The NFL Fosters an Environment of Cheating, Drug Abuse, and Violence… Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Did you watch the Superbowl yesterday? The NFL says thank you for your support!

In the world of athletics the fans, coaches, teams and organizations all have the tendency to turn a blind eye to the indiscretions of the athletes, coaches, and owners. We write the rules of the game and the codes of conduct for the participants, only to hand out absolution like Halloween candy when participants exceed the boundaries. We have turned ‘Trick or Treat’ into ‘Trick and Treat.’ We are permissive, overly indulgent parents who have reared a pack of spoiled, selfish brats who, in some cases, literally get away with murder. Still, in almost every sport on planet Earth there is a breaking point… a point where tolerance ends, even if it is too little too late. Every sport, that is, except in the National Football League.

Here is a list of some non-NFL associations that have issued lifetime bans to participants for various infractions.

In 1920 ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson, along with a bunch of his Chicago White Sox teammates, conspired to fix the 1919 World Series. Baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned them for life.

In 1927 NHL player Billy Coutu assaulted a referee. The NHL banned him for five years. He never played in the majors again.

In 1954 NBA player Jack Molinas was convicted of points shaving during his NCAA years at Columbia University. The NBA banned him for life.

In 1962 English footballer Tony Kay conspired to fix a match for purposes of gambling. He served ten weeks in jail and was banned seven years, ending his career.

In 1983 boxer Luis Resto wore illegal gloves during a match. The New York State Boxing Commission effectively banned him for life.

In 1989 Pete Rose placed bets on his own team so Major League Baseball banned him for life.

In 1993 Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson, tested positive for a banned substance after winning a race. The IAAF banned him for life.

In 1994 Tanya Harding was part of a conspiracy to injure rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. The USFSA banned her for life.

In 1995 the NBA banned Roy Tarpley for life for drug and alcohol abuse.

In 1999, Cincinnati Reds owner and outspoken racist, Marge Schott, was facing a third suspension by MLB. She sold the team and left baseball.

In 2012 cyclist Lance Armstrong finally admitted to doping. The UCI stripped him of his titles and banned him for life.

In 2013 El Salvador banned 14 players for life for fixing games.

In 2013 Greek footballer Giorgos Katidis gave the crowd a Nazi salute after scoring a goal. Greece banned him from the national team for life.

In 2014 Portuguese footballer Ricardo Ferreira assaulted a referee. He was banned for 50 years.

In 2014 Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling made some derogatory, racist comments to his girlfriend. The NBA banned him for life and took away his team.

Now look at how the National Football League handles rules violations and acts of moral turpitude equal to or more egregious than the aforementioned list.

In 1999 Cleveland Browns player Orlando Brown assaulted a referee after being inadvertently hit in the eye with a weighted flag. In most sports that is the quickest way to heavy sanctions, including a potential lifetime ban. Brown’s suspension was the only thing that got suspended.

In 2007 Michael Vick went to jail for running an illegal dog fighting arena on his property and committing all sorts of deranged animal abuse like hanging dogs. Four months after he was released from prison he was back in uniform, tossing the pigskin for the Philadelphia Eagles.

In 2007 Patriot’s coach, Bill Belichick illegally videotaped opponents sideline signals to gain an unfair advantage during games. He was fined, but not suspended or banned. Since Belichick is fabulously wealthy, the fine was meaningless. Now he is caught up in another cheating scheme in 2014. My prediction is maybe another slap on the wrist for Belichick, but not until after the Superbowl.

In 2012 the NFL banned absolutely no one for their participation in the New Orleans Saints ‘Bounty’ program designed to pay players to intentionally hurt opponents. The Saints players intentionally injured five NFL quarterbacks in what amounted to a paid, game-fixing enterprise. Despite being worse than Tonya Harding and Pete Rose combined, the architect of the Saints bounty program, coach Gregg Williams, is still coaching today.

In 2012 Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent killed fellow teammate Jerry Brown in an auto accident. Brent was drunk and driving recklessly, and not for the first time. In 2009 he was sentenced to sixty days in jail for driving under the influence. After the 2012 incident, Brent admitted trying to tamper with his monitoring device and failing two drug tests. The only punishment he got from the NFL was a fatherly lecture… and a paycheck.

