OPINION: Outsights

In previous columns, I?ve challenged the notion of ethics and morality in coaching, and I?ve addressed the competitive spirit of parenting and how it pertains to a young person?s dedication to sports.

Last week, another important issue was raised during a basketball game I attended. This one has to do with peer pressure and the thought processes of youth.

At a game I attended recently, one of the teams had on its roster a player who was clearly overweight. She played sparingly in the second half, when the game was already out of hand. She ended up scoring on a break-away layup late in the fourth quarter.

It was one of those rare moments that gave me chills. Here was a young woman with limited athletic ability, working as hard as any other athlete on the court.

And for what reward?

She was razzed by the fans of the team I was covering?which should tell you that, unfortunately, this involved a team in Marion County.

About every name and catcall you can use against an overweight person was hurled against this poor teenager.

And the worst part about witnessing this disgusting display? Knowing that this girl probably faces situations like this quite often.

Even after the game, the same fans continued making disparaging remarks about the player and ridiculing their team for letting her score.

Sad, but true.

Since then, I?ve found myself recalling my high school days, remembering situations which might rival this one.

For me, it was always so much easier to go along the stupidity of the crowd than to step up and try to make a positive difference.

Everything was?and after witnessing this event, evidently still is?done on the basis of what the group thinks.

Even they?re not thinking very well.

So seldom does someone step outside the ?norm? and help others see the harsh reality they?re perpetrating.

Some situations, like the one I witnessed, was merely cruel. In some cases, they can be downright dangerous.

Remember Columbine.

Why did Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris feel they needed to initiate such a senseless, tragic event against their classmates and teachers?

Klebold and Harris said they both felt they were ?different? from the norm. What was worse, they felt they were being ridiculed by others because of it.

Apparently, Klebold and Harris took matters into their own hands and tried to get back at the people who had caused them so much pain.

The scary thing about this kind of harsh reality is that some people actually take their own lives in response to the foolish behavior of their peers.

The Klebold-Harris case is an extreme example. Maybe the case of the overweight player is less extreme.

Regardless, I believe these situations can be prevented if otherwise good-hearted, level-headed students will only exercise some compassion for the welfare of others.

I find it difficult to believe there isn?t at least one person in any given group who feels terrible for the things which have been said or done in these kind of situations.

Those are the individuals who must raise the standard. They need to model what it means to accommodate as many individuals, whatever their differences, as possible.

It?s easy for adults to step in on behalf of others, but until a peer stands up against a thoughtless crowd, nothing will ever change.

Sportsmanship, respect, making others feel included?those are the elements of inclusion. It means being a gracious winner and loser?in athletics, in high school, and in life.

More youth are the target of the ?norm? than you can imagine. So here?s the challenge, kids: Be different, do the right thing.

It takes courage. You will risk being ridiculed yourself for taking such a stand. But be assured, there?s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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