What Does Mercy Look Like?

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128 Responses

  1. a_random_guy says:

    "Different people have different abilities."

    You are not allowed to say that. Heck, you are not allowed to believe that. It's just not PC. Why else do we have things like NCLB – it is surely obvious that we all have precisely the same gifts, and only through unfairness do we not all wind up precisely and equally successful in all aspects of life.

    Seriously, your phrase is exactly right. Willful ignorance of this simple fact explains much of what is wrong with today's society.

  2. Marconi Darwin says:

    But a rule or norm that a winning team must stop trying its best is insulting to both sides.

    Like an NBA player shooting threes in the fourth quarter when his team is up by 27 and there are 57.8 seconds left on the clock?

    People get hit if you do not stop, but hey, these are professionals. Supported by commentators (ex-NBA players) who offer "unwritten rule" in a sagely manner.

    Mercy is reminding everyone that it is only a game and any resemblance to professional careers in real life is purely coincidental.

  3. BJI says:

    Mercy rules make sense if and only if the context is deciding a victor as quickly as possible. School sports leagues are going to be very different because they are fundamentally focused on being an extracurricular. Life lessons, opportunities for as many people as possible (the team down 40+ will usually rotate in their B team as well) and building experiences for the youth. Conversely, a mercy rule could be beneficial as a safety valve. If the teams are that mismatched, the risk of injury is exponentially higher.

    I think you are pointing out how ridiculous the expectations are for the schools, where they are expected to do the bulk of the parenting but have no real authority to reward or reprimand. Zero tolerance, criminalizing behavior that 50 years ago was accepted as important for maturation within the bubble, and the misuse of those new laws for petty disputes all seem to be creating a generation that values conformity and deference to authority above all. That deeply saddens me.

  4. shg says:

    There are so many good lessons wrapped up in this story, not the least of which is that Buchanan sought to use a variation on the mercy rule, found below the fold in the ESPN story:

    Buchanan simplified the playbook. He put in the second- and third-team offensive line and got the backups as much time as he could, while still playing a few starters here and there at the beginning of the third quarter. He told his punt returner to fair-catch the ball. All told, his offense had 32 snaps. His starters began coming out in the third quarter, some of them having played just 16 snaps, Buchanan said. The Bearcats rushed for 391 yards with eight touchdowns.

    Buchanan said his starting running back touched the ball six times and scored four touchdowns. His backup kept finding holes as well, even without the starting offensive line in the game.

    "I can't tell the backups not to play hard," Buchanan said. "They've worked their tails off all week. They've lifted weights in the offseason. I'm not going to tell them not to play."

    But he did whatever he could to try to slow down his offense short of taking a knee in the third quarter.

    How unfortunate that rules place him not only in the crosshairs of his accuser, but require him to justify and explain himself when he conducted himself above reproach.

  5. Ken White says:

    Scott: Exactly. The key sentence to me is this one:

    "I can't tell the backups not to play hard," Buchanan said. "They've worked their tails off all week. They've lifted weights in the offseason. I'm not going to tell them not to play."

    He changed staffing and tactics, but didn't tell his players not to try their best. Nor should he.

  6. Matt Brown says:

    I was at one point the best Street Fighter 2 player in my town, and then a much better player from a big city came in, and routinely beat me. He was nice, but he sometimes let me win, and I hated it. And I'm a fair to good pool player, and don't let anyone win, no matter what… even if it's a date. I don't like playing less than my best, and feel insulted if my opponent doesn't.

    Losing is as important to sportsmanship as winning. All teams, all players, all people lose. Having fun, having courage, having dedication are important. Winning and losing aren't.

  7. jo says:

    Thanks, Ken, for a characteristically humane take on this situation. Your point about the second and third string players getting into the game when their team's up by a lot is also an excellent one which I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere in the internet hullabaloo.

  8. David C says:

    I agree with this article 100%.

    I have never understood why running up the score is frowned upon. If the losing team doesn't like it, they can forfeit.

    If a team wants to pull its starters, great. The second or third team might provide a better match. But they should never be expected to stop trying.

    Calling it "bullying" is ridiculous. If you feel humiliated after a big loss, then either get better or don't play against that team. On the other hand, why feel humiliated? Some teams are just better than others. The team that won 91-0 might well lose 168-0 if it played against a professional team. If you tried your best you have nothing to be ashamed of.

  9. LordOChaos says:

    Back when I was playing high school sports I was blessed to play with some very able people. We were of like mind and we played our best even when the outcome was inevitable. I recall a game where our coach, at half time was so thoroughly disgusted with us, that he had his say, and left the locker room. Why? Because we were good. Very good. So good in fact that we thought we could coast, and the score reflected that. We were down by 4 or 5 touchdowns.
    We won that game, but that isn't really the point. The point is the lesson I learned from our coach. Combined with the other lessons that he taught, both on and off the field. You don't stop doing your best, ever. When you do, life (the opposing team) will come up and smack you up side the head with a large blunt object.
    I do not see from the coverage, what the Aledo coach could have done differently. I have been both on the giving end and the receiving end of those types of situations. The only thing you should do, on either end of that type of situation is hold your head up, and treat your opponent, win or lose, with respect.
    Life is not fair, and we shouldn't be teaching our children that they are entitled to anything. If you want it, you have to work for it. The larger the prize, the harder you have to work. The faster our children learn this, the better off they, and we all will be.

  10. JMJ says:

    The ironic thing is that the son of the mother who complained will probably get "bullied for his mom's actions.

  11. JT says:

    A related note: all of my kids' toys talk now. If any of the toys have a quizzing function, pretty much none of them say "wrong answer." They say, "good try!" Why, in my day, the Speak N Spell said "THAT IS INCORRECT!" And we liked it! Kids today with the Twitters and Facebooks—

  12. Chris Ho-Stuart says:

    Thanks for the afterthought! I'd not heard that story before.

  13. I was Anonymous says:

    so my stories had a sort of smug and ironic Wild Kingdom tone to them

    Hi. I'm Marlin Perkins. Today, I'm going to stay safe in the helicopter, while Jim single-handedly tackles a sex-crazed rhino. It's a good thing that Jim has Mutual of Omaha life insurance!!!

