The sentencing this week of a youth hockey coach to 15 days in jail for tripping a 13-year-old player from the opposing team in the handshake line last June reminded me of just how far we, as a sporting society, still have to go. The lawyer for Martin Tremblay, whose action in a British Columbia ice rink was caught on video, argued that the coach was off his anti-depressants at the time. But the judge didn't care and called Tremblay's behavior a "cowardly sucker punch." Hooray for Canada's judicial system!
As a former middle school basketball and softball coach, Little League assistant and swimming stroke-and-turn official, I've seen plenty of bad, even shocking, behavior by coaches, athletes and parents. But nothing quite like what happened in Bethlehem, Pa., last weekend when the city's mayor, John Callahan, was ejected from a high school district wrestling tournament for incessantly criticizing a referee's calls, using such terms as "horrible" and "terrible." Callahan then took to Twitter to continue his rant. If the mayor - a term derived from the Latin word meaning "greater" - can't even set a decent example of how to behave at local sporting events, we are doomed. As one reader commented on the AB website, "That jerk of a mayor is the reason why there is a shortage of officials in every sport."
Tremblay should never be allowed to coach kids again, and Callahan needs to realize when to drop the power trip. Who knows? Maybe those guys will change their ways as a result of their public humiliation. Regardless, I'm reminded of a short, shaggy and obstinate seventh-grade basketball player at one of the rival schools in my son's basketball league. In years past, I've seen this kid get called for a foul and then walk up to the referee and wave a dismissive hand in his face. I've also seen him almost break one of my player's fingers in an attempt to intentionally foul. But when one of that guy's much larger teammates knocked my 5-foot-1, 90-pound son, Tyler, to the ground in a loose-ball scramble during a game last Saturday morning and then walked away, this boy about whom I frequently used to warn my players quietly approached Tyler, extended a hand and pulled him up. He later did the same thing with another player on my son's team.
Big deal, you say? Not really. In fact, you could argue that's what all players should do. But it's often the smallest gestures that speak the loudest.