I remember taking a kid to church camp and he witnessed Husband giving an apology to someone for something (getting angry too soon? making fun of me? I can’t remember). The student was taken aback. Clearly, apologies and owning up to your actions was not a common practice at his house. I was sad that the kid didn’t see this regularly, but encouraged that his experience with the adults associated with our church provided him that example.
The adults whom we choose to surround our kids, the role models, the people they look up to, matter.
As a culture, we’ve decided the pre-requisites for who fills these roles can be summed up by how this person can move a ball down a field or court. I’m tired of worshipping the idol of sport. And now, I’m not just tired of it. I’m sickened by it.
The whole Jim Tressel debacle
was enough to show us that character is lacking in collegiate sport leadership. But now we have some man raping children in the locker room at camp while leaders with great social power opt to stand back and assume someone else will take care of it. That kind of take-action approach is exactly what we’re looking for, right?
Friends, we have handed our children over to idols that don’t deserve our children’s respect. They don’t garner the character that is worthy of their starry eyed looks. We’ve handed the sporting world our time and our checkbooks. Now, by handing coaches, players and professional athletes more power than they are deserved, we’ve given them our children. We’ve told younger generations that sport matters so much that kids implicitly have learned to keep quiet to these types of horrors, or risk “loosing opportunity”. Worse yet, when they do speak up, they are hushed, lest the program’s reputation be diminished.
We have put power in the wrong hands.
If you ask me (and you’re still reading, so you did), the PSU scandal is an elevated, magnified (and much more atrocious) look at how many families have given authority and leadership to someone who didn’t deserve it. Countless times I’ve spoken with students who make decisions based upon what the coach will say, do or think. Their time, energy and effort comes down to the opinion of a person who evaluates them on how well they can throw a ball.
Now, to answer those accusations that I know are brewing in your head. Yes, sports can provide a very positive experience to students, teaching them about leadership and teamwork and working hard toward a goal and all those things we tell ourselves to justify the large amount of time and money we spend on them. But let’s be honest. That’s not why we put so much energy into it all. We do it because a) kids enjoy sports. At the epitome of definition, they’re supposed to be fun. Recreational. And b) it gives us something that our kids can be good at. We feel good when our kids excel at something and athletics are worshiped in our culture, so we put them in more. If it’s fun AND they’re good at it, then what’s the harm?
I say, if you’re living a balanced life where kids are seeing that character counts as much as achievement, then probably nothing. If you’ve put your kids in the context of loving community that values who they are becoming, not just the points to be put on the board, then probably no harm there, either. And if you’re realistic about the goal – a good time, some lessons learned, but in all likelihood probably not a scholarship or even much participation in the sport after you’ve turned 25, then it’s probably a healthy level of involvement. If your kid can walk away at the end of a season without feeling responsible to return again next season (or all summer long for camps and summer league), then it’s probably a good place to be. But if they’re heaped with guilt over which sport to play, if any, then I’ll be as forward to say that perhaps athletics has been elevated to a high mantle in your house. I’ve met few kids who worry which AP classes to choose in the same way that they elect a sport.
I can’t help but feel pure compassion for these boys, and their parents, who are going to deal with these scars. No parent chooses to put their kids in the path of such people (and my ranting this morning should not be misconstrued to point fingers at these parents; I’m speaking on a collective level). And I’m tired of being part of a culture that chooses our hero figures for our children based upon something as silly as a game, rather than the type of person the hero encourages my son and daughters to want to be. At least Spiderman believed that with great power comes great responsibility. I wish the coaches of our collegiate teams knew that as well.