  14. Grandy says:

    Georgia has a great rule in place: if a game is out of hand the coaches can meet with the head ref (typically this is before the second half kickoff) and agree to just keep the second half clock running non stop; this significantly speeds up the game. You still see the usual "tactics" from the dominant side – backups play more, and earlier, and the backups to the backups play more, and earlier. They stick to the basics in terms of plays (on offense and defense).

  15. NI says:

    The problem with parents like the mother who complained is that they fail to grasp that their children will eventually encounter people — employers, for example — who don't care about their self esteem nearly as much as she does. Better they learn early that in life, you don't always get a trophy for just showing up.

  16. Bear says:

    Clearly it's time for a society-wide Harrison Bergeron rule.

    Oh. Wait.

    That's Common Core.

  17. Luke says:

    The coach did everything he was supposed to do in that situation and actually went a little further by asking his punt returner to always fair catch. If you can't stop the backups running a simplified offense, that is your problem. As a Kentucky football fan, I am well versed in this problem.

    Reading this brings to mind earlier this week when the Oregon DC was upset that Washington St kept throwing the ball in the 4th quarter when Oregon had a huge lead: He wanted the losing team to just give up and finish the game quickly.

  18. Timothy says:

    I commented about this on Facebook today.

    I have a huge problem with trendy behaviour in youth sports these days. Despite having two sons that have trophies on their shelves for playing soccer, I hate that we give trophies just for participating. I hate that we don't "keep score" at younger ages. (You can be damn sure that my boys always knew the score even at ages five and six. They'd come off the field with "We won!" or "We lost."

    But this incident is far worse than the above two gripes. The complainant is trying to punish someone for doing his job, the job of training young men how to succeed at football. It is called a competitive sport for a reason. When there's a competition, there are generally winners and losers and we do our children a grave disservice when we pretend otherwise. We do them an even graver disservice when we attempt to punish someone who won.

  19. Dr. Nobel Dynamite says:

    The point raised @sgh is central. This wasn't an instance of the winning team keeping their starters in and throwing downfield to get the 91st point.

    There is a world of difference between intentionally running up the score on an overmatched opponent to humiliate them, and ending up with a lopsided victory because your worst players are a lot better than their best.

  20. SparkBunny says:

    When i was in high school, my school's football team was terrible. When i say terrible, i mean that the best season we ever had was when we won 3 games, and 1 of those games was a forced forfeit after the fact, because one of the players on the other team was later ruled ineligible, and they chose our game to be overturned. We saw a lot of homecoming games.

    We knew we sucked. We didn't have to lodge a complaint about it, because we knew it. That doesn't mean the players were treated badly, and it doesn't mean that they weren't good athletes or didn't do their best. Even so, the main reason the stands were usually at least half full on our side is because the marching band (which i was in) was very good and won regional almost every year, so the stands were full of marching band and dancer's parents.

    I can sympathize with having to watch your kid get beaten so badly, but unless the other team was acting unsportsmanlike, it's not bullying. I bet if you asked any of the other parents, besides the one butthurt guy, they'd also think it's ridiculous.

  21. A Different William says:

    On a slightly different track:

    Personally I would rather have the district over react to bullying accusations than under react. Both are not good, however at least there is a (sometimes ridiculous) system in place and it is wildly flailing away. Investigation does not equal prosecution.

    Would you trade our current system of ignoring, say, police or prosecution bullying, for this system where sometimes silly accusations are investigated?

    At least until we come up with some way to take the baby out of the bath before dumping we need to keep a bit of bath water to keep the baby.

  22. Alexander Wolfe says:

    I coach a U9 soccer team and in our league, we have a rule that suggests the winning take certain steps when that team up by six goals on another such as playing less players, or requiring our players to pass more before shooting, etc. I don't like those rules because they a) deprive my players of a chance to play just because on this particular day they outmatch the other team and b) require them to practice bad habits in the game when the entire point is to help them learn to play good soccer. Generally I prefer solutions like letting the other team play more players, playing more of my kids on defense, playing my less skilled kids for longer, "loaning" the other team one of my better players…things that keep the kids playing at their highest level, but make it considerably harder for them to run up the score on a weaker team. I don't think kids should feel like they're being punished just for being the better team that day.

  23. Richard says:

    Just for some clarification, Texas high school football had a sort of mercy rule where both teams can agree to a running clock. From what I've read, this rule was employed the entire second half.

    I find it disturbing that a parent would see fit to file a bullying claim when their team suffers a blowout. It ties up resources that could be used investigating legitimate claims, and more importantly, sends the wrong message to students. I hope the parent is embarrassed by his or her actions.

  24. Sigmadog says:

    As I read the post I couldn't help thinking of Oregon's defensive coordinator's comments complaining about the opposing team in last weekend's game. The Oregon Ducks were handing out a drubbing to the Washington State Cougars (the final score was 62-38), and after the game Oregon's defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti complained about WSU's efforts to score late in the game. It was a "how dare they not roll over and die" complaint, and completely nuts.

    Had us all scratching our heads. Is there an "unwritten rule" that losing teams must surrender? In Aliotti's world, perhaps.

    He has since apologized for his tirade, but the stink lingers.

  25. David C says:

    There is a world of difference between intentionally running up the score on an overmatched opponent to humiliate them, and ending up with a lopsided victory because your worst players are a lot better than their best.

    But what's wrong with keeping your starters in and running up the score? Why does the losing team get to dictate that the winning team isn't allowed to try their best?

    Should we apply this to the track team? If a runner in the 3200m race is about to lap the rest of the field, should the faster runner slow down to avoid humiliating the slower runners? What about the chess team? Should one side stop taking pieces if they're already up a queen and two rooks (or if it's a team competition, should the last player agree to a draw if the rest of his team already won their games?) Should a tennis player who won every point in the first set start serving underhand so his opponent has a chance to get a point?

    At some point, isn't it MORE humiliating to continue to lose when your opponent isn't even trying anymore?

  26. gramps says:

    The coach took steps to "keep it even" early in the game; he recognized the mismatch. That was once called sportsmanship. I've seen pro teams take a knee in the red zone as the clock ran down, rather than punch in an easy TD that they did not need to win. That may have cost someone some money later on depending on where the "bonus" point was in their contract.

