ethics!