June 13, 2002

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

I know I'm getting older and these young whipper-snappers are growing up in a different world than I did, but sometimes I wonder. In my day (back in the good old 70's and 80's) when I was in school and played sports we showed some respect to the coaches, other players and especially the officials. Today it seems like a lot of this courtesy has disappeared and been replaced by trash talking to opponents and blaming the referee or umpire for everything else that goes wrong.

Case in point was last week when I was asked to umpire a local baseball game. I hesitantly agreed even after I found out that I would get paid a whopping $15 (turned out to be close to minimum wage for the nearly three-hour long game). By the time I got home at nearly 11:00 p.m. I had pretty much made up my mind that would be my last outing behind the plate.

It wasn't the hours or the wages but instead it was all the attitude I got from the kids. I know teenagers know it all, and I'm sure I wasn't perfect, but the dirty looks and comments from more than a fair share of the batters, catchers and pitchers made my night less than enjoyable. There was no fear. It wasn't like an occasional kid lost his temper on a really bad call and shot a look back the umpire. Instead more than one kid muttered profanities, threw equipment and basically threw a three-year-old's tantrum. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a majority of the kids but it was enough to notice an alarming trend. Many of those innocent of umpire abuse made up for it with trash talking with the other teams. Where has sportsmanship disappeared to?

I saw a report on this phenomenon on ESPN's news show program "Outside the Lines". Okay I realize admitting I watch this news show on the sports channel instead of just Sports Center, baseball and real sports, is kind of like a person admitting they buy nudie magazines to read the articles. But I watched this particular show which dealt with the growing amount of sex and violence in sports video games. One particular part of the show dealt with athletes as a whole, in real life and in video games, as role models.

Kids watching baseball games see plenty of players and coaches going toe-to-toe with the umpires arguing calls. Well that's in between shots of them dipping big wads of cancer-causing chewing tobacco and scratching themselves while some radio announcer is paying less attention to the game than to getting another cold one. Then there is the trash talking that is so prevalent in the NBA and NFL. It says something when some of the most popular basketball players are a guy that tried to strangle his coach and another one who had to be let of jail early so he could "attend" college and play hoops.

Okay I can deal with the fashion, (if you want to call it that) full body tattoos and gross overpayment of sports stars, but I sure don't want my kids growing up idolizing someone who just as well could have their face on a wanted poster at the post office as on the front of a Wheaties box.

More importantly I don't want them to think it is okay to argue with a coach or an official. First their paycheck is not depending on winning or losing that game. I hope no teenager is forfeiting his allowance if his little league team loses. Second, and more importantly, those individuals are volunteering their time for you. Without them there would be no game to begin with. So for you players out there, remember that next time when you feel the urge to kick dust at the umpire or stare down that referee. Unless you're willing to trade in your uniform for a striped shirt or an umpire's mask, just keep it to yourself.

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