    I have seen a quote attributed to Abe Lincoln about how one does not make the weak strong by making the strong weak, or the poor wealthy by making the wealthy poor, etc… I see a similarity here.

    And the greatest insult is that some think that a law or rule is needed. Enough with the laws and rules. People need the room to make the right decision on their own. The rule is just another step deeper into the no-tolerance box canyon.

  27. Luke says:

    @Grandy – It looks like they did implement a running clock in the 3rd quarter: http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/10/21/5264501/was-aledos-91-0-football-win-last.html?rh=1

    According to one guy in that district some of the score issues are a result of a de-emphasis on athletics by some schools and shuffling the teams around: http://aledosportsdaily.com/ (second article don't see a direct link) And here it shows other people have complained after lopsided losses (towards the bottom): http://aledosportsdaily.com/steve_kecks_columns/fwisd_arlington_heights_column

  28. Dion starfire says:

    On the bright side: In a country of ~314 million people this is the first time I've heard of somebody misusing a schools anti-bullying system.

    Another – albeit personal – upside: I was actually surprised and outraged by this. and I've got very low expectations for schools, students, and their parents.

  29. Colin says:

    Well written, Ken. One additionally hopes that there are social consequences (public mockery, etc.) for the idiot helicopter parent who made the bullying complaint.

  30. The Man in the Mask says:

    I've been a competitive athlete for a long time, much of it at a high level (top 100 in the US). I've competed in multiple national championships and had the privilege of representing the US in international competition.

    I've won championships. I've finished dead last. In neither case do I expect my opponents to show the slightest concession to me while on the field of play: I expect them to try their best to kick my ass, because I'm certainly going to do the same. I don't want to beat them because they had a bad day or because they let up: I want to beat them because they did the very best they could possibly do, and somehow, I found a way to do better.

    And afterwards, as always, we'll shake hands, we'll commiserate about missed opportunities, we'll smile wryly about long hours of training, and we'll say so long until the next we meet. If one of us has done exceptionally poorly, we'll express concern and sympathy; if one of us has done exceptionally well, we'll render congratulations.

    I suppose I don't think of any of this in terms of bullying or mercy: I think of it as good sportsmanship. It is, after all, only a game. It really doesn't matter that much other than to our own egos, or perhaps friends/family supporting us. And I think of it as a series of life sessions: I have learned how to handle bitter disappointment after months of training yields little; I have learned how to be gracious when a miracle happens and I stand atop the podium.

    Those are the lessons I would impart (and DO impart) to those following in my footsteps. Train hard. Do your best. Accept defeat or triumph equally. Value your competitors because they will make you stronger. Never taunt and never accept it: shut up, go home, and get back to work the next day.

  31. David C says:

    I've seen pro teams take a knee in the red zone as the clock ran down, rather than punch in an easy TD that they did not need to win.

    That's actually a tactical move. If you ran a play, you might fumble and have the other team run it in for a touchdown, then onside kick, recover, and score another. And if that's not the reason, then it's to avoid injury on a pointless play, especially if the other side is feeling angry because you're beating them so badly.

    Just look at college football. They'll run up the score because the score matters for their rankings.

    I still fail to see why it's "sportsmanship" to not play your best. True sportsman would continue to play up until the final whistle.

    That may have cost someone some money later on depending on where the "bonus" point was in their contract.

    And the contract of the head coach almost certainly doesn't have a margin of victory clause – and he'd actually have every incentive to NOT let players rack up their own incentives if the game is already won. Why would the team want to pay them more?

  32. Mike says:

    David C -

    But what's wrong with keeping your starters in and running up the score? Why does the losing team get to dictate that the winning team isn't allowed to try their best?

    Should we apply this to [a bunch of other things]?

    In the many many sports played on a non-professional basis, there are goals other than winning — for example, fun, moral development, teamwork, etc. — and we developed an informal code that attempts to help all people playing sports achieve those goals as best as possible, even if they happen to have less skill or training than others. We even call it sportsmanship to remind us of the context in which it applies (although, somewhat misleadingly, it does apply to women too). Different sports and games have different codes, and yes, I'd say we should apply the codes differently where they are different. Pretty straightforward stuff, really.

  33. Dan Weber says:

    That afterthought, man. Dang onions.

  34. Dr. Nobel Dynamite says:

    @David

    But what's wrong with keeping your starters in and running up the score?

    We're talking about high school kids. Operative word being kids. If a kids' sports team is manifestly superior to another, I think there is a lot more value in letting backups play than intentionally humiliating the other team.

    Why does the losing team get to dictate that the winning team isn't allowed to try their best?

    I very much agree that everyone on the field should be encouraged to try their hardest. It is the coaches' responsibility to not unnecessarily run up the score. That means playing backups, letting the clock run, and sometimes not running certain plays.

    I really don't see the problem in teaching kids the ability to win with grace.

  35. Clark says:

    The systemic issue, if there is one, is the series of laws that requires a formal investigative process no matter how facially ridiculous a complaint.

    I'm not sure where I stand on this, for two reasons.

    One, I've seen what "discretion" looks like, and I'm not sure I like it in practice.

    Two, having been fairly harshly bullied in middle school (dozens and dozens of physical attacks, which – if nothing else – taught me throw a punch and keep throwing them, no matter how overwhelmed, just to increase the cost to the attacker), I like the idea of a formal policy that documents reality and forces it onto paper. Yes, clearly a report of competitive playing as bullying is utterly insane – but if I had to choose between a system that investigates EVERYTHING as bully, and a system that writes off assault and battery dozens if not hundreds of times because "it's just bullying", I think I might lean towards the first kind of error rather than the second.

  36. Clark says:

    @Dan Weber

    That afterthought, man. Dang onions.

    Yeah, right?

  37. matguy says:

    Opression! We will make them equal by ballot, fax, and law!

  38. David but not that David says:

    Not really on topic, but the end of the article and the afterthought put me in mind of this:

    I remember a Little League game that I umpired once. It was the county championship for the nine-year-olds. Not a big game, in the scheme of things. Nobody here would play in Williamsport, PA, much less the pros. I did not have to deal with any crazy parents or coaches. But to these kids, it was The Most Important Thing In The World, as are many of the things you're currently doing when you're 9.

