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Protecting Who? From What?

On Sunday mornings, my friend and I generally take a long walk on the high school track. We walk on a beautiful surface which tastefully surrounds a brand new artificial turf Varsity Field. A couple of weeks ago, we got started a little later than usual and found a 5th and 6th grade football game was already underway. The coaches are parents. They play on this magnificent field, use the giant scoreboard, a sound system and all the players have uniforms with their names on the back.

As we rounded the bend, we watched the visiting team's coach charging onto the field with his hands raised in the air screaming for his team to run, not trot. Then, as they approached the sideline, he yelled at the top of his lungs, "What's wrong with you? Have you all got your heads up your asses?"

My friend and I have both been around athletics our entire lives, but that didn't stop us from being stunned by what we heard him say to 11 and 12 year olds. I immediately turned toward the bleachers to catch the reaction of the visiting team's parents. I expected them to tell the coach to calm down. I expected outrage. Although they clearly heard the coach, they said nothing!

We continued to walk along the track and when we passed the home team, a woman approached us. She claimed to be the "Field Monitor" or "Captain" or a similar title. I thought she was about to ask if we'd heard the vulgar coach from the other side of the field. But instead, she asked that, for safety reasons, we leave the track. She said it was against the rules for anyone to walk on the track while a game was underway. When my friend began to protest, saying we were taxpayers and had walked the track on Sunday mornings for years, she said it was not her rule, but the rules of the organization.

We grumbled and felt a bit bullied, but complied, and ended up having a fine walk. In the peaceful woods a distance from the track, we were relieved to have abandoned the 5th and 6th grade teams...and the fancy field.

But, today as i look back, I can't help but feel a sense of irony over what happened. Two women, walking along the edge of a track were asked to leave, most likely for safety and liability reasons. While annoying, it wasn't personal and, in retrospect, seems like a reasonable request. If a player or the ball veered into us and harm was caused, there might be some kind of litigation. I guess could be claimed that we were being told to leave for our own protection as well as the protection of the players.

Yet, on the exact same field, a parent-coach, used very poor judgement as he addressed 10- 11 year old kids. In some circles, and in some communities, the coach's choice of words would be considered harmful to kids, even verbally abusive. Some might even call him a bully. Yet, on that field on that particular day, there seemed to be no protection for the kids who were emotionally impacted by his words. He clearly wasn't held accountable. He wasn't confronted by anyone.

The kids with their heads in the wrong place were thankfully not my grandchildren. Indeed, they were not on my town's team. So, technically, it's not really any of my business. But they were on my town's turf. My taxpayer dollars allowed them to share this wonderful public space. And yet, we could not.

So, it was an ironic twist of fate, that on this particular Sunday morning, there was an effort to protect only some people. My friend and I hardly needed protection. Really, the most enduring liability was happening on the other side of the field. And at that moment, no one seemed to realize the long-term consequences.

Grandparents, next time we're at a sporting event... let's help protect everyone!

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