MOMS TALK: The Differences Between Athletic Competition and Genuine Violence

What messages do you send your kids about physical violence towards others? Does the message differ if the "violence" occurs during a sporting contest?

If your child participates in a fight, even if they didn't start it, they'll likely get in trouble too. So what do we want them to do if some errant kid head-butts them in the lunch line because he's prevented from cutting in line? And would our answer change if the kid that was head-butted, had a history of a serious football concussion, making a new injury more serious and more likely?

It seems the "meet me after school" type of fist fights are rare in our community. Our kids are more likely to experience physical violence when playing sports. 

Our state legislators and school athletic trainers have worked hard to raise awareness about the danger and treatment of concussions in athletics. At kids who play contact sports are tested pre-season so they can compare post-injury impact on their brain when they experience a concussion.

There are mixed examples in professional sports about how seriously injury-inducing behaviors are treated. Professional football has sent a strong message to discourage dangerous play with stepped-up rules and the recent year-long suspension for Coach Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints) for a bounty program that offered money to players who injured or took opposing players out of the game. 

But the National Basketball Association (NBA) hasn't set such a good example. If your kids are on the internet or watch the evening news, they have likely seen LA Laker Ron Artest (aka Metta World Peace) cock his elbow back and slam it into Oklahoma City's James Harden's ear with such force it caused a concussion. The NBA’s message to fans and Mr. World Peace? A 7-game suspension—back for the 2nd round of playoffs. Only in the NBA is a felony assault (Intentional, serious bodily injury) considered a moderate rule violation. 

So, back to our kids. What is too rough? From the sidelines we cheer on our soccer players, lacrosse players, football players—as they body their opponents around, and we often complain when our cherub is called for a foul or illegal body check.

Let’s look to Oklahoma City’s Mr. Harden for inspiration. The damage could have been far worse if the elbow had landed in a slightly different place. And it can happen in an instant, and lives are changed forever on both sides. We can help reinforce the message by not encouraging or endorsing over-rough play, or out-of-the-ref’s view cheap shots. 

Need one more example? Recently in Long Beach, California, a 10-year-old girl met another girl after school for a planned fight that lasted only about a minute. They were reportedly fighting over a boy. Joanna Ramos died hours later at her home of a head injury.

Conversations with our kids can start here, with real life examples like these. And yes, this includes NO head butting people in the lunch line!

Kendall Watson April 26, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Thanks for the excellent and timely column, Diane. Has anyone been watching the NHL playoffs? Shesh. I know hockey can be pretty violent, especially when officials permit players to engage in fisticuffs on-ice. I never understood why this was permitted and sets a terrible example. If you want to see professional boxing — that's one thing. But it has no place on a hockey ice rink.
Kendall Watson April 26, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Also reminds me of John Terry's sending off for violent play in the Chelsea-Barcelona match on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League semi-final. Looked like he reached out for Barca's Alexis Sanchez and cocked his leg back and dead-legged him. Shameful.
Maria M May 09, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Thank you for keeping this important issue top-of-mind, Diane!


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