    And the kids who lost the game were devastated. One was in tears after the postgame handshakes, so I went to talk to him. I told him, "I just watched you play. I know how much this game meant to you, because I saw you trying your hardest. So I want you to be proud of yourself." Or words to that effect; it was a long time ago.

    The next evening I got an email from the umpire coordinator. It said that the coach had told him what I said, and thanked him for assigning me to that game. That is, by far, my proudest memory from umpiring.

  39. Tarrou says:

    Ahh, equalism.

    I'm actually surprised we don't have legislation proposed or lawsuits filed to make competition itself illegal. It really seems to be the goal of some to eliminate any loss whatever from the lives of their children.

    And natch on the "bullying" charge, that's just precious. File in the same cabinet as "microaggressions" and "discrimination". The never-ending search for serious-sounding words to use in place of "but my FEELINGS were hurt!".

  40. Jason says:

    Late to the party I know, but this is precious. @Marconi Darwin

    Mercy is reminding everyone that it is only a game and any resemblance to professional careers in real life is purely coincidental.

    There is a documentary on Youtube on the 1974 Giro d'Italia called "The Greatest Show on Earth." I think I'm likely paraphrasing here, but there's a line in their that stuck with me, and goes above and beyond echoing your point…

    It's important not to over-dramatize sport, but up here, in the mountains, this is torture.

    Usage of the word "torture", in today's professional sporting culture, would be treated as the mildest of language. In 1974, it was treated as possibly over-strong.

    On another note…

    As a martial artist, one of the first things you learn is how to thank somebody for, quite literally, stomping your face. I think maybe in both professional and amateur sports, we need to be sure to remember (collectively) how to thank our opponents for honoring us by giving their best. To the points some others are making re: moral development, I ask only "Is this more not also important?"

  41. Lynn Grant says:

    When I was in high school, I was in the second-string band, playing third-chair clarinet. The first-string band played for graduation exercises but, since about a third of the first-string band was seniors, they moved a bunch of us second-stringers temporarily to the first-string band.

    I was not a very good clarinet player, but suddenly I was playing with people where were a *lot* better than I was. I worked really hard to keep up, and ended up playing a lot better than I every had before. And when I went back to the second-string band, the fact that I had played so well encouraged me to try to continue to do so.

    I would think that even with a 91-0 loss, if the coach can keep the kids from losing spirit, and perhaps can even encourage them to watch what the other team is doing that is beating the pants off of them, it could be a good learning experience.

    I don't want to minimize the job that the coach has in front of him in trying to do this–it's not easy–but I don't think a crushing defeat has to be a crushing spiritual defeat, and can be educational.

  42. Dr. Nobel Dynamite says:

    @Tarrou

    I don't think your bemoaning "equalism" is very apt, and frankly, the suggestion that you're "surprised we don't have legislation proposed or lawsuits filed to make competition itself illegal" is kind of silly.

    In this instance, one (1) parent made a silly complaint. It does not appear that anyone in any position of authority is treating this complaint as anything more than a nuisance. They have to go through certain procedures because of the nature of the complaint, but no one seems to be expecting anything to come of it.

  43. Brian Jones says:

    I was in the same position as the coach when I coached a soccer team. We played a team that we were beating easily and badly. At half, we moved all of our front line players to defense, and all of our defense players to the front line. At roughly 3/4 time, we told our players that they couldn't shoot from within the box. We still scored additional goals, but I, like this coach, couldn't tell my team to not do their best.

  44. gramps says:

    @ David C–

    Mike made some fine points, all true.

    I am surprised you did not take the opportunity to criticize the coach for getting his subs all that playing time, thus making them more experienced and able to keep the team's dominance for years to come as the seniors move on. Perhaps the coach should be dunned for such shameless attempts at perpetuating the team's success going forward. /sarc

  45. Bryan says:

    They need a Random Rule. When a team gets 40 points ahead of the other team, it's player's field positions are randomized every 10 plays until the score is under 10 points different.

  46. Burnside says:

    I used to play soccer in youth leagues. I was built like a tank, and made a great goalie and full back, but my lack of speed made me a bad forward and mid-fielder.

    One of my favorite moments was when we were beating another team handily, and the coach switched things up and made me a forward. I never got to play the forward, and it was amazing to do so. I even scored a goal (my only goal I ever scored in a competitive game because I was a always a defender).

    Because that's what a good coach does.

  47. Pete says:

    Baylor is going to play my KU this weekend. If you want to see a 91-0 game, check it out. No bullying will be a part of it.

  48. CJColucci says:

    Hi. I'm Marlin Perkins. Today, I'm going to stay safe in the helicopter, while Jim single-handedly tackles a sex-crazed rhino. It's a good thing that Jim has Mutual of Omaha life insurance!!!

    I always thought Mutual of Omaha sponsored Wild Kingdom because it was cheaper than insuring Marlon and, especially, Jim.

  49. derp says:

    I remember playing baseball for the first time in high school, it was the first time I'd played any organized team sport. I was terrible. The only times I ever got to go up to bat where when we were down about 7 runs. So I'll always be in favor of no mercy rules, it's just more opportunities to play for people who aren't star athletes.

  50. Rowan says:

    I definitely agree, school sports are supposed to be about having fun and enjoying yourself. Not about worrying what the score is. Some people are just to focused on winning and losing.

  51. JTM says:

    The afterthought made me all weepy. In a good way.

    I'm always surprised at how important even small gestures of humanity are to people who are incarcerated. If you're in a position to donate to a books-for-prisoners program, it can do a world of good.

  52. David C says:

    Good sportsmanship would be a player telling the referee that the ball bounced on the ground and he actually did not make a catch. Good sportsmanship would be sharing your Gatorade supply if your opponent forgot theirs, or a wide receiver telling the opposing cornerback that his shoe's untied instead of letting him trip so he can get open. It is NOT good sportsmanship to kneel the ball instead of running a play. It is NOT good sportsmanship to tell your punt returner that he should not attempt to advance punts, or to tell your offense that they can't pass, or trying to do whatever you can do avoid scoring 100 points. And if you think it is, then your definition of sportsmanship is not the same as mine. Sportsmanship is supposed to involve a love of the game, and usually stuff that includes not playing the game does not qualify.

