There are a lot of “circumstances” that can affect one’s judgment. A bad day at work, an overtly competitive streak or a great success that makes you feel invincible to name just a few. It is how you temper your feelings and not let them cloud your better judgement that are the mark of true winner.
By now most people have heard about and even seen the video of the Pop Warner football coach in Stockton, California who ran onto the field in the middle of a game and leveled the 13 year old player from another team. I would never try to make excuses for the coach or his behavior but I would like to know more of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Was it late in the game and had the other team built a substantial lead? Had this player been delivering hits after the whistle throughout the game and this coach had had enough?
Again, nothing that I can think of would ever condone the behavior of the coach.
I have coached youth sports for the past 8 years and I have seen some unbelievable things pulled by coaches and parents all in the name of “competition”. Often, it has been a case of emotional bad judgment on their part (but do the same thing to them and you might consider having someone else start your car for you). This past weekend during my son’s football game I witnessed one of the most remarkable acts of bad judgment that I have ever seen.
Football where we live is a critical piece of the community fabric. Towns take terrific pride in the success of not just their high school team but also their youth teams. While it is unspoken, failure is NOT an option. Yes, there have been youth coaches who have had losing seasons but the next year they either aren’t coaching or the number of players signing up for their team is far fewer.
My son’s team is in a 10 – 12 year old league with each team being allowed a few lighter 13 year olds and he plays other teams from the central part of our state. I am one of the assistant’s on his team responsible for our Defense. We are very fortunate to have a player who is, well, phenomenal. His athletic ability and football instincts are beyond compare. On top of it all he is one of the most respectful and hard working kids on the team. He always answers with a “yes, sir” to the coaches, is the first to congratulate a teammate for excellent play and also the first to get in a teammates face when they are not playing up to their potential. A true leader.
All of the coaches, players and parents on our team just love to watch him run with the ball. Even referees have commented on how much they enjoy our games because they know they are in for a show. They know he is that good. Unfortunately, so do the other coaches in the league. So much so, that now their defenses, and their offenses for that matter, are built around stopping him.
The team we played this past weekend had clearly scouted our games and thought they were prepared to stop him. He scored 3 touchdowns all within the first half. However, in their attempt to build a defense that would shut him down, they came up with a formation or stunt or play on defense called “Ocho”. I heard their coaches yell it several times during the game from the sideline.
Did I mention he wears # 8? So “Ocho”, the Spanish word for 8, might seem to be a clever way to call out a play designed to stop a player who wears # 8. However, not only does he wear # 8 but he is Hispanic. Maybe it is a coincidence, but given that they had clearly scouted our team, there was no way that at some point they hadn’t realized he was Hispanic.
I had picked up on the “Ocho” thing during the game but didn’t say anything as I don’t know these other coaches and didn’t really have any evidence that there was any racial intention behind it. It was after the game when I happened to be approached by one of their coaches in the parking lot I felt my suspicions had some validity. He was first accusatory about our even having someone as good as #8 on our team. He then began making excuses as to why their team lost this year – best player has a broken leg and so on and so on – and made sure to remind me that they had beat us 20 – 0 last year. (We beat them 28 – 0 this year…HA!). But what really set off the red flags in my mind was when he tried to describe who their best player from the year before was. I described the kid as being “small, fast and wearing #37”. He said yep, and then a made a point to add, “the black kid”. “Wow, ” was all I could think, “Did he really just say that?”
The other odd thing about our conversation is he was trying to say all these things in a way that might appear he was being complimentary of # 8 and our team. But it was obvious he was not. It was obvious he was frustrated and angry.
In addition to this conversation, I had seen during the game that their players were not only keying on # 8 but they were taking, what I consider, some cheap shots. Holding him on defense, an extra push or block in the back after the play and once even poking fingers into his eyes after they had him down on the ground after a tackle.
Did their coaches tell them to do these things? No. Did their coaches possibly create a hostile environment by keying so much on #8 and throwing a racial slant to the whole thing with their use of the term “Ocho” that their players were so fired up to do “whatever it takes” to stop him? I think so.
Our head coach plans to speak with # 8 tonight at practice to see if he picked up on the “Ocho” and if it bothered him or his family. Maybe some of us are being too sensitive but the truth is it happened.
We plan to go to the Commissioner of the league with our concern but since he is affiliated with the league this other team is from, I am not sure what will actually happen.
The bottom line is that regardless of the type of week you have had or however competitive you are, you need to use good judgment – especially if you are in position of influence with kids.
Stay tuned to this one. I will be sure to let you know what the Commissioner says……
Click here to go to When “Ocho” is a “No-No”, Part II