In American football, there’s a penalty called unsportsmanlike conduct. It is usually called when a player acts or speaks in a manner deemed to be intentionally harmful or especially objectionable by the game officials. Unsportsmanlike conduct is a non-contact foul; if contact is involved it becomes a personal foul. Examples include verbal abuse of officials and taunting of an opposing team’s player. If the officials decide that the action was particularly flagrant, the player in question may be ejected from the game. If a single player commits two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in one game, the offender will automatically be ejected.
I have a son who is currently a junior on a high school football team. During last Friday’s game, one of his teammates, after a beautiful catch on his way to a touchdown after a long pass, stretched out his arm, at around the 15-yard line, in a taunting manner towards the defender trying to catch him. It was completely unnecessary. It served no good purpose. It was prideful behavior with an improper motive to humiliate the opposing player. Its behavior that should not be tolerated by any adult, including the game official, who proceeded to throw the yellow flag which negated the touchdown scoring play. Its behavior not desired in our high school’s football program. Kids need to be taught how to score and win in a humble manner.
Suffice it to say, not every spectator in the bleachers felt that way. One adult, in particular, was angered by the call on the field. He proceeded to scream at the top of his lungs at the official, “That’s a horrible call. You’re a moron.” He continued to cuss the officials until his face turned beet red and his head looked like it would soon explode. That’s when he turned around and directed his anger at me. Let’s call him Mr. Football.
Why me? Evidently, because Mr. Football blamed me for the call. He also blames me for “hurting the kids (i.e., the football players) more than anyone has ever hurt them.” Why is Mr. Football so angry? Why would he hurl such an allegation?
Because I am on the school board who unanimously supported the non-renewal of the previous head coach’s annual supplemental contract. The school district’s recommendation for the non-renewal was not without merit. It was difficult for me personally because I was in a unique position: (1) a school board member and Treasurer of the board, (2) a parent with a player on the football team, and (3) a former varsity football coach whose last season coaching was with the old head coach. I consider him a friend. No other board member could claim such a perspective.
Mr. Football failed to see the irony in his anger and actions. The arrogant behavior on the field was symptomatic of one of the root issues with the undesired culture. That type of behavior contributed to the cultural divide between what the administration wanted, both on and off the field, and what the football program delivered. More and more success begat more and more pride which begat an irreconcilable divide. No matter what I personally wanted, it was clear to me there was no way to reconcile the differences.
Mr. Football proceeded to yell and scream without regard for the embarrassment to himself and of the students and community members who could hear him. After about ten minutes of the tirade, I decided to approach him. Bullies, after all, are really cowards in disguise.
I asked, “Do you really need to act this way in front of kids and the community?“
He answered yelling, “No kids can hear me.“
I said, “Yes, they can. There’s a second-grader right there with her parents that can. I know because I’m sitting next to them.“
He replied with a look on his face like he wanted to kill me, “You’re a f____in’ a___hole. You’ve hurt these kids more than anybody ever has.”
I answered calmly, “It looks like you want to hit me.“
He answered, “It’ll be your last breath.“
At that point, a friend of his, another bitter football parent, pull him away. Fortunately, after a brief conversation with law enforcement, Mr. Football apologized and behaved for the remainder of the game. The police officer asked me if I wanted him removed from the game, and I said, “No, as long as he doesn’t do it again.”
Even though it was an ugly incident, I am grateful for it. Romans 8:28 promises that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. I love God and am called to teach Neighborly Love, which is only possible if we love God first and foremost. Only by modeling his love, and righteous disapproval of unsportsmanlike conduct, are we able to truly “love thy neighbor.”