Its a tradition unlike any other...no, not the Masters, i’m talking about my annual column on the wussification of American sports.
The product that I see on the football field today is a borderline embarrassing compared to the sport that I initially fell in love with as a kid. I could hardly contain myself the other night while watching Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning be nudged (LITERALLY NUDGED) in the back by Colts defensive tackle Cory Redding, only to have Redding called for a 15 yard roughing the passer penalty. One of the biggest disgraces that i’ve ever seen in my years watching the sport of football. Football was built on the basis of toughness and physical play. Now you can’t even breathe on a quarterback or a receiver without being penalized.
But the core values of football are not only being challenged at the professional level, it’s also trickling down to the youth level - only in a slightly different way. While in the professional ranks the emphasis has been placed on player safety (an admirable cause obviously), at the youth level, the issue is overzealous administrators instituting rules that are aimed at sparing kids on losing teams of any embarrassment.
A story last month spotlighted the North California Youth League who has decided to levy a $200 fine and one game suspension against any coach whose team wins a game by 35 or more points. Yea, you read right, fined and suspended!
Now, i’m all for mercy rules. Some teams are so over-matched that it would be ridiculous to subject them to a embarrassing beating. So if the case may be that a team were up by 35 points going into the 4th quarter, I would have no issue with the league mandating that the game end. The problem is the NCYL doesn’t do that. What it DOES do, is force the game to be played from start to finish and actually tells the team that is leading by 35+ points to continue to play and NOT try to score. There’s nothing illogical about that is it?
The deputy commissioner of the NCYL told a Nor Cal TV station that this new rule teaches the kids “sportsmanship.” Correct me if im wrong but, since when has it been “bad sportsmanship” to score points as an offense? Bad sportsmanship is busting the Cuzzin Terio dance (ooohh, kill em!) in the endzone when you're up by 50 points. Bad sportsmanship is throwing the ball in the face of the corner you just burned for a TD. Bad sportsmanship is taunting the sideline of the opponent who's ass you're kicking. Continuing to do what you’re on the field to do – make plays – is not under any circumstance, “bad sportsmanship.” (Unless the team that is up big is still throwing the ball of course).
How many times has it been said that injuries happen when you're playing at half speed moreso than when you’re hussling? Wouldn’t encouraging kids to not try to score points be an exact contradiction of what is normally hammered into their heads? - “Finish! Finish! Until the final whistle! Don’t quit!” Now all of a sudden we're supposed to say “Hussle! Hussle! Play through the end of the whistle...unless we're blowing them out. If we are, then just fall down and take a knee at the 5 yard line because we don’t want to show up the opponent.”
I realize that kids don’t want to be embarrassed, but as I mentioned in my article a few years ago, how else will they learn? They have to realize that there are going to be struggles in life. Some people are going to be more talented than you, or just flat out better than you. How you react to this type of adversity is what’s important.
The issue also continues into the high school ranks where Texas superpower, Aledo High defeated Fort Western Hills 91-0. As if the beating on the scoreboard wasn't bad enough, a parent from Western Hills High actually filed a bullying complaint against Aledo. Bullying!? So what was Aledo supposed to do? Take a knee for 2 quarters straight? I can't speak for the players on Fort Western Hills, but for me, watching a team not try to score would be a bigger shot to my ego than a team thats running me over like a battering ram. At least i'm still competing. By taking a knee, i'm being forced to believe that i'm a charity case that deserves to have it “taken easy on me.” Sorry, but if I have to play full speed on the field and lose 2,014 to nothing, then so be it. I'll at least walk away knowing that I gave it my all from the opening kick until the end of the 4th quarter. Even the head coach for Fort Western Hills said that he had no issue whatsoever with the final score and even disagreed with the bullying claim.
The solution is simple, if it is determined by coaches, officials, or by league rules that a game is out of hand and should be ended early because of the scoring margin then I have no problem with a mercy rule. BUT, if you aren't going to have a mercy rule, then let the kids play with no inhibitions. If adversity truly does build character, then what better adversity to endure than getting your ass handed to you on the football field? By far the most lasting and impactful postgame speeches that I experienced were the ones I heard after LOSING games (some of them blowouts). As great as Michael Jordan was, how much of an impact did his struggles against Detroit early in his career shape him as a player? Think being labeled a big game choke artist motivated John Elway at the end of his career at all? Its not in the losing or in the being “embarrassed” that the significance lies, its in how you react and grow from these outcomes. If we continue to protect these kids from adversity on the football field, what we may actually be doing is damaging their growth off of it.
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