    Different sports and games have different codes, and yes, I'd say we should apply the codes differently where they are different.

    For some reason I'm partial to the chess code, which encourages resigning when it's pointless to continue the game (at the sole discretion of the losing side – they're free to play on for the entire game if they think they have a chance, or will learn something, or will have fun) and fail to see why that should not be applied to football.

    In the many many sports played on a non-professional basis, there are goals other than winning — for example, fun, moral development, teamwork

    Putting in your second or third string may or may not be good for teamwork. Normally those players would not all play together – they come in as substitutes, or as a replacement for an injured player. And if you mean a generic teamwork concept… what, a "we can do it if we work together" type of sentiment? What about the team that CAN'T do it? Does this mean they are learning some horrible anti-lesson?

    I'm not exactly sure how moral development comes into play in this situation (unless you think good sportsmanship is moral, but that seems like circular logic.)

    Fun? Sure, have lots of fun. That's an excellent argument for bringing out the second and third string. This is their chance to play instead of sitting on the bench, and it helps narrow the competitive gap. Frankly, if I were third string on a team that was winning 91-0 and I was NOT put in the game, I would quit the team because that would indicate that I'd never play.

    I'm certainly not saying that a team shouldn't put in backups in this situation. Most of the time they should, for practical reasons and for the enjoyment of the players. I'm just saying that it should not be required and the opposing team does not have the right to demand it – and that if the backups ARE in, there is no reason for those backups to not attempt to score every play.

  53. Dr. Nobel Dynamite says:

    @David C

    I'm not sure what you're arguing against. You agree that backups should play when a score gets out of hand.

    No one is taking the position that the losing side has the right to "demand" the winning team stop trying, or that the rules "require" it.

    It appears that everyone agrees that the backups should keep playing hard.

    Do you really think it is wrong for adult coaches to take responsibility for not unnecessarily humiliating an overmatched opponent?

  54. Kelly says:

    I keep thinking about "The Incredibles."

  55. glasnost says:

    While I agree that formal bullying complaints against the 91-0 winning team are unsound, it is a bit of a silly and not-really accurate word game to imply that ceasing to run up the score once you've reached an overwhelming lead is not mercy. Of course doing so is an act of mercy. That doesn't make it obligatory, sure. Mercy is only one ethic, value, or motivation of many. Another possible ethic is to value 100% effort towards a predetermined goal at all costs, or to achieve excellence in performing a procedure no matter the circumstances. That's a successful goal in sports, so people are free to value ruthless execution as its own reward above the value of showing mercy to a losing team you're curb-stomping.

    All those things about honoring or not mocking the losers are examples of mercy. Another example would be, yes, doing the equivalent of taking a knee in the fourth quarter, pulling your starters, changing to less aggressive tactics, or even deliberately playing less hard to let the other team have a shot at scoring once or twice.

    I wouldn't go so far as to call that obligatory behavior, but it would be commonly described as "nice", or "merciful". Mercy involves abstaining from inflicting unpleasant experiences on others, even if or perhaps especially when they arguably deserve it. That's the very definition of mercy. In a gladatorial combat, when you disarm and cripple your opponent, you are fully entitled to kill him, and doing so is in harmony with the ethos of the sport, but refraining from doing so is mercy.

  56. Chris F says:

    @David C

    Should we apply this to the track team? If a runner in the 3200m race is about to lap the rest of the field, should the faster runner slow down to avoid humiliating the slower runners?

    Some see running up the points intentionally as demeaning and therefore poor sportsmanship. I tend to agree but don't put much weight in that. The biggest difference between your examples and football is that your examples are mostly one-on-one which would require an individual to play less than their best. Even in the team chess example, you suggest that the remaining player intentionally lose. Contrast that to a team sport like football where a second or third string can get put in. The players in that string should still play their hardest and them playing in a game gets them experience which is more important than not running up the score. I agree with not making this route required (for several reasons) but I do think encouraging it is a good thing.

    There were other restrictions put on the team such as mixing up positions (I can't remember which article that was). I think playing with restrictions like this can help level the field some while keeping it challenging for both players/teams. There's an Asian strategy game called go and a known weaker player starts with stones on the board in prescribed locations to make the match more fair. The goal is to make it so the game can be enjoyed by both players. The additional stones help the weaker player to make up for that fact and present a challenge to the stronger player to keep it interesting for them.

    Why does the losing team get to dictate that the winning team isn't allowed to try their best?

    It's not the loosing team that's dictating. It's society deciding what behavior should be encouraged and what shouldn't. I don't want to encourage people to think that beating others just for the sake of beating them is fun. In my eyes, the fun is in the challenge and if rules need to be changed to create the challenge so be it. That being said, it's not something I would force on a team (either via a requirement or through immense pressure) but it is something I would encourage them to try.

  57. En Passant says:

    shg wrote Oct 23, 2013 @9:08 am, quoting ESPN:

    Buchanan simplified the playbook. He put in the second- and third-team offensive line and got the backups as much time as he could, while still playing a few starters here and there at the beginning of the third quarter. …

    This is what I recall coaches doing back in high school daze. It's common sense to do.

    Dr. Nobel Dynamite notes Oct 23, 2013 @9:36 am:

    There is a world of difference between intentionally running up the score on an overmatched opponent to humiliate them, and ending up with a lopsided victory because your worst players are a lot better than their best.

    and some miss the point of that.

    Fielding your third stringers is not for the benefit of the opposing team, to spare them humiliation. It's for benefit of your own team's benchwarmers, as well as to spare your first stringers risk of injury whether by physical injury or hubris. And ultimately it's to benefit your team's "team spirit", if that's still a viable phrase these days.

    You've won the game. Now it's time to learn to play the game.

    To understand how this works I cannot recommend highly enough Celestial Navigation's The Coach. It's a coach's pre-game pep talk to the team in the locker room. It says what every high school student should know about what really matters in the game.

    The Coach track is available at the usual places, Amazon, Spotify, etc. Just Google("the coach" "celestial navigations").

