Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Inhumane Society

It’s embarrassing. Downright maddening. Sad. Pathetic. And, I am sometimes guilty of it myself. Perhaps you are as well.

I coach basketball and, right now, baseball. I love it. It consumes me, but I so enjoy the opportunity to help coach and teach kids that it’s worth the sacrifice.

But, I’ve seen a lot of ugliness on the court and on the field. Humans become monsters. Throwing tantrums. Lacking self-control. Unsportsmanlike behavior. Boos. Stomping feet. Ridicule. Emotions off the charts. And, guess what…it’s usually not the kids. It’s the coaches, parents, and grandparents!

As the head coach of several teams over the years, I have contested many calls that officials and umpires have made. I am pretty critical of them, and will not hesitate to express my bewilderment at a brutal call. I have never used profanity or made a personal comment to anyone. I am normally able to reign it in, but two years ago it got the best of me. The pitch got by the catcher, and I sent the runner from third base to try and score him. The catcher flipped the ball to the catcher in time to make the tag, but the pitcher reached for the runner, and tagged him high on the chest when he slid. He was clearly safe, but the umpire called him out. That run would have tied the game!

Instead of just saying, “Umpires are human, too. We all make mistakes,” I chose to run down the third base line and go all “Earl Weaver” on him. Maybe even a little Billy Martin. I got down on my hands and knees and pointed to the precise spot that the tag was made. I then cleared off the plate with my bare hands to demonstrate where my runner slid to beat the tag. I did everything but pull a Lou Piniella and throw bases across the field. Did it change the call? No. Did I look foolish? Likely.

This was 9 & 10-year old recreational baseball. Last I checked, there are no professional scouts in the stands. No high school or college coaches, either. Even if there were, it wouldn’t excuse that behavior.

There is a difference, however, between the head coach arguing a call, and a parent or spectator in the stands. The officials make it clear that they only want to hear from the head coach if there is a dispute. So, as a head coach, I am defending my players. I am working on their behalf to make sure the umpires do their very best. If there is an issue with another coach or player, it is my responsibility to address it with that coach. No one else should be involved in it.

But, it doesn’t always happen that way. Not in baseball, not in school, not in life. People are often undignified and accusatory. They do not speak in a civil manner to those with whom they disagree. They think the world of themselves, but see the worst in others. Umpires included.

We often utter the over-used, disingenuous phrase, “It’s for the kids.” But, the kids are the last ones we are thinking about when we are berating, insulting, or putting down another human being. In the end, is it worth it?

Recently, an umpire made another terrible call – actually several of them – in a game I was coaching. We had the tying run on third base, and he called a third strike on a ball that was at my batter’s neck when it crossed the plate. That ended the inning, as well as our chances of winning the game. I let him know I didn’t agree with the call, and eventually walked away and let it go.

But, one of our fans wouldn’t let it go. He continued to voice his displeasure. And, after the game, he told the umpire that he was the worst umpire he’d ever seen. I asked him, “What good did that do?” He said, “Well, it made me feel better. I had to get it out of my system.”

As adults, we need to do a better job of being the types of role models kids not only look up to, but emulate. If we do, then when we say, “It’s just a game,” that’s what it’ll be. And, it’ll truly be for the kids, not an opportunity for adults to act like two-year olds.

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