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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Brett Lawrie’s minimal suspension sends the wrong message to kids

Recently, a young major league baseball player, Brett Lawrie of the Toronto Blue Jays, was called out on strikes in the 9th inning of a close game.

The young (only 22) infielder thought the home plate umpire had made a mistake on an earlier pitch, and was particularly infuriated when what Lawrie thought was “ball four”, was instead called “strike three”.

Lawrie, an energetic player, reacted by going after the umpire and throwing his helmet down on the ground.  He ultimately had to be restrained by his manager.  The helmet flew up and hit the umpire on the leg.

The league responded by giving Lawrie a four-game suspension, which he has appealed.  The expectation is that the suspension will be reduced to only two or three games.

The league had the opportunity to send a very strong message to players and fans—and impressionable youngsters as well—that game officials, even if players think a mistake has been made, must be respected.  Disagreement is natural.  Violent outbursts, however, are not acceptable.

If a young player like Lawrie knows he can act in this manner, with minimal punishment, what is the motivation to modify his behavior in the future?

I read an article this week about a grandfather (yes, a grandfather, a man in his mid-50s) who went after an umpire of a girls little league game in Alabama.  He has been charged with a felony and could go to jail.  Here is a link to the story at Yahoo Sports.

Imagine:  an adult attacks a little-league umpire in the parking lot after a game.

This type of behavior is one of the many reasons that a number of sports are moving away from scores and standings at the early ages of youth sports.  Too many coaches and parents are focused on “winning” rather than ensuring that all the youngsters get to play and enjoy the youth sports experience—and hopefully, learn new skills along the way.

Sadly, sports, as much as it can and should be fun, can also bring out some of the worst emotions and responses from adults.  We set an example for children.

Unfortunately, the recent examples set by Lawrie, Major League Baseball—and that grandfather—are very poor ones.