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They’re Not Games Anymore

Sports may build character among athletes. Apparently it is less successful in that among spectators.

Like so many other things, the situation seems to become worse with the age of competitors. This summer, it was my delight to watch a number of softball games in which little girls –somewhere in the kindergarten through third grade range — played.

Competition was stiff. The girls played hard and often much better than you might expect from youngsters of their age and experience. One thing shown through in every game: sportsmanship.

I saw coaches reach their arms out to get high fives from girls who’d hit well for the other team. I heard parents rooting for the really young kids who were playing against their daughters and granddaughters.

Fast forward to last week and two news stories reflecting very different attitudes among adults.

One was about Pat McAfee, who kicked for the West Virginia University Mountaineers before going on to a career in the NFL.

McAfee had been in “a self-imposed exile from visiting WVU,” it was reported by MetroNews. Why?

Because of he 2007 WVU-Pitt game. Leading up to the 13-9 loss for the Mountaineers, McAfee missed a couple of field goals. Some WVU fans blamed him for the loss.

“It’s hard to go back to a place where you got 27 death threats,” McAfee said in summing up why he’s made himself scarce around Morgantown.

This one has a happy ending, though. MetroNews reported that WVU’s new head coach, Neal Brown, said McAfee is “welcome back any time. I look forward to the day he comes back.”

No happy ending in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, though. There, officials who work a youth football league are calling it quits. In a statement, they cited “abuse, negativity and utter disrespect shown to our officials from parents, coaches and most recently from our players.”

I’ve known a number of people who officiated high school football and basketball games. Most of them let abuse from the stands and sometimes from coaches roll off their backs. It bothers them, though — as it should.

Ditto for most coaches, by the way.

What’s most troubling about the Eastern Panhandle situation is that it involves players. Rest assured, folks, these kids wouldn’t be verbally assaulting game officials if adults weren’t reinforcing that behavior.

What on earth is wrong with these people?

Death threats to a college kicker who missed a couple of times? Officials who have taken so much harassment that they quit?

One wonders how much longer we’ll be able to call youth and college athletics “games.”

Have any of the immature adults (many of whom have never competed in any sport, by the way) ever considered the message their behavior is conveying to kids?

If it’s all right to make death threats over a football game, how much can we escalate the misbehavior when we’re talking politics? That may well be what some kids are thinking — and that’s dangerous.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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