When you’re talking about high school athletes, a little bit of immature behavior on the field is to be expected, even if it isn’t condoned.
But what has unfolded on prep football fields across the country is several steps beyond just “kids being kids.”
While the vast majority of young student-athletes playing high school football are good kids, it only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the bunch. School and law-enforcement authorities in Texas, New Jersey and California now know that all too well.
Two players from John Jay High School in San Antonio decided to take out their aggression on an official, reportedly at the urging of an assistant coach who had grown weary of calls that went against his team — as well as allegations that the official in question had been uttering racial slurs.
Certainly, the behavior of the coach is abhorrent. So, too, is that of the kids — though they were obeying an authority figure who they described as a father figure. And if the official did, in fact, utter racial slurs? Definitely not acceptable behavior. But worthy of being the target of what amounts to a premeditated attack? Hardly. In fact, that’s no better.
Then, we saw two high school players in New Jersey get tied up, which is a common occurrence that happens on every football field in America every Friday night at this time of year. One ripped the helmet off his opponent — unsportsmanlike, but still not uncommon. Swinging said helmet into your opponent’s face, cutting him and causing him to go to the hospital for 10 stitches? Yeah. That’s not right.
Throw in the incident in the hills north of Los Angeles where a player rubbed Icy Hot in an opponent’s face, getting it in his eyes, and it hasn’t been a good month.
Sure, the media pounces on the bad moments. “A football game happened and nobody did anything out of the ordinary” doesn’t make a good story or headline, after all.
While it’s the kids who are committing these acts, the responsibility falls squarely on the coaches who are supposed to be in charge.
I’ve been around coaches who would have kicked players off the team — or at least benched them — for much lesser offenses. If something like these incidents in Texas, New Jersey and California would have happened under their watch, the reaction would have been swift and probably not very pretty.
I saw what happened in basketball games when players whined at referees, not even to the point of warranting a technical foul. Our coach had a rule that he was the only one allowed to argue with a referee. If a player did it, he’d be riding the pine the rest of the game — no questions asked.
I saw a football player banished to the bus for uttering the magic “eff-dash-dash-dash” word in reaction to an official’s call. If he’d gone after the ref, he probably would have been walking from Duchesne back to Moab.
There’s no question that bad things are going to happen on a football field from time to time. It’s too physical and emotional a game for that not to be the case. But a little discipline can go a long way toward keeping such incidents to a minimum.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. Like Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, he sees no room for vigilante justice in sports. Email him at email@example.com.