Unsportsmanlike Conduct

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.”

Published by Marc Casciani

I renew minds to transform hearts to grow neighborly love. Author of Craft Your Calling. Host of the Neighborly Love podcast.

3 thoughts on “Unsportsmanlike Conduct

  1. Wow, what an unfortunate incident…though I’m not sure I’d have had the patience to let him dress me down for any length of time before decking him (and being part of the problem). The sad part is there too many of these Mr. Footballs running around who are both teaching/advocating poor behavior/habits and also modeling the same thing through their words and actions for their sons and daughters. These adults are short-sighted and lets be honest…selfish. These adults know right from wrong…in almost every situation they know the correct path. However, due to being focused purely on themselves…totally selfish in word and deed…refusing to be inconvenienced, solely focused to ensure they get their own way (like a 2 yr old throwing a tantrum), believing they are entitled for one reason or another…these people default to a position of focusing on themselves first. The part that saddens me just as much as these individuals spouting off inappropriately, is a surrounding community who are unwilling to hold them accountable for their actions. Looking back, if I was to pull a stunt like that in my day (not that I ever had a day…but lets pretend here) on a Fri night, within 36hrs I’d have heard about it in a big way from the coaches (or I hope so), from my parents, uncles, cousins, friends’ parents (your mother would have laid into me…nicely, but firmly for sure), and before I’d have the ability to leave my church on Sunday I’d have been given the works by at least a dozen of the men who don’t want to see that kind of disrespectful action from me ever again. I’d have been embarrassed for sure…but would have a life lesson…and no way would ever think of doing something like that again. So to your situation on Friday night, where were the other parents? Why were they not, as a group, quickly and loudly pointing out to Mr. Football how very wrong he was. They answer is simple…they are either of the same selfish mindset as our stellar Mr. Football…or they were cowards afraid to stand up for what they know is right–that’s another sad discussion topic. They allowed you to stand in the fire…alone…or were part of the crowd blaming you/the administration. From the sounds of it, this grandstanding young football player probably doesn’t have anyone in his life that is going to look him in the eye and say we expect more of you…that I’m disappointed in you…you embarrass, yourself/team/community with those actions…we’ve taught you better than that…and that I believe in you can and you can and should be better. The sad fact is the lesson this young boy is bound to walk away with is being selfish is the right way to do things and anyone who pushes back at my me-first mentality must clearly be wrong. So, love thy neighbor? Sure…solves a lot. At a minimum, at least recognize each of us are not the most important person in the room and we should stop acting like we deserve to be treated special and stop acting like a single high school football game is actually a significant event in the lives of these young men–be honest…it just isn’t (except for those Mr. Footballs who peaked in life as a high school senior…but that too is a completely different discussion) Thanks for sharing this story. Promise me the next time you intend on putting yourself in harms way you’ll call me so I can be there as your wingman–I’ll watch your back. I’ll stand with you anywhere, any time. Our sons and daughters need more MEN like you in their lives. Keep the life lessons coming.

    G.

    Like

  2. There are a lot of lessons to this story, Marc. You provide a great example of what it looks like to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. Thank you for sharing it.

    Philippians 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: