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Truly a wild world of sports

The Baltimore Sun

These are strange times indeed.

In Greece, all team sports have been suspended for a two-week period after hooligan violence led to the death of a fan before a Greek Cup women's volleyball game. In Jamaica, the British coach of Pakistan's national cricket team was found dead recently under suspicious circumstances after the team suffered a World Cup loss to Ireland.

Next thing you know, our NHL players will start braining each other with their hockey sticks and our NBA players will start chasing fans into the loge section.

Just a hunch, but I don't think this is what Pierre de Coubertin had in mind when he famously said, "The important thing in life is not to triumph but to compete."

Sometime between de Coubertin's first Olympics in 1896 and one unfortunate cricket coach's last breath, the whole idea of what organized sport is supposed to be about got lost in a giant international orgy of promotion, greed and unhealthy allegiance. And now everyone from government bureaucrats in Greece to soccer officials in England to Little League parents in Ohio are trying to put the evil sports genie back in the bottle.

Good luck with that.

The entire sports world has become so devoid of perspective that the late father of the world's greatest golfer once compared Tiger Woods to Gandhi and basically got away with it. Where do you go from there?

Answer: To the Masters, of course.

I really shouldn't be flip about this - not when people literally are dying for their favorite teams - but I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read about the attempt by officials of the Knothole Club of Greater Cincinnati to ban negative dugout chatter at the Little League level this year.

The notion that a youth sports league would try to enforce a ban on such a time-honored aspect of the national pastime - as sort of a grassroots effort to raise self-esteem and reduce interpersonal friction - is just a well-intentioned example of the same lack of proportion that got us into this mess.

Maybe if we let kids be kids and stopped heaping more layers of organization and importance on kid sports, they might grow up treating those sports like the trivial, healthy diversions they originally were meant to be. Instead, the enlightened parents of Cincinnati chose to turn Pee Wee Baseball into an idealistic social experiment that will only serve to prevent their kids from developing healthy competitive instincts and using sports as the appropriate outlet for aggressive behavior.

Sports competition is simulated conflict. It's meant to allow individuals to act out their natural competitiveness without malice or the temptation to resort to real violence. It also allows communities to engage in a form of clan behavior that can relieve geographic tension instead of aggravating it. That's what de Coubertin envisioned in the Olympic ideal.

Don't tell that to high school officials in Washington State, who found themselves in the national media spotlight when it was reported last month that they were weighing the possibility of instituting a ban on booing at prep sporting events. They quickly clarified their intention to promote "guidelines" that encourage positive expressions from the stands and discourage negative ones, which still ended up sounding like a potential boo-ban to me.

It's certainly tempting to try and create an artificially positive environment (just ask the people over at MASN) but it's not a very good teaching tool. Better to instill the principles of good sportsmanship in a natural setting than force young people to simulate it.

I'm all for a return to civility. I don't like much of what passes for acceptable behavior in college and professional sports these days. I'm also disgusted by the kind of boorish fan behavior that has soiled European soccer and erupts with ever-increasing frequency at many high-profile sports venues in the United States.

Though I'm not sure what to do about that, I'm guessing that banning Little League dugout chatter is not going to make the sports world a better place for the next generation any more than a boo-ban is going to turn Washington State into a prep sports utopia.

I do, however, grudgingly give the Greek government credit for its attempt to change fan behavior by taking all the balls and going home for two weeks. It's a bit totalitarian for my taste, but it just might work.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) on Saturdays and Sundays at noon.

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