A Massachusetts state championship football game was the scene this week of one of the most flagrant examples of over-reaction I’ve seen in a long time. A player ran the ball for a touchdown which gave the victory to his team. Before he reached the end zone, clear that his was home free, the player raised his arm in jubilation for a fleeting moment. He scored, and it seemed as if the player’s team was the new State Champion.
Then the referee threw the dreaded yellow flag, disallowing the touchdown and snatching the victory from the boy’s team. The reason: the rules of high school football do not allow for excessive demonstration of victory, wanting to prevent any sense of taunting the opposing team. The rule specifically states that such things as pumping a fist, bowing to the crowd, or shaking a fist toward the other team will not be allowed. The referee stated that the boy’s having lifted his arm in celebration of the soon-to-be touchdown qualified for the penalty.
I don’t think so, and neither do a lot of other people, including the Mayor of Boston, who will hold a celebration lunch for the boy’s team in which he will identify them as “champions.”
My suspicion is that the opposing team, in spite of welcoming a winner’s trophy, must feel pretty conflicted about the “victory.” It isn’t the way one wants to win a contest.
While this experience is a sad commentary on high school football , it is more than that. It demonstrates the kind of power hunger that seems so prevalent in our society today. Exaggeration of a rule to the point of over-reaction is not restricted to athletics. It is common in too many instances of life when a person charged with authority gains the spotlight by stretching a point to become the focus of attention.
I remember when I was the scorekeeper for our high school basketball team. There is a rule that states that a substitute player must report to the score-table before entering the game. The scorekeepers have the authority to enforce that rule by notifying the referee, in which case an infraction is called and the team is punished. It was one of the first times in my life that I had such power, and it went straight to my head. I called the infraction on a player from my own team! I was right. The player had entered during a timeout without checking in. The infraction resulted in a penalty to my own team. I felt the power of the moment, but it was short-lived. The coach never said a word about it to me, but I could feel the disappointment…to the point that I can still remember the event and the feeling of shame which came with it. I felt foolish when I realized what I had done…and I still do. It was a learning moment for me, hopefully a reminder when such authority would be handed to me over the rest of my life.
The yearning for power and recognition is deep-seated, and I suspect it is an event a psychologist might be able to utilize as an example. But I cite it, not as a trophy, but as a personal experiencing of something that I see repeated over and over in our society. Is it a seeking to fulfill a yearning which cannot otherwise be demonstrated? Does it have something to do with early childhood deprivation? Is lack of recognition such a high priority in life that one will stretch to achieve it? Probably some of all of the above, and maybe other stimuli.
In this case, the referee did, indeed, get recognition. He will probably live to regret his over-reaction … and maybe already has. The disappointment and embarrassment heaped upon the boy by his probably-involuntary raising of his arm in celebration will be a nightmare for years to come. No amount of assurance by friends and family will erase it for a period of time. The referee has to know that by now, and he, too, will suffer from the memory of his action.
There is a lesson to be learned by the young people who invest themselves in athletic competition, and that rule is probably better known today than it was a week ago. But if the reason for the over-reaction by the referee was to make an example of the young man, it was a cheap shot.
Photo Credit: Ted Fitzgerald