In sport, fittingly enough, there are two competing schools of thought on the nature of athletic competition.
"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," is the credo of one of the schools of thought.
"It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game," is the noble proclamation of the other.
It's possible to make a credible argument that either sentiment is at the heart of what makes physical competition such a vital part of what it means to be human. Indeed, it is possible to conclude that the ideal of winning doesn't necessarily mean running faster, jumping higher or scoring more points against a worthy opponent, but that winning is simply the act of performing at the highest level possible. Thus, winning and how you play the game become synonyms.
One of the many things that besmirches the fine human tradition of striving for physical bests, however, is engaging in violent or abusive behavior in the name of advocating for one or another team. This is detestable when it involves overzealous fans engaging in fisticuffs over a televised game, but the disgrace to the human race is multiplied many times over when it involves parents coming to blows at games where their children are playing, as appears to have happened earlier this month at a rec league soccer game in Forest Hill.
Playing were boys in the 7- and 8-year-old category, an age group for whom what is known in other parts of the world as "the beautiful game" is barely beyond the level of having swarms in different color uniforms chase a ball around a field or indoor ring. Granted, they're beginning to learn, but they're kids, supposedly in it for fun and maybe to learn a thing or two.
Realistically speaking, that an infraction in any game would be a reason for inflicting harm is degenerate, but at a kids game? It should be unthinkable.
Unfortunately, adult offenses occur on the sidelines of youth athletics events all too frequently in Harford County and elsewhere. Sometimes, they're particularly flagrant or attract an unusual amount of attention. Sometimes, they're just venal.
All are unacceptable.
The recent Forest Hill incident was brought to the attention of the Harford County Council and questions are being raised about the need to conduct background checks on coaches and other volunteers associated with county-assisted parks and recreation programs. The issue has come up before, and with good reason. Background checks are needed to prevent those who prey on children from using a volunteer position as an entre to the world of potential victims.
It is troubling in the extreme to have it widely revealed through this incident that background checks are being conducted in a way that could scarcely even be described as cursory. This important issue needs to be thoroughly addressed.
It remains to be seen, however, the degree to which background checks will be effective when it comes to protecting children from being exposed to some of their parents' worst instincts. Parents engaging in unsavory and antisocial behavior at their kids games is something that is unacceptable. Unfortunately, it will continue as long as some people think it's OK and the rest of us are willing to tolerate it.