In 2013 Miami Dolphin player Richie Incognito, largely considered the NFL’s dirtiest player, actually drove teammate Jonathon Martin off the team with his racist bullying. While the Dolphins kicked Incognito off the team in the wake of the embarrassing scandal, the NFL could not find the guts to do what Greece, MLB and the NBA organizations did with Katidis, Schott and Sterling. Instead of banning him for life, the NFL allowed Incognito to retain his free-agent status. He still gets to play if a team will have him.

In 2014 Ray Rice KO’ed his very petite girlfriend like he was Mike Tyson. On camera. Then dragged her limp body into the lobby like he Tarzan, she Jane. He deserves to be banned from all sports for life. All men who hit women should be. I wouldn’t buy a used car from that guy. Too bad the NFL loves him.

In 2014 Adrian Peterson beat the hell out of his helpless, four year old son with a switch. Just about every square inch of the boy’s body was covered in bleeding welts and bruises, including his genitals. That is okay in Texas, so no jail time for Peterson. That is okay in the NFL, so Peterson will be allowed to show his face at training camp next season if he wants to.

As far as I can find, the NFL has never banned a player for life for using performance enhancing drugs. They did ban Stanley Wilson (1989) and Dexter Manley (1991) for cocaine abuse, and Art Schlichter (1987) for gambling. That is about it. By using an emasculated system of suspensions and fines, the NFL consistently rewards it athletes and coaches for their evils. Think on how many NCAA coaches have fled looming sanctions at their college programs only to land in the NFL! It is as though the NFL has hung out a shingle with “Cheaters Welcome” written on it.

So where exactly does the NFL draw its strength? The fans. We pay for the tickets. We buy the products. We subscribe to the packages. We play the fantasy games. We give the NFL tacit permission to condone the most heinous acts so we can be entertained by games on the field and controversy off the field. The NFL’s ratings dwarf all other sports… even in the off-season. The NFL will continue with its sensational corruption until such time as the fans stop buying the product. For now, we are getting what we pay for – moral bankruptcy with all the validity of professional wrestling.

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The Trouble With Ndamukong Suh

The point of war is to kill your enemy by any means that you may dominate and survive. The end justifies the means. That is why, while virtually every country on Earth has signed The Geneva Conventions, the standards of good conduct during times of war, the men and women who fight wars often ignore noble conduct and commit atrocities.

The point of athletic contests is to allow that natural competitive aggression that exists in our species an outlet without anyone getting killed. Athletics are the way that we challenge our opponents, fight our opponents, and vanquish our opponents in a controlled and regulated environment, all without bloodshed. At the end of the day everyone goes home to his or her family as though the competition never happened. No villages burned. While we like to use the metaphors of war to describe athletic contests, never have two more disparate activities existed for the human race. In war the end justifies the means. In athletics, the means is everything, and the end, the winning and losing, is nothing more than an observable outcome.

All sports are DEFINED BY THEIR RULES. Adherence to the rules is the whole point. That is why judo is judged differently than karate. They are different disciplines with different rules of combat. If you use karate in a judo match, you might disable your opponent, but you will be disqualified. You will lose because you cheated. At their very core, athletic contests are purely matters of honor and character.

As a society, we are very conflicted about this. We want honor in sports, but we also desperately want an entertaining spectacle. We create standards in the classroom and in life for athletes, but often bend those rules if the athlete can get us a win. Sometimes we come down hard on the athlete, effectively ending their athletic careers. Sometimes we look the other way, as though their terrible behavior is perfectly acceptable. Horrid things like rape, assault, cheating, child abuse get little more punishment than a stern, fatherly lecture as the paychecks are handed out.

Once Lance Armstrong was finally pinned down for doping, he was stripped of his titles, ostracized and vilified. Baseball’s Pete Rose was banned for life for gambling. NBA owner Donald Sterling was banned, not for doping or gambling or cheating, but for the all-American crime of thinking out loud.

On the other hand, NFL quarterback, Michael Vick, ran a brutal dog-fighting operation and served eighteen months in prison for the crime. The NFL practically sent a limousine to pick him up at prison gates. FSU quarterback, Jameis Winston, has been convicted of and implicated in a never ending string petty crimes and felonies since his teen years. He was rewarded for his behavior with the Heisman Trophy and will likely get a rich NFL contract when he leaves school. The NFL’s Ndamukong Suh, one of the leagues most penalized players, has been suspended twice and fined over $200,000 for his on field violations of the fundamental rules of football. Despite these minor slaps on the wrist, his coach loves him. The team owner loves him. By virtue of the fact he is still playing in the NFL means that the NFL commissioner loves him, as does the players union.

