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We need a return to good sportsmanship

Remember when we were kids, our favorite team would lose a game, and our parents would say, “Why take it so serious? It’s just a game!”

In reality, it has always been much more important than a game, especially in youth sports. It’s of greater importance because of the life lessons learned while playing. It doesn’t really matter the sport, children learn many valuable lessons while playing every game, such as teamwork, dealing with adversity, courage, learning from mistakes, developing confidence, building endurance and the list goes on.

I’ve had the good fortune to play, coach and referee many different sports over my lifetime. Recently, however, I’ve noticed something significantly different about the attitude of parents, players and fans, particularly in youth sports.

Many have become confrontational and abusive to coaches, referees, players and each other – with such a passion, like their very lives depended on it.

There appears to be an escalation of bad sports behavior by parents, players and fans in recent years. According to the National Association of Sports Officials, over 100 reports involving physical contact between coaches, players, fans and officials are received annually. NASO, is not the “clearinghouse for bad behavior,” so these reports are probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Some may be aware of two Texas high school players and their coach who have admitted to intentionally targeting an official in a game, blindsiding him and knocking him to the ground. Or, of “Lil Wayne,” a rap superstar, allegedly attacking a referee at a charity basketball game that, ironically, was being held to promote and raise money for non-violence.

There have also been far too many instances in New Mexico where the behavior of parents, players and/or fans was shameful. Recently, there were death threats made against one of our young athletes for his performance in a game.

When did the attitude change? Has the time devoted to our favorite teams created such a lust for a game that we’ve forgotten that lessons learned while playing the game are far more important than the outcome?

Sure, we all want to win, but contrary to popular belief, winning is not the only thing. Sure, we want our kids to be the star, but there is also value and importance in being a role player.

We should all strive for victory and endeavor to do our best. But, we should also recognize the significance in the struggle to achieve success because through the struggle we, hopefully, learn to become a better person.

In the final analysis, the lessons learned in the struggle are considerably more valuable than any game.

We should also remember that not everyone is perfect. Not referees, coaches or players. Mistakes are going to be made. It’s all part of the game.

And, one lesson of the game is how we choose to deal with adversity. What type of person are we going to become when mistakes are made? What happens if our kids are not the star of the team? What are we going to do, when things don’t go our way? Are we going to quit, or try even harder the next time?

We all understand and accept a certain degree of fan mania in sports. We’ve all been upset about mistakes made by referees, coaches or players. But there should never be the need to use foul or threatening language or violent behavior, particularly in youth sports.

It is never necessary to threaten or commit any act of violence!

Argue the call, be upset if you want, but there is a line no one should ever cross. In fact, there is a line no one should ever even get close to. In New Mexico, it is illegal to assault or batter a coach, official, player or league administrator. An assault consists of any threat or menacing conduct that causes a person to reasonably believe that he is in danger of receiving an immediate battery.

In other words, if any behavior causes a person to reasonably believe they are going to get hit or hurt, that is a crime.

Armchair quarterbacking, sideline coaching and hindsight debate have always been part of the game, but a line has to be drawn there. Threatening language and/or violent behavior cannot and should not ever be part of any sporting event.

Be a fan, not a felon.

Remember, after all: It’s just a game!

Frank A. Sedillo is a judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the judge individually and not those of the court.