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Out of control

Parents behavior, obsession with sports gets worse

Posted: Thursday May 19, 2005 12:33PM; Updated: Thursday May 19, 2005 12:33PM

Something has to be done about those short-sighted Connecticut legislators, and it must be done now. Earlier this month, state representatives approved a law that would make it a felony to assault refs, umpires and other sports officials. But the folks in the state capitol building forgot to include coaches. And that was just the opening Marc Picard was looking for.

Picard, an art teacher from Notre Dame HS in West Haven, became a bit agitated when his daughter, Melanie, was suspended from the Sacred Heart Academy softball team for, police report, skipping a game to attend a prom. A man of action, Picard allegedly grabbed an aluminum bat and administered a beating about the head and shoulders to ND coach John Crovo.

Picard has been charged with first-degree assault and could face 20 years in jail. Crovo was treated and released from a local hospital. No word on the levels of hurt and humiliation Melanie has sustained, but you can bet they are pretty darn high.

This isn't just the ordinary example of a parent's going overboard in a youth-sports situation. This is the latest all-in move of the ballooning crisis, which threatens to turn kids' athletics into a high-stakes, win-or-else game, in which everybody loses.

Last week, a high school rugby coach was set upon by eight to 15 people and beaten and kicked until he was unconscious. It was retaliation for his decision to protect a referee who was being attacked by the brother of the rival team's coach. Seems the brother punched the official after a fan of his brother's team was ordered off the field by the ref. Craig Stewart, the coach of Alameda High School Riptide club team, tried to stop the assault and was allegedly knocked to the ground and beaten by a group of cowards, many of whom fled like scared rabbits when the police came.

It goes on. You no doubt heard about the father in Texas who shot the football coach because his son wasn't getting enough playing time. Last year, two teachers were arrested for fighting at an Alabama girls basketball game, and a parent was taken into custody after punching a ref.

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Meanwhile, in Texas, where a state judge ordered that legislators had to come up with a more effective way of funding schools, an arms race is being waged to build the most spectacular high school football facilities. In the May 16 issue of Sports Illustrated, Denton (TX) district athletic director Ken Purcell responded to criticism of his school's new, $18.3 million gridiron palace (12,000 seats, two VIP seats, scoreboard with video board) with this gem: "I believe athletics is part of education. We don't ask how much it costs to build the English classrooms. Seventy-six percent of taxpayers voted for this. And last I looked, this is America. Majority rules." Well, dadgummit, Ken, you're right. And this majority of one thinks it's utterly ridiculous to spend $18.3 million on a football stadium when the state's schools aren't properly funded.

Is it any wonder why parents are attacking coaches, referees, and yes, players like never before? Our nation's sporting culture has careened so far out of control that all perspective and rational thought have been removed from the equation. It's not about recreation and the Homeric ideal of a sound mind and sound body. Sports, from T-ball to the high school level, are more than ever about being No. 1. This transcends the stereotype of the over-involved father's berating his son or daughter. That's bad enough and could be cured if said dad got off his backside and started competing in something himself.

No, this is about a nearly pathological association with the sports our children play, to the point where parents and spectators believe they are part of the game and therefore permitted -- and even required -- to take action at the slightest bit of injustice. And, like everything in our country these days, the ensuing reaction has escalated. Yelling at the ref is no longer enough, just like a sturdy grandstand and well-manicured field aren't sufficient in Denton, Texas. Fans now direct their anger at officials, coaches and players in more dramatic ways, with pistols, bats and fisticuffs. It's a depressing fact of life in this country. Devoid of other meanings in their worlds, some look for fulfillment in the games their children play. And when it doesn't come, they lash out.

It's getting worse, folks, and if it doesn't stop, the Connecticut legislature -- and others like it -- might have to go all the way on this one and ban youth sports all together.

For the kids' sakes.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: A recent study by some British anthropologists revealed that athletes who wear red win more than those who wear other colors. At last, a reason to explain why the Phillies and Clippers are so successful ... Cincinnati decided not to extend men's basketball coach Bob Huggins' contract beyond its current two-year run. Makes sense. If you're going to recruit players who punch police horses, carry weapons on campus and graduate at staggeringly low rates, you should at least win some NC2A tournament games. Tark did.

AND ANOTHER THING: The Wookie and Light Saber set gets its moment under the bright lights this weekend with the final Star Wars installment's debut, but we might as well refer to the summer fare as Back to the Future, at least when it comes to the sports end of Hollywood. Remaking The Longest Yard and Bad News Bears is the cinematic equivalent of high treason. What's next, the 21st century version of Brian's Song? Oh, you mean they already did that? Did it suck? Thought so.

Adam Sandler is a respectable acting talent, but as a wet-willy delivering Paul "The Wrecking" Crewe? No way. And Burt Reynolds, what the hell are you doing playing a role in this disaster? Are toupees that expensive these days? The sad thing is that there are plenty of strong sporting topics out there for the Cineplex consumption. Robert DeNiro proved he could gain and lose weight on command in Raging Bull. Why not turn him loose on From World Cup to World Shaped: The Diego Maradona Story? You want lovable losers? Then, put a floppy hat on Bill Murray and let him play John McKay in The Hard Luck-aneers: Tampa Bay's First Season. Come on, Hollywood, at least try. Stop desecrating the classics.