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Time to Toughen Up

by Robb Reel

The anti-bullying train has officially gone off the rails.

A sore loser father in Texas filed a complaint against the coaches of an opposing high school after his son's team lost 91-0.  Aledo High School has a strong program with four state titles in the last 15 years.  The Bearcats are averaging 69.3 points per game in this so-far-undefeated season.

Coach Tim Buchanan only had occasion to call 32 offensive plays the entire night.  His team scored on 10 of those plays, plus twice on punt returns and once on a fumble recovery.  According to the dad's complaint, released publicly last Tuesday, "We all witnessed bullying firsthand, it is not a pretty sight."  Along with the Western Hills players, which include his son, he listed the Aledo players as victims at the hands of Buchanan and his staff.

AN excerpt from Buchanan's response could be considered not contrite enough, so I want you to read it carefully:

"It wasn't good for anybody," Buchanan said. "I've sat and gone over and over and over it on what we could have done differently. The score could have very easily been 150 to nothing."

[Courtesy of MyFoxDFW.com via Fox News]

It is worth noting that Texas follows the University Interscholastic League -- rather than the National Federation of State High School Associations to which 48 states and the District of Columbia belong -- and there is no so-called "mercy rule" for football in that organization.  "It certainly didn't seem like they were trying to run up the score in this case," said Kate Hector, a spokesperson for the UIL.  Under Texas law, Aledo's principal was required to investigate the complaint.

I spent a season coaching freshmen boys baseball and a decade coaching 8th-grade girls softball.  I have been of both sides of some very lopsided games.  I will be the first to say that, yes, there are some things a coach can choose to do to speed up that kind of game.  If Buchanan's above assessment of the potential outcome is correct, I trust that he did many of them.  However, the key is to not be too obvious about it.  Just as I would have never ordered my batters to swing at terrible pitches, I wouldn't want Buchanan to tell his players to just "take a knee" because, frankly, that would be even more embarrassing to the opponents.  How fair is that to the successful players?  Do you limit their achievements in favor of the specter of others' hurt feelings?  By all accounts, the Aledo staff did as much as possible to preserve the dignity of everyone on the field.

Bullying is a serious problem in this country.  You know what?  It's been a serious problem for a long time, only now the white-hot spotlight is focused on it.  That is actually making the problem worse.  We have created an atmosphere in which anyone who experiences a comment, situation or outcome that s/he does not like simply cries "Bully!" and plays the victim.

If it stopped there, it would merely be irritating.  Instead, it's just like The Boy Who Cried "Wolf!"  The accusation becomes so commonplace, so watered down, that it begins to fall on deaf ears.  Eventually the kids who are in real peril and need real help don't get it.  They are ignored -- or they clam up altogether -- until it is too late.  This whiny father did all of those children a huge disservice with his baseless complaint.

So, yes, we need to do whatever we can to stop bullying.  Part of that path is we need to get tougher.  We need to stop being victims.  We need to toughen up.  From the beginning, that's why scholastic sports have existed: to teach teamwork and discipline, to make us tougher, to teach us how to win gracefully, to teach us how to lose without dignity and -- the most important life lesson -- that outcomes don't always meet expectations.

Bullying is real.

This was not it.