Look, football can be intense for some people. Even the kids’ league gets a little crazy with the “fans” in the stands cheering and taking each play personally. Everyone has coaching advice. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a good reason why their player should be/is the star.
I get it. I love to watch my son play while my daughter cheerleads from the side. Carl is a linebacker and a tiny kid in general. I cringe with every tackle he makes, every hit he takes. It’s a little scary to watch. I get excited and cheer him on, jumping up and down in the stands whenever there is a touchdown or a good play. I’m not obsessed with football. I don’t know that much about the game. I do know that my son is an awesome kid and watching him play is the best thing ever! Here’s the thing: other parents feel the same way about their kids. This part may come as a shock but I’m talking about the parents of the kids on the opposing team!
Last night, at Carl’s game a player from the other side got a personal foul. He was trash talking some of the players on our side and the referee heard him. The kid was understandably frustrated. Our side was up 27-0. He didn’t handle his frustration well. While this 11-year-old child got a personal foul for “poor sportsmanship” one of the dads on our side started clapping and cheering. The kid bowed his head and walked off of the field to the sounds of clapping and shouting, “That’s right! Woo-hoo! Let him have it!! POOR SPORTSMANSHIP!”
The shouts were all coming from an inebriated man, swaying back and forth precariously on his feet, on our side of the field. I immediately told him to stop cheering when the other side gets a fowl.
“Stop that!” I told him, “Those are just kids out there. They make mistakes. You’re a grown man!”
Of course he got angry and slurred some phrases about how I belong on the “other side of the field,” if I’m going to stick up for the opposing side. He went on and on about kids learning good sportsmanship, all the while spittle flying from his mouth while he swayed back-and-forth. I told him straight to his tomato-red face that the same thing applies to the adults on the sidelines! There is no need to make that kid feel any worse. The player had his consequence. Let the referee and the other coach handle it from here. Adults don’t need to jeer and heckle 11-year-olds.
The thing is, I remember some of the anger outbursts my son has had. His anger issues stem from fear and trauma, learned during his early formative years. Before he came into foster care he suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of another mom, another family. The aftereffects of this are still with him and may always be. Carl’s anger is like visceral tornado at his back, waiting in the wings to wipe out anything in it’s path. He uses coping strategies, sensory tools, and yes, even medication, to keep the tornado at bay. This kind of self-control is so hard for an 11-year-old.
Carl can handle himself on the field now, but there was a time when he couldn’t. I remember when another child had to hold him back at school from attacking a substitute teacher. He thought she had done something bad to his regular teacher in order to replace her. Another time he destroyed a book at school when he was mad, and then attacked a file cabinet. All to prevent himself from attacking the teacher.
This past summer Carl came home crying from day camp. He had gotten into an argument with another boy and began kicking a cardboard box repeatedly. He was chastised for kicking the box and the teacher was surprised by how angry he was. Later Carl sobbed in the car, “But she didn’t understand. I was trying not to hurt anyone.” I understood. There was a time when Carl would’ve been kicking the other boy. He has come so far.
My point is this: we don’t know about someone else’s kid. There is no way we could possibly know what another child has been through. Maybe the offending football player had a bad day. Maybe he was just being a brat. Maybe he even has PTSD, like my son. We aren’t the ones to judge. That’s why games come with referees.
So to the drunk dad at a child’s football game? I say the following:
Whether you’ve had 1 beer or 30, there is no need to shout at someone else’s kid. Or the coach. Or the referee. Honestly? Please stop drinking and just cheer for your kid. I know I’ll be cheering for mine, even if he makes a mistake.
**Names in this blog have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.