Do High School Athletic Programs Encourage Violent and Irresponsible Behavior?
By Jill Jenkins
The newspapers and television news programs blast with stories of the Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorious, shooting and murdering his live-in girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens punches his finance, Jayna Palmer, knocking her unconscious. Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots is accused of murdering two people. Kanas City Chiefs, Jovan Belcher murders the mother of his infant child, flees to the field and commits suicide before his coach. The list of acts of violence and irresponsible behavior by the heroes of the gridiron and track seems endless. Is this behavior just a reflection of a violent society or are athletes taught from their childhood that they are an exclusive group of individuals who are above the rules of society?
Parents often encourage dishonest behavior in order to increase their child’s changes of winning, even in little league. Take fourteen year old Jimmy Gronen who in 1973 won the Soap Box Derby. Later it was revealed that his uncle Robert Lange, owner of the Wonderland Drive In in Boulder, Colorado had installed a magnet in the front of Jimmy’s car giving him a significant advantage from the starting gate. Interesting, Robert Lange’s son had won the same race years earlier. In Denver a baseball game of twelve year olds ended with three arrests for parents brawling over what they believed was a bad call. One suburban New York mother was arrested when she sent threats because her son did not make the little league baseball team. In Florida an assistant coach, Dion Robinson of a youth football games assaulted a referee and was arrested. In Utah a soccer referee, Ricardo Portillo, was assaulted by teen who did not agree with one of his calls. He later died from his injuries. Parents have assaulted little league coaches, little league coaches have assaulted referees and teenage players have assaulted and killed referees. The verbal abuse and physical assaults only serve to teach the young players that this behavior is acceptable.
When these young athletics are in high school this immoral and inappropriate behavior gets worse. To alleviate this problem, athletic associations have created rules and guidelines to teach student athletes good sportsmanship and to ensure playing sports does not interfere with getting a quality education. In the eighties, to play on a team a student had to maintain a 2.0 GPA with no “F’s” and no “unsatisfactory” citizenship grades. This all sounds good, but the truth is coaches and administrators put pressure on teachers to change grades or excuse athletes from tests and assignments. When that didn’t happen, some administrators even changed some students’ grades to keep them eligible. Since that time, the athletic association under pressure reduced the qualification for eligibility. First, they eliminated the requirement for a 2.0 G.P.A. and the citizenship grade. Next the requirements were relaxed allowing students to fail no more than one class. Finally, the requirements became so slack that students could fail no more than two classes. Reducing these requirements does not help students. Instead, it hurts them. These are not gladiators meant to emblazon the school’s image. These are students who are trying to get a quality education. Student athletics are never held accountable for their behavior.
Contact sports like Football, soccer, and hockey are violent sports. The energy level and the emotional level are high not only for the players, but for the coaches, the parents and the watching students. It is easy to see how things can easily get out of control. Students are often encouraged to violate the rules and play as roughly as possible to ensure the team wins. After all the coaches job is dependent on the team’s success and the expedient way to achieve that is to cheat or play increasingly roughly. As a result there are many injuries in these sports and worse yet, the plays learn that the end justifies the means. . . win at any cost.
Since schools offer the athletics time out of class to perform on the field and teachers make specific adjustments to their requirements, the athlete begins to feel special. He interprets this to mean that the rules do not apply to him. Since these students have been encouraged to cheat on the field, they believe the same rules apply in the classroom. They begin to cheat to keep their grades up. Granted there is a lot of pressure on them from coaches, parents and they believe the entire school, so they do the expedient thing, they cheat.
Regardless, I have known parents, some even coaches, who have held their student athletic to a higher standard. These are the parents who won’t have to worry about a call from the police because their son has been incarcerated. These parents taught their child the consequences of immoral behavior while still in school. I have had parents contact me and ask to set up a conference with their son, both parents and me (the teacher), because they found evidence that their son had cheated. These conferences have not been easy. There have been serious discussions, consequences, and tears (not just from the student, also the parents and yes even the teacher, me). These parents have demanded their child be held accountable and this has been a learning experience for their child. My hat goes off to these parents, because they chose to do the right thing, not the expedient thing.
In a world where attorney generals are charged with fraud, police officers are charged with murder, and football stars charged with domestic violence, it is difficult for parents to teach their children that one should always do the right thing, not the expedient thing. We should all hold students accountable: teachers, administrators, parents, and athletic associations. Honor is more important than winning. As Socrates once said, “I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating.” Sports programs can increase violent and irresponsible behavior, or they can teach good sportsmanship and character building skills like being a good team player. It is all how we choose to approach them.