Suh is from my hometown. He is a young man who turned tremendous, God given, athletic ability into a $64 million, five year contract with the Detroit Lions. That is more than one million dollars a month, or about $6300/hour based on a full time work year. Kudos to him. I have idly watched his career for years. The only things that Suh lacks in life are the things money cannot buy – honor and good character.

There was a time when Suh would have made a tremendous warrior, a real Goliath who could lay waste to the enemy. However, as an athlete he lacks self-control and the fundamental understanding of why he is on the field in the first place. He thinks he is at war. This makes him a lousy athlete. He routinely violates the rules of conduct on the field in the attempt to win the game. He fails to understand that every time he violates the rules of the contest, his team loses. He loses. Even if the score is in favor of his team, he brings shame upon self and team when he cheats. He fails to understand that if his opponents decided to break those same rules to take revenge upon him, they could end his career with a single cheap shot. Unfortunately, because of his tremendous athletic ability, society not only gives this young man a pass, we have showered him with awards for athletic excellence. We want to see him lay waste to the offensive line on Sundays, so no one has the guts to take him to task. The in-game penalties, ejections, fines, and suspensions have not proven to be a deterrent, and no controlling legal authority has the guts to bench him for good. Not his coach. Not his general manager. Not his employer. And certainly not the NFL.

Call me a purist. Call me old-fashioned. The most gifted athlete may not be the best athlete. Character comes before skill and ability. It was a rule I lived by when I was an athlete, and it is what I expect of my children when they compete. I have no respect for coaches or athletes who are not good, honorable citizens first. If you disagree with me, I have a question for you: Who do you want your daughter to bring home? Russell Wilson or Michael Vick? Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston? Who do you want for a son-in-law? Ray Rice? Who do you want raising your grandchildren? Adrian Peterson? Think carefully now…

Celebrating Three Years

Three years ago I started this blog to coincide with the publication of my first novel, The Knight and the Serpent: A Legend of Medieval Normandy (free on Kindle through 12/26/14 – a Christmas promotion). It did not take long for the blog to take on a life of its own and it has proven to be a rewarding experience. It has been fascinating to see what readers are and are not interested in! The following three articles are the most viewed of the more than fifty posts since December, 2011.

In an Ethical Lapse, New York Times Journalist, Sabrina Tavernise, Falsely Reports That Guns Cause Suicides

Valley Catholic Girls Win OSAA 3A Basketball Championship

Vote No On Oregon Measure 91: The Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act

The next three articles are the least viewed in that same time period.

Taking Off The Training Wheels – first published in Goal Lines Magazine April, 2008

Oregon’s Democratic Congressmen Attempt to Deny all of America the Benefit of the Rule of Law

THE DEATH OF RULE OF LAW – Part I of VI: The Balance of Power

It is very interesting as to what strikes a chord in people and what does not.

Are You Sick of the NBA? Join the Club!

The one place the nobility of man is truly expressed is in our athletic contests. We reward dedication, effort and skill, fair play is paramount and the team and the individual are responsible for each other. It is battle without death. The outcomes are impartial. No one is entitled to victory. When athletes cheat, it undermines the entire purpose of athletics, because the point of athletics is to honorably match your skills against another, and may the best athlete win. When athletic organizations cheat, they rob the spectator of the fundamental right to a fair and rightful outcome.

I soured on the National Basketball Association in the early 1990s primarily due to obvious biases and intentional incompetence among the referees. The vast majority of fouls during a game are simply not called, and many of the fouls called against defenders are from contact intentionally drawn by the offensive player. NBA referees play favorites and definitely have their hated targets. They pick winners and losers, and often try to put the ball in the hands of their favored team with a “bad” call when the game is on the line. Despite it being a gross and obvious problem, the league swiftly punishes players, coaches and owners if they dare speak out against the rampant, intentional incompetence among referees. The Elephant of Cheating is in the NBA’s living room and the league bullies everyone involved to quash the story. So I turned my back on the NBA. I get a better product from my local high school.