    Transcript is here.

  58. Shane says:

    Ok, I cried on the link.

  59. Gorshkov says:

    I grew up in a small town with a population of about 3,500. I remember in high school a trip to the Provincials for the High School basketball championships. I am not, and never have been, a jock; I was on the team because I was the only person in the school over 6'. (I was 6'2" when I was 13).

    We opened the tournament against a school from the provincial capital, which had over 2,000 students. The center I was up against was 6'9". We lost 78-11.

    I don't remember feeling humiliated. I do, however, remember being very pissed off about having to play against somebody so much bigger than myself – so I had my best game, *ever*, in any sport, in any uniform.

    I scored a career high 4 points, and was the highest scorer on my team. Take that!

  60. Dr. Nobel Dynamite says:

    @En Passant

    Fielding your third stringers is not for the benefit of the opposing team, to spare them humiliation. It's for benefit of your own team's benchwarmers, as well as to spare your first stringers risk of injury whether by physical injury or hubris.

    I would argue that it's for all those things. And I think it is worthwhile to teach kids that there is a value in not unnecessarily humiliating other people.

  61. Mike says:

    David C: But what's wrong with keeping your starters in and running up the score?

    David C: Frankly, if I were third string on a team that was winning 91-0 and I was NOT put in the game, I would quit the team because that would indicate that I'd never play.

    Always nice when a guy refutes himself so you don't have to do it for him.

    Anyway, David, your calls to the present situation are irrelevant because no one seems to think the coach in the 91-0 game did anything wrong, except for that parent and you, with your weird backs-and-forths about whether starters should stay in. For the other purposes of sport, I was just giving examples of what they might be, but sure — I think there's a moral lesson to be taught kids about winning with grace and without humiliating others. And I think an important part of teamwork is learning how to play nice against other teams. Why not mandate it, especially in leagues with younger players? Because it ruins the competitive purity of a bunch of kids running at each other and falling down? Sounds like a bad case of dumbprioritism.

  62. jb says:

    The problem with formal codes as they relate to bullying is this:

    Bullies tend to be good at working the system, and the most devastating form of bullying is to work the system such that the official response comes down on the victim. That, in its most simplistic form, involves bothering the victim when no authority figure is noticing, then running to the authorities when the victim finally retaliates. The more formal codes and procedures are, the more they will restrict authority figures from doing anything about behaviors they didn't specifically witness, and the more bullies will be able to learn what does and doesn't draw an official response.

  63. ShelbyC says:

    If losing some game 91-0 to a team much better than you is the worst thing that happens to you all week, you're having a pretty good week.

  64. JTM says:

    The coach has been cleared of the bullying charge.

    http://espn.go.com/dallas/story/_/id/9867314/aledo-coaches-cleared-bullying-victory-fort-worth-western-hills

    (link might have video that autoplays)

  65. Mike says:

    ShelbyC -

    If losing some game 91-0 to a team much better than you is the worst thing that happens to you all week, you're having a pretty good week.

    And high school kids and their friends are well-known for having the proper perspective on life.

  66. Tarrou says:

    @ Dr. Nobel Dynamite

    I don't think your bemoaning "equalism" is very apt, and frankly, the suggestion that you're "surprised we don't have legislation proposed or lawsuits filed to make competition itself illegal" is kind of silly. In this instance, one (1) parent made a silly complaint.

    And it only takes one silly person to propose a silly law, or to file a silly lawsuit. I don't quite take your point.

    As to equalism, it can be subject to the vagaries of equivocation, but there are those who believe in equality of outcome. Any competition ensures inequality. It is the core of some ideology that all humans have identical abilities, and any difference whatsoever in outcomes is the result of (take your pick) Racism, Sexism, Discrimination, and apparently now, Bullying.

  67. htom says:

    Brings back memories of my high school football days. One of our games was a real blowout, 40?-0 at the half, ending up 56-28, with our getting those 28 in the second half. I don't know that there was any great adjustment by our opponents; we'd made some really dumb errors (interceptions, fumbles, dropped snaps) that their pair of really speedy defensive backs converted to instant touchdowns in the first half. Second half, they were not handed the ball. We learned a lot from that game about perseverance.

    And yes, the afterthought seemed to stir up a lot of dust here.

  68. BradnSA says:

    This stuff can't be helped sometimes.

    My son's 8th grade team is averaging 50 points a game with 8 min quarters. My nephew's team http://www.maxpreps.com/high-schools/falls-city-beavers-%28falls-city,tx%29/football/schedule.htm won a game 80-0 the other week (also in Texas). The coach asked the other coach if he wanted to run the clock and the other coach didn't want to because he felt his kids needed the practice.

    Refugio, Texas made it on ESPN a couple of years ago for running up the score. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOhq0MSDoMQ

  69. Dr. Nobel Dynamite says:

    @ Tarrou

    And it only takes one silly person to propose a silly law, or to file a silly lawsuit.

    Neither of which happened here. My point is that pretending that this is indicative of some broad social trend is not supported by the facts.

    As to equalism, it can be subject to the vagaries of equivocation, but there are those who believe in equality of outcome.

    And none of those people have anything to do with this story. You're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

  70. A. Nagy says:

    @En Passant

    Yes, the reason coaches play the 2nd and 3rd string players is not mercy for the other team it is to better their own team. By giving 2nd and 3rd string players who may be backup or 1st and 2nd years a chance to play in a real game. Even if they play against better players in practice there is nothing like a real game in order to improve yourself, build confidence and teamwork.

    As a person who has never stopped doing some kind of competitive thing for fun, I can tell you nothing makes me lose it more then somebody going easy on me. Their is a difference between practicing with someone and them trying out new stuff or one of you just running X thing over and over again to help the other guy learn how to deal with it and make it instinct. But in a competition you play to win, you treat your oppenent with respect by playing to the best of your ability.

  71. Resolute says:

    In this specific instance, it was one parent who couldn't handle the fact that his precious snowflake's team was obliterated on the field. However, I do believe that this is part of an ongoing trend. So much so that many media outlets in North America failed to realize that this story is satire. It was, in fact, reported as real news in several places.

