I coach a girls' soccer team and they're a smart group of 9-year-olds, but every year I have to drill the same simple rule into them: Do not argue with the ref.
It's basic sportsmanship. The ref is always right. Not only does he or she have the sole power and best vantage point for making calls, but bowing to his or her authority is the only way to maintain order in a game. You may not like the decision, but it's disrespectful (and a losing battle) to insult or challenge game officials. This even applies to blatantly bad calls. That's life, I tell my players, it isn't always fair. You keep your cool and play on. It's the honorable thing to do.
But everything these young female athletes see tells them their coach is delusional. They think it's cool and part of the game to yell at refs and throw temper tantrums when they object to a call. They see their parents do it. They see other coaches do it. They saw it happen recently in a women's collegiate soccer match we attended as a team.
And they saw it on network television Saturday night, when tennis star Serena Williams staged her own meltdown at the U.S. Open.
Williams was the favorite to win this year, but she blew it with an ugly, ill-timed spew against a lineswoman over what she believed to be an unfair foot fault call. Williams - who had already received a warning at the end of the first set for smashing her racket to the court and breaking it - unloaded a few F-bombs on the lineswoman and threatened to shove the tennis ball down the official's throat. She was given a point penalty for her outburst, which meant she lost her semifinal to Kim Clijsters. She refused to apologize in a press conference after the game, saying "I was out there and fought and I tried and I did my best."
This kills me, not just because Serena forgot she was supposed to be fighting her opponent, not a lineswoman, but because, up until now, I considered Serena Williams one of the most respectable, talented female athletes in the world. I've seen her act calm and polite in the face of adversity. I could tell my players, "Watch Serena."
No, she didn't do her best.
Unfortunately, Serena joins the growing ranks of spoiled hall-of-shamers who can't control their sporty tempers: foul-mouthed John McEnroe, chair-flinging Indiana hoops coach Bobby Knight, bat-throwing Roger Clemens, knee-busting Tonya Harding, ear-biting Mike Tyson, head-butting French soccer player Zinedine Zidane …
This kind of unacceptable rage shouldn't be tolerated in sports -- or society. I've tried to teach my kids that they are the losers when they lose control and lash out in rage. When they were little, they lost their freedom and sat in time out. Now that they're older, I take something valued away - their iPod Touch or their time with friends. Serena was fined $10,500 for her display. But she lost even more than that this past weekend. She lost my respect.