In My Opinion | Michelle Kaufman

Michelle Kaufman: Prep coach’s bold move reminds about importance of integrity in sports

 

Chances are, you have never heard of Matt Labrum. But Labrum did something a few weeks ago that is deserving of bigger headlines and more ESPN air time than it received. He did something truly rare and wonderful.

 
Union High School football coach Matt Labrum talks to his players Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013.
Union High School football coach Matt Labrum talks to his players Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013.
Scott G Winterton / AP

mkaufman@MIamiHerald.com

Chances are, you have never heard of Matt Labrum.

He isn’t setting NFL passing records at age 37, like Peyton Manning. He isn’t leading the L.A. Dodgers in the playoffs, like Clayton Kershaw, or suing Major League Baseball, like Alex Rodriguez.

But Labrum did something a few weeks ago that is deserving of bigger headlines and more ESPN air time than it received. He did something truly rare and wonderful.

Labrum, the football coach at Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah, suspended his entire team because of attitude and discipline problems. Yes, the entire team. Nobody was spared. He wrote a letter to all 41 players and demanded they turn in their jerseys.

He took a mighty bold stand against the culture of school sports that nurtures arrogance and entitlement and overall rude behavior. Some of his players were skipping class. Others were accused of cyber-bullying a classmate. His message was simple. Jocks don’t get special rules. They are members of a school community, and a greater community at large, and they have to earn the right to wear those jerseys.

The letter began:

“Gentlemen, we are not pleased with how our football brothers are representing our family, school, community, alumni, family and yourselves. It is a privilege to play this wonderful game! We must earn the opportunity, to have the honor to put on our high schools jersey each Thursday and Friday night! The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field

“Humbleness, thankfulness, humility, respect, courage and honor are much more important than winning ballgames! We can achieve both if we start to act with others’ feelings in mind and focus on how we can make someone else’s day instead of just wrapped up in ourselves. WHEN WE ARE WORKING ON THIS AND ACHIEVING THIS WE WILL BE MOLDING OUR CHARACTER IN A POSITIVE WAY! Right now we are way off as a collective group. We want change and are going to make changes now.

“As of tonight we are no longer playing football until we meet certain criteria!

“TURN YOUR JERSEYS IN NOW!”

Building character

The letter went on to explain how the players could earn their jerseys back. They had to perform community service — pull weeds, visit nursing homes and serve food rather than be honored at that week’s “Cougar Legend Banquet.” They were required to attend study hall and improve their grade in at least one class. They had to do an individual service project for their family, type a report about it and provide photo proof of the project.

And, they had to memorize the following quote and recite it to a member of the coaching staff:

“Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it, piece by piece — by thought, by choice, courage and determination.”

The letter ended: “If you meet ALL criteria by Wednesday night, you will have earned the privilege to play in the games on Thursday and Friday.”

Is that great or what?

Turn. Your. Jerseys. In. Now.

Could there be a more powerful five-word message than that to a competitive athlete? My daughter, who is in eighth grade and plays soccer for her middle school and a club team, loves being seen in her team jerseys. It is a great source of pride. I remember the athletes at Arvida Jr. High, Killian High School and the University of Miami, strutting around campus in their team gear. Those shirts made them stand out, made them feel special.

But Labrum’s message is that you are no more special than the next kid, and you have to earn the right to wear that jersey.

Turn. Your. Jerseys. In. Now.

Too much pride

You paying attention, Ole Miss? Just last week, a group of about 20 University of Mississippi football players laughed, pointed and blurted homophobic slurs during a campus play called The Laramie Project, about the kidnapping, beating and murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. They attended the play as part of a class assignment, and disrupted the show at one of the most emotional scenes.

Their punishment? They issued an apology and are being required to take part in an “educational dialogue” about homophobia. That is all well and good, but the five words that probably would hit them harder are the five Labrum wrote to this players.

Turn. Your. Jerseys. In. Now.

Sadly, most coaches don’t have the guts to issue such a decree.

And so, the arrogance and entitlement continue. In high school hallways. On college campuses. And in the private-jet, limousine-gilded world of the professional athlete.

Thank you, Coach Labrum for teaching those 41 young men that there is more to being a great athlete than what you do on the field. Those afternoons bowling and playing Bingo with senior citizens surely will be more meaningful in the long run than beating your crosstown rival in the homecoming game.

Read more Broward High Schools stories from the Miami Herald

Get your Miami Heat Fan Gear!

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category