During this month's World Cup competition, soccer fans in the Netherlands erupted in raucous celebration after their countrymen's victory over Ireland in a game, smashing windows, robbing stores and setting cars afire in The Hague. Days earlier, a Colombian soccer player was brutally gunned down because he mistakenly made a goal for the opposing U.S. team. Last month, Vancouver hockey fans ran amok and injured hundreds of people when their team lost the Stanley Cup; similar riotousness and recklessness sometimes flares up in U.S. cities in the wake of sports championships.
These incidents remind us of the unfortunate connection between sports and violence. The controlled aggression exhibited most often in competition can have a spillover effect with disastrous consequences. And yet, we realize that athletics renders enormous benefits as an outlet for participants and as entertainment for spectators.
That is why incidents of violence surrounding athletic events have to be dealt with in the strongest way possible. In Howard County, the Board of Education's recent decision to impose harsher penalties on students who assault coaches is a good first step toward eliminating violence from sports.
Under the new rules, a student who strikes a coach will be suspended for 45 days or the remainder of the semester. In addition, the student will be barred from any extra-curricular activities for the remainder of the semester, as well as the following semester.
If the new penalties seem excessive, we should remind everyone that last winter saw an unprecedented increase in the number of attacks on coaches at athletic events in Howard County. The worst of those incidents occurred last January when several Oakland Mills boys basketball players punched and kicked a Mount Hebron assistant basketball coach, causing a near-melee and delaying the game. Such hooliganism cannot be tolerated in any school activity.
Student-athletes have traditionally been regarded as role models for the student population. When they are allowed to misbehave, they not only encourage others to act likewise, they also perpetuate the notion of a double standard that favors the athletically gifted.
The Howard school system's new rules are justified. Other steps must now be taken that will impose other penalties against fans who may be prone to violence -- including parents.