Millions have seen the viral video of a high school defensive lineman from Texas clobbering the referee after being ejected from a football game. It is a signal that the “sports-gone-wrong” concern has yet to be resolved.
While his name can be found all over the internet, we will keep it anonymous here. Check out the video below for a clip of the hit and our reaction.
The video inspires a visceral reaction. It is hard to believe what you are seeing – a high school player, a kid, reacting so violently toward another human being. But when you step back for a moment, is it really that hard to believe?
To better understand what happened, let’s break down the moment from the young person’s perspective. This young man, who has trained hard and assumedly loves both the game and his team, was kicked out of the game. Since a berth in the state playoffs was on the line, it could have been the final moment of his high school career (as it turns out, it was).
Frustrations and emotions were undoubtedly on high. To add depth to the picture, we have to be humble enough to recognize that we do not have a full understanding of what this young man has been through… we don’t know what sort of trauma and violence he has been exposed to over his lifetime. These will all play important roles in his decision-making ability.
Working to understand the young man is important; to understand and to endorse are wildly different positions. The behavior is repulsive, regardless of the young man’s history. But if we want to avoid situations like this in the future, and if there is any chance of getting this young man on a better track in life, we should work to understand.
It is worth wondering how his disposition has been nurtured over time. His family, his coaches, his community… how have they addressed patterns of behavior?
If, in order to hype him up to play well, his coach is telling him things like get to the quarterback and break his f***ing neck, that’s a problem. No one has accused his d-line coach of saying that, but that is a direct quote from one of the hundreds of sidelines we have had the privilege of standing on over the course of years. It’s a direct quote from a high school coach to a high school player… in other words, an adult said hey kid, when you get to that other kid, break his neck, maim him for life. Win or lose, that is inexcusable.
If that is the sort of guidance this young man received, regardless of his initial disposition, we are sorry. It is also possible that his coaches have been doing everything in their power to work with him and steer him toward positive outcomes. We certainly hope that’s the case.
What we do seem to know is that, according to The Monitor (a paper covering the Texas Rio Grande Valley), the young man walked off the field to cheers from the crowd.
To better understand how that possibly could have happened, we consider the parents in the crowd who might have an existing relationship with the young man. Maybe he had been to their home before, is friends with their son, and has been nothing but polite… still, one cannot cheer that kind of behavior.
Sometimes the people you love and care about the most do bad or hurtful things – you can forgive them without endorsing their behavior.
If one loves their dog, fantastic, they would not applaud when it goes to the bathroom on the rug. One would not take their child out to ice cream after he or she was caught cheating on a test in school.
Whatever sort of guidance and behavioral reinforcement this young man has received over his lifetime was either wrong or insufficient. Let’s own that. As coaches, as a community, and in the greater realm of what we prioritize in sport, let’s own it.
There is a classic saying in the coaching world: you either teach it, or you allow it. While that certainly does not give credit to the complexity of the human condition, or to the player-coach relationship, there is a significant truth embedded in it. One way or other, the behavior of that young man is the result of his natural disposition and the feedback he is getting from his environment. If his behavior is assault of an innocent person, then something has gone wrong.
in the greater realm of what we prioritize in sport, let’s own our role in this outcome
This young man should experience appropriate repercussions from the team, the school, and the law. But we also hope he get the chance to play college football – and when he does, we hope he gets the right kind of coach. He needs a coach that will build on his strengths, hold him accountable for his flaws, and set him on a better path.
His life should not be over because of this single moment. But it does need redirection.
What we saw on the field was after the whistle, outside the initial heat of the moment, with plenty of time to consider the impact of his actions – if that is any indication of where this young man is in life, then the football field, or the wrestling mat, might be the only place he can be reached.
We have seen many young people who are physical and angry for any number of reasons. It can be difficult to reach them in a history classroom. If we meet them in their space, where they feel more comfortable to be themselves, then we have a powerful opportunity to influence behavior.
We wish the best for the victim, the injured referee, and hope he has a full recovery. He and his family cannot be forgotten in this discussion.
We also hope that there is a coaching staff out there who understands that their job extends well beyond sport, and is willing to do the hard work of getting this young man on a better path.
To schedule a workshop with the Good Athlete Project: https://www.goodathleteproject.com/contact-us