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Writing about anything other than systemic racism and/or the desperate search for justice right now seems worthless. But that's what I do in this space and I'm hoping that maybe if we figure out a few more things about how we react when we are watching sports/life we can make ourselves slightly better overall actors.
Because God knows we need to be the best actors we can be right now.
I've been spending a lot of time during the last few months thinking about my 40-plus year run as a Chicago sports fan. And this is this week's chapter of that:
And then there was the time that I attended a high school girls varsity basketball game a couple decades ago early in my tenure as a sportswriter at Pioneer Press and bumbled into a critical bit of perspective.
The fans for the opposing teams were neatly segregated into the corners of the set of bleachers where I was sitting right in the middle. So I could hear what both groups had to say quite clearly. A pattern quickly emerged.
If a foul call was made - and I seem to recall there were a lot of them made that day - whichever group was cheering for the offender had something negative to say/shout a about the call and/or the ref who made it. That happened without fail after all but the absolutely most obvious calls until the final result (which team was going to win) was no longer in doubt.
And even on the obvious calls, the fans on one side or the other quickly busted out "what about-ism," i.e., if they were going to call that action a foul, why hadn't they made the same call about something obviously similar at the other end of the floor that happened at most a couple minutes before?
I am in no way saying the refs were perfect. There are definitely plenty of high school games then and now where you can tell the refereeing supervisor had been forced to scrape the bottom of his talent pool to staff a given contest. It is always tough to watch when often middle-aged or older refs struggle to call a game properly. In those games, the floppers tended to be rewarded even more than usual (that is the absolute worst by the way) and the squeaky (complaining) coaches and players get the grease, i.e., are almost always rewarded.
People like to have it both ways in these sorts of situations. They will tell you how bad the refs were at a given game in one moment and then decry how other people were overly abusive toward the refs. That is especially in effect on the periphery of youth sports events. Observers put on their blinders and absolutely refuse to take them off no matter what.
But we have always expected better and we must continue to do so especially from parents at their kids' sporting events. Strangely enough, parental complaining is almost always worst coming from the folks' whose kids are playing in the youngest leagues. Those are the leagues where people should have the most perspective about how much it doesn't matter who wins, right? Even the worst competitive morons know that what happens at a 7-year-old's sporting event stops mattering the second the snack is distributed at the end of the game, right?
But anyone who has spent time administrating youth sports has seen what I am talking about.
Part of that is people getting their first taste of competitive sports involving their kids and failing to appropriately recalibrate the way they consume and react to that sort of stimulus.
An even more important factor is that those parents often don't have kids who are umpires or referees. One you just know as a kid, let alone are related to one who is an official and are forced to listen to an idiot criticize them, a critical set of blinders are removed.
Of course there are people who will take them off no matter what. There are plenty of parents who have spent their lifetimes building up a million set of blinders. And it is so easy to stroll through life seeing exactly what you want to see at all times.
Maybe now is the time that at least a few more folks will form a critical mass of empathy. If not now, when?
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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