September has been a newsworthy month for high school football but not for reasons that are positive. First there was the incident involving two Texas high school students blindsiding a defenseless football official with a brutal tackle during the last few minutes of a game. Then there was the Linden High School athlete who pulled off the football helmet of another player from the opposing team, striking him in the head until 10 stitches were required. In the same month a high school football player in California was seen reaching under the helmet of his opponent, rubbing Icy Hot all over the opponent’s face which could have resulted in more serious damage if the substance had entered his eyes. Finally, on September 25th, a player from Millikan High School appeared to kick another player from Lakewood High School in the head after he lost his helmet.
Swift consequences have resulted from the first three incidents — team expulsions by high school administrations and/or continuing investigations by local police. However, players involved in the incident between Lakewood and Millikan High Schools have yet to receive any consequence. The Millikan Football Facebook page later took down a post that read: “A Lakewood player’s family pushed the security guard aside and then attacked four of our players. Two were struck in the face and two were grabbed by the neck. Physically bruised but I am sure emotionally not okay. This all happened in less than 30 seconds and the family was out before the coach and trainer could do something. Security did nothing to stop the family from leaving.” (Allen, p 3)
Given the recent level of poor sportsmanship in high school football, many are left wondering what is going on.
Who or What Is To Blame?
The two high school football players from Texas who tackled the field official appeared on Good Morning America, alongside their attorney, and disclosed to the viewing audience that their assistant coach made them behave in such a manner. The coach, Mack Breed, has since resigned his position after admitting that he indeed ordered the players to attack. His explanation: he’d heard the field official using racist language which angered him. The mother of the Linden High School player has urged people to reconsider their negative opinions when viewing the video of her son bashing the other player in the head with his helmet. “He’s really apologetic for this, he didn’t mean it. It was an accident. He said his hand got stuck in the helmet and I believe my child. I’m not saying he’s right for what happened, I’m not saying he’s wrong, I’m going to stand by my son. At the same time, if it was so bad, which it was a bad accident, they should have took ‘em out of the game.” (Johnson, p 5) Salaam Ismial, director of the United Youth Council based in Elizabeth, New Jersey, says that the Linden High School student didn’t mean to hurt anyone and that the two teams had been battling fiercely throughout the game.
Preserving Traditional Values
Many leaders working with today’s youth view sportsmanship as an important component of social values preservation. Through the engagement of competitive sports, children learn beneficial behaviors that carry them into adulthood and into the world of work and wider arena full of social connections. As sports psychologist Darrell Burnett writes: “The traditional value of sportsmanship is being challenged from all sides: professional, college, high school, and even in youth sports. There are some who say sportsmanship is becoming a lost art and that unless we remind ourselves of the essentials of sportsmanship and strive to maintain the basics of sportsmanship it will gradually fade as other values have done in our society.” (Burnett, p 2)
In 2014 a study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health which reflected this problem.Researchers discovered after surveying 1,648 male high school students in grades nine through twelve that boys who played sports such as football and basketball were almost twice as likely as other boys to have been abusive to their girlfriends, perhaps demonstrating the impact this lost art of sportsmanship is already having on society. (Levy p 1)
Part of good sportsmanship is learning anger management and avoiding arguments during a game. The other important aspect of sportsmanship is treating opponents with respect. Therefore, the results of this study as well as the events that occurred in September only echo Dr. Burnett’s concern. Sportsmanship seems to be fading. Additionally, although the adolescent brain has yet to fully mature, thus causing this age group to be more impulsive and short-sighted, excuses that are being made for such behavior (i.e. blaming coaches for giving inappropriate orders or suggesting the aggressive actions are mere accidents) interfere with teachable moments that could turn things around. Lately the focus of team sports appears more goal-oriented, centered on the end result or win, than the process, although process is where opportunity lies in learning basic human values.
Burnett, Darrell J, Teaching Kids to be Good Sports Retrieved from http://www.pelinks4u.org/articles/darden/sportsmanship.htm
Levy, Sandra Study: Boys Who Play High School Sports More Likely to be Aggressive (2014) Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health-news/men-teens-who-play-sports-more-likely-to-abuse-032614
Allen, Michael California High School Football Game Turns Violent (2015) Retrieved from http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/california-high-school
Johnson, Anthony Supporters Defend Linden High School Football Player (2015) Retrieved from http://abc7ny.com/sports/supporters-defend-linden-football-player
Bellware, Kim High School Football Players Suspended After Barreling into Referee (2015) Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/john-jay-football-tackle-ref