My hometown team is the Portland Trailblazers, who, for the first time in many years had some success this past season. I turned away from the Blazers in 1994 out of disgust for the way the Blazers owner, Paul Allen, treated his players and employees. I was not alone. As Allen’s behavior and decisions ushered in the era of the “Portland Jail Blazers,” many fans jumped ship in disgust. While I keep and eye on the Blazers’ progress year to year, I will not get back on the fan wagon until we have a new owner.

However, I did keep a lazy eye on the playoffs this year, and yes, I was thoroughly disgusted again by the referees. The big surprise to me, after so many years of paying little attention to the league, was the questionable behavior of the teams themselves. I cannot conceive of any scenario where the woeful Dallas Mavericks can take the San Antonio Spurs to a game seven of any playoff series unless the Spurs intentionally threw games in order to extend the extremely profitable in-state Texas vs. Texas match-up. The Spurs, a phenomenally powerful and talent laden team and the Western Conference’s number one seed, toyed with the hapless Mavs for six games before delivering the knockout punch in game seven at home. The Spurs then turned their attention to their second round opponent, the Portland Trailblazers. For three games, the San Antonio ran over Portland, kicking the crap out of them. Then for some odd reason, the Spurs coach Greg(ggg) Popovich grossly limited the play of his starters in game four instead of going for the sweep. The Blazers squeaked out a narrow home win while Tim Duncan and crew watched from the bench. Could it be that Pop threw the game so he could sell out his own arena and win the series at home before a hometown crowd? Pretty fishy to my nose.

And then consider the Eastern Division top seed, the Indiana Pacers. The absolutely terrible Atlanta Hawks, the only NBA team making the playoffs with a losing record, also managed a miraculous Dallas-like performance, taking the Pacers to a game seven before Indiana put their foot down at home. I guess 2014 is the year of the seven game series in the NBA.

As a matter of fact, it is. The 2014 NBA playoffs tied the record for playoff series taken to seven games in just the first round, all without a single seeding upset in any of those seven game series. How is that for a bizarre coincidence. The NBA playoffs can have as few as 60 total games and as many as 105 total games. Every game is worth millions of dollars in ticket revenue, food and merchandise sales, and advertising revenue. The closer the league comes to 105 playoff games, the more money it makes. It has a vested interest in extended series. If the NBA can figure a way to extend every series just a single game it creates an annual financial shift of tens of millions of dollars without actually cheating the eventual series winner. So the average NBA fan has to ask, why exactly did it look like Greg(ggg) Popovich was not playing to win in game four at Portland?

Valley Catholic Girls Win OSAA 3A Basketball Championship

Coos Bay, Or.  Going into the March 1st, 2013 Oregon State 3A girls’ basketball semifinals at Marshfield High School, the Valley Catholic High School Valiant seniors had dueled the Rainier High School Columbian seniors eleven times since their freshman year. The rivalry predates Valley Catholic’s entry into the Lewis & Clark League, and the VC squad owned a slim lead of six wins against five losses in this classic high school rivalry between schools, players, and coaches. In the series Valley Catholic averaged 44.2 points per game, while Rainer averaged 41.2. In the 2011 district playoffs Rainier defeated Valley 51-37 to gain a spot in the state tournament. VC stayed home. In 2012 VC won the Lewis & Clark League in the regular season, but Rainier came out on top in the district tournament finals. VC returned the favor by defeating Rainier in the semifinals of the state tournament. Rainier finished 5th and VC finished 2nd in state that year. In 2013 the top ranked Valiants were riding a twenty-two game win streak into the Columbians’ gym on February 1st. Along the way the Valiants had defeated the eventual 1A girls’ champion, Damascus Christian, the eventual 2A state champion, Regis, and 4A’s 4th place team, La Salle Prep. None of that mattered to Rainier as they pinned Valley with their first loss of the season, 52-45. It was not a matter of rising to the occasion. Rainier was simply that good… but I am getting ahead of myself.

This story really begins back in the year 2000 when five families enrolled their daughters in kindergarten at St. Mary’s of the Valley Grade School, now known as Valley Catholic Grade School. Never could they have dreamed what these girls would accomplish both athletically and academically in the years to come. Meaghan Connelly, Emily Gabourel, Taylor Kinion, Claire McLoughlin, and Meg Rapp have been classmates longer than they have been teammates, and they have been teammates since their 2002 Aloha Youth Soccer Club team. They formed their first CYO basketball team in 2003, and won their first CYO Portland City Basketball Championship as fourth graders at the end of 2004-05 season.

