I love sports. I love competition. I love my Bruin basketball team. But I am thinking that the competitive spirit has gone a bit too far! I offer as evidence, the Alabama football fan who recently pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful damage to a tree!
It seems that Harvey Updyke Jr. (a 64 year old grown man) is a rabid fan of Alabama’s “Roll Tide.” (For those non-football geeks, that is the expression that captures the spirit of the University of Alabama’s sports program.) And he hates the team from Auburn University. To display that hatred, he poured herbicides all around the 130 year old oak trees that adorn that southern campus.
He was prosecuted for this destructive behavior. The authorities sought $1 million in restitution for the trees. But in the end, he was sentenced to 6 months in jail and placed on 5 years probation. He is banned from attending any college sporting event and from stepping foot on Auburn University property.
Mr. Updyke’s activity might peg the chart of dumb things fans do, but haven’t you seen fans yelling uncontrollably at opposing players or umpires? Haven’t you seen those streakers who run across the baseball fields? Witnessed fans throwing litter or trash onto a court or field? Watched adults scream at folks who happen to be wearing the other teams “outfit” or colors? Or my favorite, haven’t you seen a dad knock a kid down in pursuit of catching a $5 foul ball?
The competitive spirit seems to have run amok in our society. And my fear is that kids are learning all too quickly how not to behave in a competition situation. All they have to do is emulate mom and dad’s language or use of gestures and soon everyone is out of control.
Recently I read an article that made a case against competition for all kids. The writer, Alfie Kohn contends that there is a destructive effect to win/lose arrangements. He thinks competition is a recipe for hostility. While I know it can be destructive, I would suggest that competition can be healthy.
Competition can help children develop good attitudes about winning and losing. It can help them learn about their own abilities and limitations. In my opinion, there is a place for cooperative and competitive activities for most kids. But we need to be careful.
With summer upon us, there will be lots of opportunities to participate in and view sporting events. Let’s be sensitive to our example before the next generation. Let’s make sure they learn to enjoy the creative stress of trying to win and the grace of losing with dignity.
As adults, let’s exercise some self control in our language and behavior. Let’s cheer not chide. And no herbicides!
By His Grace and for His Glory,
Sherry L. Worel