THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Five Years of Bad Blood
Back in March, an interesting incident happened that appeared to be five years in the making.
Following a college softball game between Florida and Auburn, Auburn shortstop Haley Fagan got into a shoving/screaming match with Florida coach Tim Walton during the handshake line. Apparently, as Fagan led the line for her team, when she reached the end of the Florida line to see Walton, she put her hand down to not shake his hand, resulting in Walton's hand slap going into Fagan's shoulder. When Fagan turned around, she then shoved Walton in the back to return the favor. This eventually turned into some screaming where Fagan, not Walton, had to be restrained.
There is some history here. In 2012, Walton had to dismiss three players from his team prior to the start of their NCAA tournament. Two of them were Fagan's sisters, Sami and Kasey. Apparently, it all stemmed from an altercation where specifics were not discussed. However, Kevin Fagan, the father of all three girls and former defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, spoke up back in 2012 about the issue and stated his girls would be transferring.
Ironically, Kasey Fagan and the third girl dismissed, Cheyenne Coyle, are both graduate assistants for Auburn.
Walton issued an apology shortly after the incident with Haley Fagan, stating it was never his intent to touch her in what was conceived to be a poor intent, but to just shake her hand as per the custom. He even took responsibility and said he should have been more aware of what was happening. Nothing was said from Fagan, Auburn, or the SEC around the same time.
There are a million potential factors at play here, all of which are based solely on the mere possibility of them occurring, not so much on any hard evidence. It's tough to formulate opinions and garner suggestions when you're working only with connecting the dots of potential situations, especially when you're not a detective working to solve a case for the Special Victims Unit. But it doesn't take a genius to see the writing on the wall at the same time.
The Fagan family has some grudges that will slowly turn into demons if they are not resolved. I'm not sure if Walton has those demons. He seems like he tried his best in all these situations.
The next question is whether or not this type of culture is rampant in that part of the country...
Can't We All Just Get Along?
Back in February, ArbiterSports (the company responsible for providing electronic services to assign officials to games) published an article in one of its blogs about the relationship between the coach and the official. The thesis of the argument is simple: coaches and officials need to find ways to get along since they each have the common goal of providing a great experience for the student-athletes.
The article went on to provide some tips for officials to consider on how to cultivate the relationship from their end. Many of the tips were self-explanatory: practice empathy, be proactive, stay calm, etc.
However, there was one point that made me raise an eyebrow...
Under the heading of discussing the tip about practicing empathy, the article goes on to describe coaches at the high school level expecting high results for the purposes of pleasing their superiors...perhaps I'm grossly over-stating it, but the idea is that results are demanded and the difference between success and failure could mean the difference between having a job and getting fired.
I might expect this as the professional level, but at the high school level? Did I just read that right?
In my travels as an umpire, I've experienced many things, and unfortunately, this is something I've seen from time to time. In any scenario where the athletes are amateurs, student-athletes, or simply kids having recreational fun (even when they have to try out and make the team), the idea of having to produce results so that job security is optimal for coaches shows a real problem with society. This is even a problem at the collegiate level, but the issue with collegiate athletics goes so much farther beyond the scope of this argument that we would be here for a while.
Let's stick just with what was specifically referenced in this article. According to this post, high school sports should be classified under the heading of the level that demands results from its athletes, specifically for the validation of the coaches and the future of their jobs. Frankly, my response is this simple: if any high school program is using game/championship results to specifically determine whether or not a coach/employee is worthy of keeping his/her job, that program should be removed from the face of this Earth.
High school coaches should be judged not on the win/loss record of a team, but rather on the general experiences of the members of the team. Now, that might be easier said than done these days, especially in this litigious society where you simply cannot please everyone, and those who are not pleased may try to find some legal loophole that might be the catalyst to a ridiculous law suit, but the idea is still true. If a team goes 3-20 on the season, but the kids have a good time, the coach shouldn't just be outright fired! Maybe the kids were just terrible in that school! And that is supposed to cost the coach his job?
I know it's a lot easier said than done based on the variables that come with each specific case. But perhaps even a few administrators can consider this argument and realize that the success and failure of a team may not rely on wins and losses, but on the experience of the student-athletes.
The Plot Thickens
I know the World Baseball Classic is a distant memory from earlier this year, so I swear this will hopefully be the final post about it until it comes back around in four years.
Although Team USA won the tournament, it really felt like there were no winners based on the amount of poor sportsmanship that flowed through the entire event. We've already discussed how the Netherlands complained a lot as well as Adrian Gonzalez and Team Mexico being poor sports about the tie breaking rules. We may have also considered the fact that the number of ejections in the tournament was incredibly way too high, featuring three members of Team Columbia, Tony Pena (manager of the Dominican Republic), and even Andrew McCutchen from Team USA. Ultimately, for every moment of good sportsmanship (such as the pregame sportsmanship exchange), there was an equal moment of poor sportsmanship (such as anything just listed).
Poor sportsmanship found its way into the championship round as well. As tensions between the Netherlands and Puerto Rico heated during their semi-final match, one specific shot of Javier Baez giving demeaning hand gestures to the Netherlands proved just how mature some players are. Even Team USA called out Puerto Rico for their hasty plans to celebrate a championship before it was won, although Puerto Rico has gone on record stating that the message was misinterpreted. Who knows if bad blood will always run between Yadier Molina and Adam Jones?
Even Ian Kinsler was getting in on the great divide without even intending to do so! Kinsler first made comments about how the Latin players show passion in an unsportsmanlike way, only to backtrack and clarify saying those methods weren't necessarily bad. I don't know what's worse: the racial divide between the cultures or the fact that Kinsler might have a point!
You may recall a post a few months ago discussing the various customs at sporting events throughout the world. Well, one thing we didn't really discuss in that piece was the attitudes taken by the athletes throughout the world. Without shifting gears completely, let's just note that Latin baseball players hold up the stereotype of the traditional "Latin temper."
It all just comes down to this: no matter your race, your heritage, your allegiance, or your customs, you should treat others the way that you would want to be treated. Maybe Yadier Molina should put himself in the shoes of Team USA before he demands an apology from Adam Jones; is it possible that Molina could empathize with Jones and understand why things may have gotten out of hand? Could Latin players possibly start to think about what is going on in the minds of others when tempers start to flare?
The debate of culture/custom vs. respect will rage on for a long time. It might seem easy to just cast a broad brush and wish that all Latin players would calm down and stop acting like egomaniacs and poor sports, but like many things in life, it is never that simple.
This Is How You Do It
Major League Baseball always does a great job of fighting for the cure to cancer. But there was one particular moment I wanted to mention.
Towards the end of Spring Training, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics met for a game and featured a segment in between innings entitled "Home Run For Life." Arnie Bishop, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, was celebrating the fact that his cancer was in remission. The A's all lined up on the first base line while the Dodgers were on the third base line. Even the umpires got into the act and waited for the brief ceremony to commence.
Bishop stood in the batter's box and took a pantomime swing, sending an imaginary fly ball over the fence. He started his home run trot and met every single person for a high five, beginning with home plate umpire John Tumpane and ending with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. Every player, coach, and personnel member offered words of encouragement. Roberts took the time to congratulate Bishop and celebrate his new lease on life, taking pictures and offering hugs and kisses to Bishop and his wife.
It was another great reminder of sportsmanship and acknowledgement of what really matters in life.
Oh yeah, Tumpane also gave Bishop and his wife each a game ball.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.