Viewpoints: The decline of sportsmanship likely begins with the parents

Published: Tuesday, May. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9A
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 8, 2013 - 8:05 pm

A Utah soccer referee is dead after being punched by a teenage player over a call during a game. The 17-year-old remains incarcerated. The league says it will hire off-duty police to provide security at games.

A Little League coach in New Jersey is charged with assault after smacking a 17-year-old umpire in the head over a call on the field.

These recent incidents, within days of one another, leave us despondent.

We say the "decline of good sportsmanship" is nothing new, but just how old is it? Is it worse today than it was years ago or is that nostalgia talking? Or do we just hear about it more often now because the digital distribution of news is ubiquitous and instantly accessible? You'd think all these stories might swing the pendulum back toward better behavior, but no.

At a girls softball tournament last weekend in Rocklin, two parents of a visiting team from Woodland reached for their own "crass" ring. That's all it takes is one or two. After the scorekeeper got a clarification from the umpire on a call that didn't go the way of a player on the visiting team, the player's mother flipped off the scorekeeper – a 13-year-old girl who had volunteered to help out while honing her skills for a technical part of the game.

The girl, not quite sure what to do or whom to notify, had that "shocked" moment – what grown-up would do such a thing! – and then went back to scoring the game. It was only afterward that other adults were apprised, and by then, it was too late.

"We will get a message to the president of the Woodland league, letting them know this incident has occurred, that it be brought to the parent's attention," said Ken Broadway, longtime board member and former president of the Rocklin Girls Fast Pitch Softball League, which hosted the tournament. "We expect much better behavior from parents."

Bill Herenda, executive director of Sacramento's Positive Coaching Alliance, will tell you this is indicative of the "win at all costs" mentality to which the alliance is fundamentally opposed.

"It's important for leadership to take a stance against this and set the tone with their players, their coaches, their parents, that this type of activity is not going to be tolerated," he said in an interview Monday on local radio.

It's perhaps worth mentioning the behavior of another Woodland mother last weekend. When her child got a key hit, this woman screamed loud enough to wake the dead, "That's my daughter! That's my daughter!" The spew from her mouth sounded more like a rasping projectile than enthusiasm, the kind that mortifies most girls ages 13 through 16, as these were. It's one thing to support your child; it's quite another to make a spectacle of yourself to the point where it's no longer about the child but about you.

All of this seems in keeping with how the country has decided to raise the millennial generation. I can't tell if it's baby boomers – as selfish a demographic as any I've ever seen – or an "apple doesn't fall far from the tree" thing where boomers and yuppies, maybe large swaths of Americans, have decided to raise their children to be narcissists – perfect little snowflakes, raised by spoiled, narcissistic parents.

Narcissists don't seem at all compatible with free and democratic societies. They lack empathy for others. They try to manipulate every situation to put themselves first, as in, "What's in it for me?" Free societies are built on shared values – people working together to build a community or nation that advantages as many as possible while disadvantaging as few as possible. Narcissists are repelled by situations that don't give them more than everyone else, that don't set them apart and above the rest. Perish the thought of some errant grown-up flipping off the daughter of that Woodland mother.

More than once, I've been told that softball coaches at Rocklin and Whitney high schools won't even consider girls for tryouts unless they've played "travel ball," a higher level of competition – and far more expensive – than traditional recreational leagues. It's as if high school ball has embraced this "win at all costs" attitude that college adopted from the pro ranks. Is that acceptable?

In a society where winning is everything and athletes are worshipped, sports, it seems, have become combat – people taking what used to be a game for fun and turning it into a super-competitive, all-or-nothing event. Somewhere, or maybe just with some people, the idea of "good sportsmanship" was expunged. Lip service is still paid, of course, but in reality, kids are groomed otherwise – by parents, coaches and the screaming audiences on the sidelines.

Says Broadway: "If we could remove some of the adults from youth sports, it would be such a more pleasurable experience."

Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at

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