When I went over to speak to them, one mother screamed at me, "FREEDOM OF SPEECH!"
"Freedom of speech" is a political construct. It doesn't give you the right to harass children at a sporting event. Yes, you have the right to say what you want without legal consequence, but then I have the right to let you finish your offensive speech from the confines of your car on the way back to your home.
The thing that amazed me in this instance is that these adults actually thought they were in the right. I heard one parent say to another," I thought part of being a parent was being obnoxious cheering for your kids?!"
Being a parent doesn't give you the right to be rude and MEAN, and it certainly doesn't give you the right to be MEAN to CHILDREN. I expect to have to correct our students for calling out individual athletes on the field; I don't expect to have to tell adults not to do so.
One of the basic concepts that is necessary for a republic to succeed is for people to be able to engage in productive dialogue and act with civility. Civilization requires that we learn how to be civil to each other. Our continued existence as a nation depends on our ability to respectfully interact with each other and to compromise for the good of the whole. Frankly, it appalls me to see how we treat each other in our culture.
For example, I enjoy logging on to Facebook to see what my former and current students are up to. It used to be that reading Facebook was an uplifting experience. Now, I usually leave either angry or sad - not because of people's political opinions, but because of the lack of respect and civility that people demonstrate towards each other. People are awfully brave behind a keyboard. People say things I don't believe they'd EVER say to someone face-to-face. I've contemplated deleting my Facebook account, altogether.
Likewise, we live in a culture where "trash talking" is considered to be a normal and integral part of competition. That is, deriding your competitor is seen as "part of the game." To cite one of the worst examples I can remember, one major college basketball fan base threw panties at a visiting player who had been accused of sexual assault.
I'm sorry, but that is just wrong. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but shouldn't we be cheering for our team, instead of against our opponent? When did taunting and humiliating your opponent become an acceptable part of American sports? Frankly, it sickens me, and it worries me.
At HA we are far from perfect in this regard. We, as parents, have been guilty of poor sportsmanship, and I'm not excluding myself from this. I've behaved in ways in the past of which I am not proud. However, I feel like I at least have good enough sense to be embarrassed about it.
Regardless, I don't think we should accept bad sportsmanship as the norm. I think it's a fight worth fighting. To be exact, reinforcing sportsmanship strikes at the very heart of the concept of honor that we are trying to impart at HA. Every year, I tell the students at our Honor Code Ceremony that "honor is not just about avoiding lying, cheating, or stealing; it's about how you treat others from whom you have nothing to gain." I believe we can tell a lot about the culture of schools by how they treat their athletic opponents "from whom they have nothing to gain."
As our spring sports season gets into full swing, I hope that you will take the time to reflect on the hard work and dedication that the athletes demonstrate over the course of the season. The best way to honor our athletes is to exhibit good sportsmanship. Briefly, let me share with you some of my views that I have partially borrowed from Dr. James Garland, the former president of my undergraduate alma mater, Miami University (OH):
- Good sports treat opposing teams and their fans with respect and courtesy. Good sports are humble when they win. They accept their victories with poise, without gloating or demeaning the other team. Good sports are not rude.
- Good sports understand that losing is part of athletic competition. They accept their defeats gracefully, without pointing fingers or making excuses. They view their losses as opportunities for growth and further development of their skills.
- Good sports keep their emotions in check. They understand that stress and pressure are part of athletics, and that the true test of character is when the disappointment, the bitterness, and the frustrations of a game are the greatest.
- And finally, good sports keep a sense of perspective. They know that the other team is their opponent, not their enemy, and that the game is a contest, not a battle. They know that if they conduct themselves with dignity, they will always walk off the field as winners, no matter what the numbers on the scoreboard may show.
Houston Academy athletics has always epitomized a winning tradition, integrity, a commitment to the academic development of players, and good sportsmanship.
I have been incredibly proud of the success of our teams over the years, but I have been even more proud of the comportment and enthusiasm of our fans and athletes. Win or lose, I know that we will continue exhibiting good sportsmanship in all of our athletic contests.