See if you can find VC's Senior Six

See if you can find VC’s Senior Six

In the fall of 2006 a new student, Chelsea Alsdorf, joined the SMV girls, now in sixth grade. Chelsea was an avid athlete, and quickly found a home playing soccer and basketball with her new classmates. As a team, they went on to win three more CYO Portland City Basketball Championships, and Chelsea, Emily, and Meg won the 2007 Oregon Youth Soccer Association’s President’s Cup while playing for Tualatin Hills United Soccer Club. In these days when private schools are often accused of recruiting athletes, this group of girls is as homegrown as apple pie and the Fourth of July.

In the meantime, a young teacher named John Innes joined the Valley Catholic High School English department in 2003. Innes knows basketball, loves coaching, and took the reins of the women’s varsity basketball program for the 2004-05 season. He is a dynamic, creative coach whose active mind never stops strategizing. In his first eight years as a head coach, he won five league championships and his peers named him coach of the year four times. His teams finished 2nd in state twice, 3rd once, and 4th once.

His archrival and good friend, Doug Knox, has been teaching junior high math and coaching for Rainier for over twenty years. In 2008 and 2011 Knox was named league coach of the year, and Rainier won back-to-back league championships in 2007 and 2008. Knox’s girls ran the table in 2008, going undefeated and winning the Oregon 3A title.

Each coach believed he had something special when the ‘Class of 13’ players came out of middle school and joined the high school programs. As the young women developed and worked their way into the varsity lineups, their abilities, intelligence, and heart did not disappoint. Both teams thrive on a steady diet of gut-wrench, desire, and adrenaline. Both teams are 2013 Academic All-State squads with average GPAs over 3.5.

As their rivalry progressed there were few secrets and few surprises between Innes and Knox. The two coaches, as well as the players, came to know each other’s habits, strengths and weaknesses. For four years the rivalry’s winner had been determined largely by a handful of missed shots and bad calls by OSAA (Oregon School Activities Association) referees. As the 2012-13 season progressed, it became clear, at least to Valley Catholic and Rainer, that they were the two best teams at the 3A level in Oregon. Not only did Rainier hand VC their first loss of the season, they also stuck them with their second. In a repeat performance from the 2012 season, VC won the 2013 regular season league title only to be defeated by Rainier 48-44 in the district tournament finals.

The OSAA follows a strict RPI math formula to determine state tournament seeding. An early season loss cost Rainier dearly as the season progressed, for though they defeated 1st ranked VC twice, they could not climb above 4th in the OSAA rankings going into the state tournament. This placed Rainier in the same side of the state bracket as VC, setting the teams on a collision course for the semifinals. Only one team could go through to the championship, while one would be forced to play for the third place trophy.

Bitter losses season even the greatest of athletes before they achieve their greatest successes. There is no way to prepare for dealing with the pressure of the clutch championship performance without actually experiencing it first hand. Both Rainier’s and VC’s girls had stomached more than one championship loss in the previous year. Rainier’s basketball team finished the 2012 season with two straight losses in the state tournament, and their softball team lost a heartbreaking 0-1 game to Santiam Christian in the OSAA 3A State semifinals. VC’s girls were handily beat by Vale in the 2012 3A basketball finals 43-29, and lost a heartbreaking 2-1 match to Oregon Episcopal School in the 2012 OSAA 3A state soccer championship game. As both teams packed their bags and prepared for the long journey to Oregon’s south coast and the town of Coos Bay, they were no longer satisfied simply to be there. They were heading to Coos Bay to win it all. Nothing less.

Rainier opened the playoffs by thrashing the Pleasant Hill Billies (a team that easily has the funniest mascot in all of Oregon, even better than the Tillamook Cheesemakers) 60-46, and then handled the Nyssa Bulldogs 35-28. Valley Catholic opened the tournament with a workman like victory over Westside Christian 47-37, then cruised past Santiam Christian 50-42. Next up for both squads was the 3A state semifinals and the twelfth and final meeting of the seniors of Valley Catholic and the seniors of Rainier.

