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Blog: No Dirty-Play Epidemic in High School Football

Jason Scott

Earlier this week, we shared another story about a high school football player making another ugly play on the field.

This time, the play was at least directed at an opponent, unlike the premeditated hit on a referee that made headlines earlier this month. There was also a less-publicized story about a player shoving a referee as a reaction to a call.

So what’s going on? Is there a culture problem in football? Are coaches skipping the part where they instill values? Are players out of control? Is there something in the water?

The likely answer: Probably not. Any of these might be a root cause for these incidents, or any random occurrence might have triggered them. The players involved in the hit on the referee alleged the ref had used racial slurs.

Whatever the motivation, this sort of thing has been going on for a long time — just with less media attention.

In today’s Internet culture, things can get noticed more quickly. The premeditated hit on the referee was just sensational enough to make us as observers perk up our ears. As new cases pop up that look and smell similar, we’re trying to connect the dots, looking for larger trends where perhaps none exist. 

That’s not to say that we should do nothing to keep incidents like this from happening. We absolutely should.

What we should not do is panic. We don’t have to turn into football Chicken Littles. The sky is not falling.

For every instance of dirty play, the kind that grab headlines and leave us shaking our heads, there are many more examples of sportsmanship. Those things don’t get headlines, because the culture considers them boring.

Football idealists might look at the dirty plays recently and question their worldview. If participation in athletics is supposed to instill young people with values, how could this be happening?

That’s a question worth asking. We should look at some of the dirty play recently and double our efforts to teach sportsmanship to our young athletes. But let’s not freak out to the degree of questioning the value of sports participation in general.

Don’t let a few outliers ruin your enjoyment of the game. 

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