  72. rmd says:

    That afterthought, man. Dang onions.

    Allergies. Really, I'll be fine in a minute.

    It would be interesting to see in a few years how those kids fare in terms of recidivism as compared to their peers who didn't have that experience. Maybe a one-time feel-good is just that or maybe little things can make a real difference in a kid's life.

  73. En Passant says:

    Shane Oct 23, 2013 @11:58 am:

    Ok, I cried on the link.

    If you cried on my link, I think your perception of the piece is very different from my own. I found The Coach to be humorous delivery of a truth about knowing how to win. Its point isn't that winning is not important, but that knowing how to win changes the game.

    The piece comes across much better with Celestial Navigation's voice and music than in text.

  74. En Passant says:

    Shane Oct 23, 2013 @11:58 am:

    Ok, I cried on the link.

    OK, now I get it. You cried at Ken's Afterthought link. Agreed, it absolutely brings a tear to the eye of anybody with a heart.

  75. En Passant says:

    Dr. Nobel Dynamite wrote Oct 23, 2013 @12:10 pm:

    I would argue that it's for all those things. And I think it is worthwhile to teach kids that there is a value in not unnecessarily humiliating other people.

    Agree in that value. Just pointing out that there's a great deal of obvious self-interest for your team as well, when self-interest is rightly perceived.

    There is also self-interest in "not unnecessarily humiliating other people". Because when your team does lose, you don't want your opponent to think it's a good idea to humiliate them unnecessarily.

  76. JWH says:

    A quick thought on this:

    I have a huge problem with trendy behaviour in youth sports these days. Despite having two sons that have trophies on their shelves for playing soccer, I hate that we give trophies just for participating. I hate that we don't "keep score" at younger ages. (You can be damn sure that my boys always knew the score even at ages five and six. They'd come off the field with "We won!" or "We lost."

    I've heard about these leagues, too, and I think it really depends on the league. I know that in one league, they didn't keep score for the kids (typically 4-5) because they were trying to get the kids to focus on basic skills. Scoring, the parents figured, could come later.

  77. Ron Larson says:

    The systemic issue, if there is one, is the series of laws that requires a formal investigative process no matter how facially ridiculous a complaint.

    I like that.

    Did you know that the post office has a rule that requires them to investigate any mail that is considered offensive? A mailer can loose their bulk rate discount over it. And the USPS is not allowed to disagree that you find something offensive. They can't judge your thin skin.

    The reason I mention this is because this "good idea" can easily be misused, especially before an election. Lets say you get flyer in the mail asking you to vote for Yes on issue X, and you don't like issue X. Just file a complaint telling the USPS that an image on the flyer offended your sensibilities and *voila*! the people behind issue X can no longer send bulk mail. The post office can't toss your complaint. They have to, by law, drag lobby group through the wringer to try to save their ability to bulk mail voters.

    I am surprised that this tactic to abuse the post office rules isn't being used more. I always reckoned it was mutually assured destruction that kept it from going that far. But in today's partisan politics where destroying the country in pursuit of political goals is ok, then I am sure it will be deployed.

  78. Larry says:

    Thank you for the link to the ESPN article. All we have been hearing on the evening news is about lunatics in Texas. I am glad to see it is actually populated by real, normal, astounding people.

  79. Xenocles says:

    I think I'll be mostly saying the same thing in a different way here based on a quick scan, but here goes:

    I think the essence of sportsmanship is respect for everyone involved in the game. It is not respectful to let up on your opponent. If your opponent is literally in the same league as you it is appropriate to treat him as if he were figuratively in the same league as you for the entire duration of the game. The players aren't stupid, and they can tell what their situation is. This was true even in t-ball when they told us it was a tie but we had been counting the score differential on our hands and feet. For my part, I would rather earn a drubbing than be handed a near victory. A preset mercy rule doesn't take away from that; it ends the game in accordance with understood rules and there is no deception. But to let up on me is to lie to me.

    There is no reason to humiliate your opponent after the whistle blows, either. That's just the continuation of the respect principle but applied outside of the competitive phase of sports.

  80. Docrailgun says:

    Tarrou wrote: "Ahh, equalism.

    I'm actually surprised we don't have legislation proposed or lawsuits filed to make competition itself illegal. It really seems to be the goal of some to eliminate any loss whatever from the lives of their children."

    I wonder how many times these sorts of things were said during the Jim Crow era, or today by people opposed to equal marriage? Why can't people just enjoy their lot in life since some races/sexes are clearly superior?

  81. Xenocles says:

    Now, after the edit window is closed, I see that my phrase "be handed a near victory" should have said defeat rather than victory.

  82. Jack B. says:

    Upon reading this article, I immediately thought of the Gainesville story included in Ken's afterthought. If the linked article doesn't move you enough, check out the video.

  83. James Pollock says:

    "The systemic issue, if there is one, is the series of laws that requires a formal investigative process no matter how facially ridiculous a complaint."

    The alternative system is the one where investigators routinely dismiss complaints from the non-powerful, oftentimes without even a semblance of any kind of investigation. I believe you were opposed to that system, as well, at least when applied to reports of sexual harassment (and worse) in gatherings of certain subgroupings of human beings as previously reported and commented (extensively) here previously.

  84. Marvo says:

    I am a horrible cynical beast and the linked article about Gainseville actually made me shed a tear. There are some mighty fine people in this world who are not as cynical and nasty as me and it is a better place for them. I can not say that it is likely that it will keep those boys from returning to crime , though I hope so.

  85. SarahW says:

    Everyone keeps saying a mom complained. The complaining parent was a player's dad.

    While looking at what mercy looks like, I realized I need to buy more fur-fighters why is it so dusty in here.

  86. Edward Brennan says:

    If you beat your opponent that is one thing. To humiliate them, thinking along the lines of the Big Lebowski, doesn't make you wrong, but it does make you an asshole. In the sense of a school environment, it might even make you a bully.

    Even without a mercy rule, the coach knew it was against the code of the game. It is why he took the actions he did. It was an attempt at mercy.

    The moment he took out his best players he, and the team as a whole had already decided not to play their best. It is bullshit to claim that in a team sport "playing their best" resides upon an individual. Either it is insulting as a team or not insulting for the individual player.

