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The idolatry of sports

By Scott Tibbs, September 18, 2009

Last week, a teenage girl from Marion County was injured when someone threw a rock through the window of the school bus after Pike High School played Bloomington South in a girl's volleyball game. Unfortunately, the surveillance video did not offer a clear enough view to identify the rock-thrower. Hopefully the thug who decided to pick on teenage girls will be caught and punished as harshly as the law allows. This is another sad example of how sports have become one of the gods that modern society worships.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with sports in and of themselves, and following sports is not in and of itself idolatrous. There is a lot that can be learned about teamwork, sportsmanship and a strong work ethic by following sports. The problem comes when people get so wrapped up in sports that they lose their temper and sometimes even engage in violence. The adoration lavished on athletes - especially professional athletes - is out of proportion and borders on worship. The people screaming in the stands when their team's star is introduced would never dream of showing half of that adoration in the pew on Sunday mornings.

A decade ago, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker went on a rant about fans in New York, offending many with his words. But little is said about what provoked Rocker in the first place: the "fans"/thugs were throwing batteries at him. That goes beyond heckling. That is assault that should have been punished with jail time and a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball games. Five years ago, "fans"/thugs in Detroit led a disturbing assault on Indiana Pacers players. The Pistons were never held accountable for not controlling their fans and even made it to the NBA Finals. (Thankfully, they did not win.)

Clearly, fan behavior needs to be controlled. Professional sports teams and schools need to control their fans and should be disciplined if they fail to do so. If it is discovered that someone from Bloomington South (a "parent" or a student) was involved in committing a felony, South's volleyball team should be disciplined by forfeiting games. Ideally, this discipline should come from MCCSC administration or school board. By having the team face consequences for the behavior of the fans, it would discourage unruly fan behavior.

The other thing that disciplining the team would do is teach the players an important lesson about leadership and accountability that will last far beyond the losses on their record. By taking losses for violent fan behavior, the players would learn how leadership often involves being held accountable for the actions of those under your authority or the people you represent. While some argue that people could sabotage the other team, but that's dismissed easily enough. Obviously, no penalty would be implemented unless an investigation determines culpability.

MCCSC has an opportunity to teach a valuable lesson on leadership and sportsmanship. Don't let it pass.