Sideline Slants

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
“Don’t ever forget that it is best to listen much, speak little, and not become angry” (James 1:19)”

Have you ever said, “Me and my big mouth?” So have I.

What is it that causes us to speak first before engaging the brain? In sports, emotions can cloud our vision, and when emotions run high there’s an all-too-frequent tendency to shoot from the lip.

In most rule books, aiming derogatory or inflammatory words at an opponent is called taunting and baiting. It’s also called unsportsmanlike conduct, and it incurs a penalty on the offending team. Twenty years ago, the topic was hardly covered at rules meetings, but it’s front and center today.

Why is taunting and baiting a concern? Simply put, it leads to confrontations on the field or the court, i.e. fights.

If this were a health issue, the Centers for Disease Control would declare that taunting and baiting is nearing epidemic proportions.

Unfortunately, there’s no miracle cure or chill pill for the disease. To show you how ridiculous the problem has become, a Cleveland Browns holder recently was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a successful field goal in a football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s hard to conjure up a good reason why a holder would taunt anyone.

Solving the problem is not easy because the solution involves everyone from imperfect officials to coaches, referees, fans and parents.

One challenge is consistently penalizing the classless behavior. But no two officials are alike and not every taunt is heard. Some tolerate more talking than others. No two circumstances are alike. Sometimes a situation warrants a warning. Sometimes it deserves a penalty. Other times players escape punishment because an official isn’t 100 percent sure who said what.

But consistency isn’t a problem solely for game officials. Coaches struggle with it, too. Some coaches tolerate players who yap too much.

Others will take a troublesome player out of the game and sometimes suspend the athlete. Some coaches will support an official who penalizes a player for unsportsmanlike conduct. Others support the athlete and blame the official.

Although this happened a long time ago, I still haven’t forgotten one particular Tabor College football player who must have been among the conference leaders in unsportsmanlike conduct and personal foul penalties.

Why that particular coaching staff tolerated such intolerable behavior escapes me. It has been refreshing to see the current coaching staff restore some discipline in the program.

In another inexcusable situation not too many years ago, Bethel College amassed 10 or more personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a football game against Tabor. And the Threshers easily won the game. Go figure.

Officials and coaches can’t win the battle by themselves. I wonder how many times a potential learning situation is undercut by parents who blindly defend their child’s boorish behavior? But considering how some parents act in the stands, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many athletes exhibit less than exemplary sportsmanship.

Some student cheering sections take great pleasure in taunting their opponents. Sometimes it is light-hearted. Other times the comments are personal, vicious and mean-spirited. Educators would never tolerate that kind of behavior in a classroom, but somehow it’s excused at an athletic event.

When is it ever appropriate to verbally demean an athlete in a sporting event?

Of course, the athletes have the final word. They are ultimately responsible for how they behave. They could learn something from former NFL star running back Barry Sanders. Whenever he scored a touchdown, rather than go into gyrations, he simply handed the ball to the nearest official.

I’m not anti-emotion. Scoring a touchdown or making a big play is reason to celebrate, but the celebration shouldn’t include pointing at an opponent and trash-talking.

Taunting and baiting are as old as the Bible. Goliath taunted David for being small and weak. The crowds taunted Jesus on the day he was crucified. The Bible says that even a thief on a cross taunted Jesus.

There’s an unfortunate saying that goes, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.” Maybe so, but it ain’t necessary either.

“So also the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do” (James 3:5).

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