The Marshfield High School gymnasium is a grand, two level venue designed to accommodate large, raucous crowds. On the afternoon of March 1st, 2013, it quickly filled with expectant, vocal fans from Beaverton and Rainier in anticipation of the semi-final match between the two Lewis & Clark League rivals. The Valley Catholic pep band, led by former Crazy-8s rock-n-roller, Dan Schauffler, rocked the arena while students from both schools cheered for their team.

Both teams started out hot in the first quarter, trading baskets and fouls. With their aggressive, physical play, Rainier pulled ahead in the second quarter and early in the third quarter, but at a great cost of fouls. At one point in the third quarter they owned a dominant 12 point lead over VC, but their two stars, guard Kaylea Knox and post Kylee Crape, were close to fouling out. Knox and Crape could not afford any more aggressive play, and this allowed VC to climb back into the game going into the fourth quarter.

With Rainier clinging to a thin lead late in the fourth quarter, guard Kaylea Knox committed her fifth foul on Kaylynn Bush as Bush drove to the basket. Knox was gone. It was a bitter moment for Rainier as a clearly frustrated Knox left the floor, for it looked to be a terrible call by the referee. Even I did not believe it until I reviewed my video tape frame by frame. Indeed, Knox was the first Rainier player to foul Bush as she put up the ball. Crape was the second. Either way, one of them had to leave the game. While heartbreaking, it was a good call.

Without Knox to run the floor, Rainier could no longer handle VC’s tenacious backcourt press and defense. Quick turnovers and more fouls helped VC take its first lead since early in the second quarter. Down the stretch Kaylynn Bush, Lindsie Labonte, Emily Gabourel, and Chelsea Alsdorf put down 7 of 10 free throws and the Valiants emerged with a 44-40 victory over the Columbians. This final basketball contest between two talented groups of seniors came to its bittersweet end.VC vs Rainier four year stats

The following day, March 2nd, 2013, an exhausted, disappointed Rainer gutted out an overtime victory over the West Valley League champions, Willamina, 28-25, to finish 3rd in state. Valley Catholic ran over the Southern Cascade League champions, St. Mary’s of Medford, 40-27, to win their school’s first ever Oregon state championship in girls basketball. Valley reveled in the thrill and glory of finishing their journey as champions, while Rainier digested disappointment. There is little solace knowing the semifinal contest between the Valiants and Columbians was the premier game of the 2013 tournament and should have been its final. Sport, by its very nature, cannot be fair and equitable. All it can be is opportunity.2013 six seniors win state

The league awarded Coach Innes ‘Coach of the Year’ honors for the fifth time, only this time he had an Oregon State Championship to go with it. Exactly 90 days later, on May 31st, 2013, Rainier seniors Kylee Crape and Kaylea Knox led the Columbians to the OSAA 3A softball state championship with a 9-3 thrashing of the Dayton Pirates. Now that it is over, I want to thank the Valiants and Columbians for showing such exemplary sportsmanship during their long running rivalry and wish them all the best of luck in the future.

It’s A Big Universe – first published November, 2008, Goal Lines Magazine

“C’mon, we need to take a ride.”  That is what he said.  My manager’s face was unreadable.

“What’s going on?” I asked nervously.  Was I in trouble?  Was I getting fired?

“Get your things,” he replied.  “I’ll tell you in the car.”

He explained it was a family emergency and he was taking me to my parent’s house.

After a moment’s pause I asked flatly, “Is it my wife or son?”

“Your wife is okay.” He replied with a controlled voice, keeping his eyes on the road.

“I have to assume my son is dead.”

He did not reply.

Our son, Joshua Dustan, died of SIDS on January 16th, 1991.  He was three months, eight days old.  Kim and I were twenty-four years of age and married only two years, yet we suddenly owned our own cemetery plot and headstone.  I will not detail the darkness that followed, but would have you understand I wish no such pain on any person.  Everything was gone.  My dreams of teaching my boy to throw a ball, peddle a bike, split wood and build a good fire were irrevocably erased.  I would not stand at his graduation or wedding.  We would never have the chance to come to blows over some petty dispute, only to laugh about it years later.  His death could not be undone.

