Well here is a first. An entire coaching staff being investigated for a pattern of bullying because of the outcome of a recent high school football game.
We are all aware that bullying has become a popular cause throughout schools, youth programs and cyber space. This marks the first time bullying has broached the confines of an organized sporting event.
If this can even be considered bullying, why is it different than schoolyard or social media bullying?
There are a couple reasons this “blowout” is different from what we know as “bullying”.
1) Intent. There must be willful malicious intent in order to constitute bullying. The coach clearly managed his personnel and clock in such a way so as to remove as much strategy and “coaching advantage” as possible during the game. His actions stripped away all other factors that contribute to successful football and left only the physical abilities and skills of his players.
2) Boundaries. Football is a game and as such is distinct from real life. The lop-sided victory is not a statement of the character of either team; rather, it is a result of their physical ability as a team and preparation for a specific set of artificial challenges. Further, the game is analogous to a theatrical play. The performers act out a role during the course of the game. We would not accuse Powers Booth of bullying Kurt Russell during the filming of Tombstone. This is what makes sport and drama unique.
3) Competition. Athletes train and sacrifice in preparation with the understanding that their opponent is doing the same. The only reason they bother suiting up and stepping on to the field is to discover how they match up against their opponent. When either side purposefully reduces their effort, they are violating that agreement of mutual pursuit of excellence.
4) Cheating. Intentionally losing any play, match, race or bout undermines the constitutive rules of the game. When one abstains for the mutual pursuit of excellence, they are breaking the very rules that make the game distinct from reality. To re-strategize and “run-out” the clock is not the same as going half-speed or not playing hard. The former is working within the confines of the regulative rules to enhance game-play while the latter is a violation of the constitutive rules.
5) Dignity. There may be noble reasons for removing ones self from the competition. In the example of the marathoner who stops to help an injured runner cross the finish line simultaneously. In this case, the athlete stops playing the game while preserving the dignity of the would-be loser. Intentionally fumbling or stopping short of the goal line would deeply insult the losing team. It is a statement of contempt and considering the contest as not worthy of fighting.
There is a subtle etiquette (sportsmanship) that replaces the cold and stringent rules of our otherwise legalistic society. I’ve written more on the subject here.
Both coaches were ok with how the game was played. That should be all that matters. For a parent to inject themselves in to the ethical discussion is to literally patronize the losers and make the statement that the final score is of more consequence to them, (the parent) than how they played the game.
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