“I’m just gonna ride him, ‘cause that’s what I do.”
That’s what a father of one of the boys on my son’s team said to me.
About the fifteenth insult he hurled onto the field, I found myself gritting my teeth.
Around the twentieth slur, I had a flashback of the time I accidently spilled my ice water on a father who was berating his nine-year old player.
And with the next barrage of ranting that spewed out, I felt the urge to backhand this man who was screaming at his high school son.
Thankfully he was four rows in front of me, securely seated in row one.
I’m guessing he’d deliberately positioned himself where he could be heard by everyone on (and off) the field.
It wasn’t like his young man was picking daisies, either; he’d already scored the only goal of the game.
And then he scored the second goal of the game.
“Way to go, Sport!” I shouted.
“Come on Dad,” I said loudly, but to the mother beside me, “let’s hear something positive.”
The man looked over his shoulder and up into the stands.
I gave him a smile and the two thumbs up sign. “Gotta give ‘em something good, too.”
“Nah, I’m just gonna ride him, ‘cause that’s what I do.”
No smile. No humor. No encouragement.
The sad thing is that this man’s rants—“Get in the game,” “What the hell are you doing out there?!,” and “The game’s not over; quit your slacking!”—pale in comparison to some of the garbage I’ve heard.
And at least this man was only yelling at his child.
On more than one occasion, I’ve heard adults holler obscenities at referees and random team members.
One time I heard a (supposed) grown-up holler to a female soccer player who was down after getting knocked off her feet, “If you can’t take the heat, maybe you should take up cheerleading.”
That last insult led to a quarrel between two parents that lasted three quarters of a game.
And when I hear such affronts, I wonder where these people were when the Good Sportsman/Citizen videos were played—ad nauseam—at the mandatory sports meetings.
I wonder how they could have failed to read the giant stadium banners that say, “Let the players play, the coaches coach, the referees ref, the spectators spectate.”
Or maybe they are simply blinded by their own murderous desire to win.
Maybe they don’t understand my mentality—my children are the ones stopping to lend a hand to a downed player, regardless of the color of their jersey—any more than I do theirs.
Any one of you who has ever been to a youth sporting event knows what I’m talking about.
You’ve seen the parents who are living vicariously through their children—those grown persons who never made it into the NCAA, MBA, NHL, NFL, and the litany of other three and four letter sporting acronyms—but are convinced their children are going to be the next Michael Jordan, the next Mia Hamm…
And you’ve also seen those youth who are so passionate they drive themselves to be the best.
The latter I’m familiar with.
In every elementary and middle school Career Day that I’ve participated in, about fifty-percent of the students dream of being some kind of athletic idol.
At ten years old, Fave Son announced during a local interview that he wanted to go to the Olympics.
I smiled. Sure. I’ll play along.
And we’re still playing along.
During these past eleven years we’ve followed him all across the good ‘ole U-S-of-A, and even had the recent privilege to travel abroad.
Once, when he was experiencing some teenage growing pains, and thought he could pull a guilt trip on me, he commented, “Fine, I’ll just quit, then.”
That memory elicits the same smile I probably had on my face that day.
“If you really want to quit, then quit. Your dad and I aren’t driving all over tarnation and back because it makes us feel good. Let’s get one thing clear, Buddy, this whole thing is for you. Not us.”
Last year, that boy’s college coach called to tell Warren and me how much he appreciated having our son as part of his team, how thoughtful he was, and how he looked after the people around him.
And I sighed a little at that one glimmer of promise that we might just have achieved some of our goals…
To rephrase the insufferable father’s words, “I’m just gonna ride along, ‘cause that’s what I do.”
And we are all just along for the ride, or at least we should be.
It’s one thing to share our hopes and values and dreams and shortcomings with our children.
It’s another to force-feed our notions upon them, whether it be about sports or politics or war…
There are so many worse things in life than not being the next High School MVP, the next Peyton Manning, the next Mozart…
Eleven years ago, thousands of mothers and fathers lost their children in the 9/11 attacks.
Many thousands more—the children who lost their parents in that horror—would give anything to look out from a field or a court or a music bleacher and see Mom or Dad.
When your last day on the sidelines arrives, what legacy do you want to leave for your children, that you rode them because you could, or that you were along for the ride, because you could?