Before my son’s death, I lived in a box.  Everything I considered important was inside the box, and I simply dismissed things outside my box as having no consequence.  If something small inside my box got disturbed, I would be upset, but remained unaffected by ill news coming from outside my box.  After the wreckage of losing my son cleared, I found the lid to my box torn away and suddenly I realized I was only a small bit of an infinite universe.  The pain and suffering we were experiencing was a mere glimpse of the place many people spend entire lives.  Despite my loss, I counted my blessings for the first time in my life.

As I began writing this article, one of my daughter’s dearest friends, Molly McCool, was gravely ill.  Both Megan and Molly play for three-time OYSA State Champion, THUSC Neon, coached by Tom Atencio.  Molly admitted to the hospital before Neon’s semifinal game against Lake Oswego Dynasty.  Things were touch and go, and the McCool’s were looking through the doorway to a place they did not want to go.  Once home from defeating FC Portland in the championship final, my daughter went to her room and cried.  Not for the joy of winning, but in desperate worry for her friend.  Then my wife started to cry, so being the man, I tried really hard not cry, at least not when people were looking.  We knew what the McCool’s were facing.  Molly was airlifted to Doernbecher’s Children Hospital two days after Neon’s victory and the McCools found themselves in a real battle, facing a real loss – nothing they would walk away from as easily as a loss on the pitch.

Of course, after State Cup finished, the Oregonlive internet forums lit up with its usual petty bickering, insults and finger pointing.  The losers got robbed, the winners were cheaters, and all the parents, players and coaches were poor sports.  In other words, the usual banter by a handful of shortsighted prigs who enjoy hiding behind anonymous screen names.  While not getting the worst of it, Neon got a healthy dose of underserved bad press in the forums, and not for the first time.

After a long battle, Molly recovered and the McCools were able to close the door without actually stepping through and burying their own child.  It was a real win, stark, cold and painful.  There was no prize, bonus or trophy, only the knowledge they did not lose.  No matter how faded or distant the image of their win becomes, it will always be sharper and clearer than their greatest athletic contests.

Not long after State Cup, I happened across a tournament game between two teams I had little interest in, aside from the simple entertainment value of the contest.  My girl’s were done for the day, so I grabbed a seat in the bleachers amide a group of parents I did not know, and behaved as though I have not seen enough youth soccer for two lifetimes.  It was an even contest, with both teams getting good looks, but by judging the rising frustration in the crowd as the game progressed, the wrong team won.  The defeated coach threw a temper-tantrum and yelled at the players.  In turn, the parents began screaming at the coach, who, after unsuccessfully attempting to calm the mob, waded in and head-butted an angry father.  Several players began to cry.  It was like watching a pressure cooker filled with chili explode at the Sunday social.  What should have been good turned into a big mess!  What an embarrassing display of poor sportsmanship all over a consolation game that meant absolutely nothing.  The incident was a timely contrast falling honestly into my lap.

I would like to pose a question to the grown-ups involved in the post-game riot.  Actually, I would like to pose a question to every disgruntled adult involved in sports.  Actually, the question is for just about everyone.  If your kid is not getting enough playing time, this question is for you.  If your team lost, this question is for you.  If you feel the referee was biased or simply bad, the other parents were rude, the other team played dirty and you are steaming mad or frustrated about what ever it is you think is important enough to expend significant emotional energy on, this question is for you.  If you are wishing for some sort of karmic revenge for some perceived slight or injury, this question is for you.  If you believe sports are worth sacrificing your integrity and character over, this question is for you.

Would you trade places with the McCools?  Would you trade places with me?

Of course you wouldn’t.  And for that rare fool who believes it would be a fair and equitable trade, to win at all costs, all you will get out of me is a head-butt and a 5AM wakeup call.  You are behaving like a man blind to the power and beauty of the sea because he is angry about the sand in his shoes.  Take the lid off your box, and be thankful you have no real worries.

Taking Off The Training Wheels – first published in Goal Lines Magazine April, 2008

Back in 1995 an author named Barbara Feinman Todd, whom I had never heard of, wrote a book titled “It Takes a Village”, that I never read.  Hillary Clinton pasted her name on the cover and made it an instant best seller, but was also thoroughly ridiculed for failing to acknowledge Feinman Todd’s efforts.  The book was quickly relegated to water-cooler mockery and shelved near Milli Vanilli’s debut album, “All or Nothing”, in the ‘Lacking Authenticity’ section of history.

