- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2000

The parents involved in youth sports sometimes lack proper anger-management skills.

The same can be said of many others involved in equally understated activities.

Rage manifests itself in all kinds of improbable settings, even at 35,000 feet, as battered flight attendants tell it.

The most tragic human failings usually merit three paragraphs on the inside pages of the metro section and a vow from public officials to control the worst impulses in humans.

An out-of-control youth-sports parent fits both a stereotype and a man-bites-dog quality.

A parent in Reading, Mass., was arraigned last week on a charge of manslaughter following the beating death of a youth-hockey coach.

The usual expressions of sorrow are being dispensed, along with the usual blanket indictment of parents with offspring who play sports.

Not too long ago, this space was a youth-sport parent of two, one of whom grew up to be a computer geek and the other a professional pain in the rear.

This involved a lot of games and a lot of parents, the majority of whom treated their attendance at team functions as a duty and not as an ego-inflating event.

Kill the umpire?

No one wanted to do that.

Most just wanted to get home, catch the news, have a bite to eat and rest up to rejoin the work-a-day world the next morning.

Parental overkill was rare, and limited to an amusing few. Even those parents were relatively harmless, mostly blowhards with fragile egos who merely imposed their world views on coaches.

Americans have been conditioned into believing that the outcome of a game, any game, is incredibly important to their welfare. This dynamic plays itself out at all levels, from the professional ranks all the way down to the lowest echelon of youth sports.

A lack of perspective goes with the sports territory.

One symptom is the Boy Owner planning to charge the public $10 a head to watch his team practice. The level of interest in his team is staggering, and not necessarily a good thing.

Does all the worshipping from a distance somehow reflect an emptiness in the culture? The culturally attuned often make this case.

Charles Barkley, a modern philosopher of some repute, made a startling observation during the 1993 NBA Finals. He said, win or lose, the sun would rise the next morning. Barkley was seen as a voice of heresy or clarity, depending on your view, although no one tried to debate the merits of his scientific claim.

Barkley and the Suns lost to the Bulls in six games, and sure enough, the sun did come up the next morning.

Americans like to believe that sports build character, despite the number of characters in sports who wind up needing legal counsel.

Americans ignore these uncomfortable truths and fasten an undeserved wisdom to those who throw a ball or run with a ball or shoot a ball through an orange cylinder. It takes a lot of time and practice to perform those tasks well, not a lot of thought.

Of course, the games are fun, entertaining, sometimes even memorable, and they provide a fundamental release that the work-a-day environment lacks. You win or lose, and there is a power in that, and a downside.

The distortions are a national effort, fueled in part by a plethora of conduits, this space included, who feed at the trough of the 24-hour news machine.

No one should to be too surprised if the occasional warped soul draws the wrong idea from the hyperbole, as appears to be the situation in Massachusetts.

There, a man is accused in the beating death of a youth coach. The man probably realizes now that the circumstances contributing to his rage were hopelessly inconsequential. It was, after all, just youth hockey, just a game.

The line between passion and perversion in sports is sometimes blurry, especially when it involves parents and children.

Todd Marinovich's father is said to have gone too far. The father of the Williams sisters is said, following their success, to have been on target.

The gray area is usually vast what works for one family may not work for another and only rarely does it lead to a clear case of wrong.

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