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Bird at Play: Sports and passion

We are so passionate about our sports that it brings out emotions that we can't find in other parts of our lives. We may be passionate about our jobs, our hobbies, our causes, even our relationships, but nothing pulls out the emotions of sports.

We're passionate about our favorite players, favorite team, favorite drivers, even our favorite sports. We're willing to debate well into the night about the qualities of our "favorite" with another person who surely has the same passion about his "favorite". Passion is what drives the rivalries that are so important in sports. Celtics-Lakers. Ravens-Steelers. Stewart-Edwards.

But that passion can also bring out the worst in people. Athletes' behavior in the heat of battle can become their master status, that by which they are known for the rest of their careers. Mike Tyson biting a chunk out of Evander Holyfield's ear. Kermit Washington's punch of Rudy Tomjanovich. New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert practically pulling the head off her opponent's shoulders by way of her ponytail. And French superstar Zinedine Zidane's head butt of Italian Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final.

Coaches can get in the fray. Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes punched an opposing player in the Gator Bowl. Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight threw a chair across the floor to protest a referee's call. Baseball legend Pete Rose, despite his tremendous playing career, will always be known for his gambling issues that prevent him entrance into the Hall of Fame.

As parents we have a greater level of investment in youth sports because the participants are our own. Mostly parents' behavior toward the players, coaches and even other parents is all good, but on occasion things may get a bit out of hand.

Two incidents happened at a tournament last weekend that exemplify where passion can go wrong in youth sports. After an accidental bumping between one of our moms and someone watching a game on another field, the language that was thrown around from the other fan would have made a sailor blush. And he was watching his middle school daughter. I'm sure he wouldn't have been happy if someone called his daughter the same thing he called our moms, one of only two words my mother forbids me from saying to this day.

Two coaches in our age group were debating the tournament format and who earned the right to advance to the championship game when the confrontation turned ugly. In a show of class not seen since Roberto Alomar, the New York coach spat on the shoes of the coach from Philadelphia. Justice was served as the Philly coach took home the hardware and the trip home to New York from New Jersey was a little longer for his assailant.

We're not perfect but it seems the farther we go away from Carroll County, the worse the behavior tends to be. Some say that bad behavior starts with youth players and continues to the professional ranks. Let's do our part to break the chain before it gets elevated to that level. As Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne once said, "One man practicing sportsmanship is better than a hundred teaching it."

We owe it to our kids.

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