Still, the concept ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is as old as man.  Aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, employers and coaches all provide depth and breadth to the growth of our children parents cannot hope to achieve alone.  Not only do these folks bring unique lessons and perspectives into the lives of our youth, they force the kids to cope with a wide variety of personalities in a very intimate setting not conveniently escaped.  Learning to cope with the world may be the greatest lesson of them all, as no one can hide behind their mother’s skirt forever.

In today’s America, coaches bring a unique set of lessons to the table.  Lessons parents shouldn’t teach, and lessons our litigious society has forbidden most schoolteachers to bring to the classroom.  Coaches demand!  They demand from the wealthy and they demand from the poor.  They demand from kids who are broken the same as they demand from kids who are whole.  The student either commits, or goes home.  This applies not just to athletic coaches, but all coaches that exist in places such as the fine arts, dance, music, voice, etc.  Coaches force their students to decide to work hard of their own free will, independent of their parents, or pack it up and quit.

There are good coaches and there are bad coaches and the difference between the two is often simply a matter of opinion.  I never played football and despised my high school’s football coach, but I do have to admit – he was a hell of a coach, winning a state championship my freshman year and league championship my senior year.  His players worked hard and respected his authority.  Wrestling was my sport, and besides my father, my high school coaches, Ron James and Rae Endicott, were easily the most influential men in my life.  They took a lazy, belligerent, smart-mouthed fourteen-year-old boy and destroyed him.  Every day.  For four months.  Halfway through my freshman season of sprains, pulled muscles and black eyes, Coach James and Coach Endicott took me aside and looked me in the eye without mercy, and told me… not asked… told me I needed to decide whether or not I wanted to be there.  It was a turning point in my life.  I was an awful wrestler.  I was half-ass.  I got pinned every time I stepped on the mat.  I could have quit and walked away and no one would have cared – a choice many of my teammates made.  Instead I committed 100%, and in return, my coaches committed to me.  I only won a single match that year, but achieved a far greater milestone.  My coaches forced me to make my first adult decision in their mission to change me from a boy to a man.

During those years my parents also gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life – they did not interfere with the relationship I had with my coaches.  They didn’t ring them on the telephone complaining about my many injuries.  They didn’t file a grievance with the athletic director when they thought I was cutting too much weight.  While they certainly did not enjoy watching me lose all the time, they never pulled my coach aside and whined.  As a freshman, I was so far down the depth-chart in my weight-class, I often spent an entire meet on the bench without a match.  No complaint from my folks.  Certainly, if either coach posed a real danger to me, say, supplying me with illegal drugs or alcohol, promoting sexual misconduct, intentionally making me the target of hazing, or withholding asthma medication, my parents would have stepped in and there would have been hell to pay.  In the absence of any serious threat, I was left alone to be my own advocate.  I could work hard, or I could quit.  It was entirely up to me.

I realize it was a different time back in the day when I was young.  Parents were generally far less invested in their child’s athletic careers than today.  The new generation of sports parent carries a load unheard until very late in the 20th Century.  Private clubs now dominate the youth landscape and they demand as much from Mom and Dad as they do from Junior.  We are used to meddling in the relationship between coach and athlete, and coaches understand they must manage the folks as well as the kids in order to make the system work.  This makes the day our sweet darlings enter high school all the more difficult.  We need to let go of our meddlesome tendencies and turn control over to the athletes themselves so they can start down the road to being an adult.  No easy task, for sure.  Many of us have been organizing teams, carpools and fundraisers since our tots were in kindergarten.  The titles of Soccer Mom and Sports Dad are not always easy to abdicate, but I am telling you, for the sake of your kid, you have to do it.  You have to begin turning control over to the athlete.  My eldest daughter turns sixteen this year and it scares the hell out of me she will be driving herself to school and practice alone, but I cannot let that fear prevent me from letting her take on adult responsibilities.  I have to step back and let go.

Wrestling in high school was easily the second most difficult achievement of my life, and it prepared me to survive my life’s hardest challenge, OSU’s grueling pharmacy program, far better than any class or teacher ever did.  Had I not been forced to make my own decisions and my own mistakes as an athlete, I likely would not be where I am today – and I am in a very good place.  In turn, as my parents did for me, I will try to do for my own.  I am just taking off yet one more set of training wheels.