I remember the roaring, red-faced father of a player on one of the basketball teams on which my daughter played. During a tournament game, his loud and continuous abuse of an official got him tossed from the gym. I remember more clearly his daughter, sitting on the bench with her head in her hands while daddy was escorted from the premises.
I remember another father at a soccer game where I was coaching. Our team was a collection of terrific kids who didn’t play soccer very well but never let ineptitude prevent them from having a good time with each other. They all wanted to try to score. Nobody wanted to play goalie. My practice was to give each of them a chance to play every position.
The girls regarded that policy as fair. The father of whom I speak regarded it as inexcusable.
“How the blank will they learn to play a blanking position if you keep moving them around?” he asked me rhetorically.
The players were nine years old.
Sometimes the adults I’ve seen behaving badly have been the coaches themselves. At one basketball game in a cramped gym above a church, a parishioner with a whistle around his neck slammed a clipboard to the hardwood with such force that if we hadn’t been in a gym above a church, some of us might have thought “gunshot!”
Happily, nobody was impaled by a clipboard splinter, and although no parent shouted “You could put an eye out,” some of them probably had to restrain themselves.
I’ve witnessed all that first hand, so I know something about the excesses in which adults sometimes indulge in the context of their children’s games. Still, a betting ring in which coaches and spectators wagered on the gridiron exploits of players so small their heads wobbled under their helmets surprised me. I mean, were it even remotely difficult to get down a bet in Florida or anywhere else on an NFL game, you could sort of understand why men bent on gambling might be putting their money on back-peddling quarterbacks in danger of tripping over the tails of their jerseys. But gamblers face no such difficulty in Florida or anywhere else, federal and state statutes notwithstanding.
One of the detectives involved in the investigation that led to the arrest of nine men—six of them coaches—connected to the pee-wee football gambling ring said, “they take all the innocence away from the game when they involve themselves in these criminal acts.”
Assuming there had been any innocence left on those football fields, he’s probably right.