    In professional football, most scoring in a blowout happens in each of the first three quarters than in the last. It is also why the back up quarterback generally plays a protective game of short runs, even when the game is out of any reach by the losing side. Why ultimately once possession has been guaranteed the team goes into victory formation and runs out the clock. Even if the other team is ridiculously far behind. And the clock is not of tactical importance. They play by a code of mercy.

    If the third string was going all out against a team where everything was over save for the clock. They probably were being assholes- as a team.It is not that by putting in the third string it all of a sudden becomes a new game for other team. They aren't there to be a practice for others. The other team is beaten. Oh they could choose to practice but they are under no obligation to play that NEW game. They only signed up for the one they lost. And compassion should let them take their pride back to the locker room. They are a valued opponent not a practice punching bag for the victor.The losing team might very well not even have been really playing anymore, they might have been just waiting for the clock to expire.

    The winning team were just like the asshole who makes people finish Monopoly building hotels to the end. Or maybe they had their younger sibling do it while they went and got a beer… the younger sibling needs the experience. Asshole right?

    Team sports aren't like races where after you beat the opponent you are still in a race against your personal best, and the times of those in the record books. Once the opponent on the field is vanquished there really isn't anything more. It is also why in boxing the ref can call the fight.

    There is a reason why only bitter rivals really attempt to pile on like enemies is that they have forgotten the civilizing nature of sportsmanship and are left with the barbaric nature of the colosseum. One loved by their fans, but also why a blowout isn't considered a great match by fans of just the sport. There is also a reason why many spectators leave before the clock expires. It is over.

    So no. A score this high probably isn't sporting. The winning coach won. He has taught them not to be wrong, but probably to be assholes.

    The added question is was it bullying? Probably not. It doesn't look like the intent was there. It was self-centered for his own team and without adequate concern for those on the opposing bench. He was an asshole, but probably not a bully.

  87. Ken White says:

    So, Edward, if I understand you, the right thing to do would have been to only run short fake plays, and just take the knee whenever possible?

    Could they still defend vigorously? Or were they required to start slacking off on defense, as well?

    Do you think that the players on the losing team share your view that it is more humiliating to lose by 91, and less humiliating to have the other team start doing fake take-a-dive plays in front of you, to baby you?

  88. Uppercase Matt says:

    Here's a local Aledo retailer's response:
    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=196272343889887

    "Buc" is Aledo Coach Buchanan.

    (no affiliation, etc. – just know people in Aledo that pointed it out)

  89. Bruce says:

    So, Edward, in a game where there is no mercy rule, how should they have played?

    Should the coach have played his regular starters and run up a score of 150-0?

    Often, this year's second team is next year's first team – some game time for them is a good investment in developing their skills for that time.

    I can't think of a more practical or sportsmanlike thing the coach could have done in the circumstances.

  90. Castaigne says:

    ften, when a contest is lopsided, the better team's second- and third-string players will come out, eager to have their day in the sun, and they are the ones who will be given the unmanageable instruction to play but not to play too hard. Is that mercy? I think not. Different people have different abilities. It is not merciful to pretend otherwise.

    Can't agree more. The whole situation has a "Harrison Bergeron" feel to it.

    Afterthought: This is what mercy looks like.

    Faith in humanity: slightly restored.

    ======

    @Clark:

    es, clearly a report of competitive playing as bullying is utterly insane – but if I had to choose between a system that investigates EVERYTHING as bully, and a system that writes off assault and battery dozens if not hundreds of times because "it's just bullying", I think I might lean towards the first kind of error rather than the second.

    Holy shit, we agree. I am now looking for that blue moon. ;)

  91. David C says:

    The winning team were just like the asshole who makes people finish Monopoly building hotels to the end.

    How exactly do you "make" someone finish a Monopoly game (or a football game?)

    If one side wants to go home, you let them go home. Until then, you play the game.

  92. BradnSA says:

    Edward, Some of those kids will get college paid for by their ability to play.

    the team I mentioned offered to run the clock to save a huge score. The coach decided his players did in fact need the practice. I'd say he was trying to make his team better by giving them game experience.

  93. Xenocles says:

    Many leagues also use tiebreakers based on the total number of points scored during the season. I've been in that position (not in football) -we happened to get the better of an opponent by a large margin but we knew we had tough competition ahead so we had to get every point we could then. You don't want to be the team missing out on a championship because you took a couple of knees two months beforehand.

  94. bw1 says:

    @Clark

    if I had to choose between a system that investigates EVERYTHING as bully, and a system that writes off assault and battery dozens if not hundreds of times because "it's just bullying", I think I might lean towards the first kind of error rather than the second.

    The problem is that dichotomy is false. There are miles of middleground in between. I experienced every bit as much bullying as you did in high school – it made me stronger and more resilient, and really good at strategies for avoiding it.

  95. bw1 says:

    Ken, you're correct that one parent filing such a report is not a sign of the weakening of America.

    That this parent is able to subsequently show his/her face anywhere in town once word gets out might be, though.

  96. CJK Fossman says:

    @Docrailgun

    Why can't people just enjoy their lot in life since some races/sexes are clearly superior?

    You forgot the sarcasm tag. But in case you didn't, read on.

    You made a very magnanimous statement, considering that you are probably a white person. After all, how many white people want to admit that Asians are clearly superior at math, physics and engineering and African Americans are superior in virtually every form of athletics.

    'Bout all us honkies got left is Nascar.

  97. Edward Brennan says:

    Ken- To answer your question, behave like professionals. But maybe you don't think those people know how to play the game. My point is that professionals do play by a code, and running up the score in such a way generally is considered an attempt to humiliate an opponent, and is generally saved for rivals bordering on enemies. And let us really put this in perspective- it is just high school football. In high school attempting to humiliate someone is generally considered bullying.

    The point is- the game was as far as it being a contest was at some point over well before the clock time ended. What they did after that point as a team was unnecessary and not sporting. The moment anyone puts in the second and third string- They are already not playing their hardest- they are already taking the dive- as a team. Remember in a team sport there is no I in team.

    You seem to be in some agreement that they should have let up by putting in the second and third string. Do you it somehow makes the losing team feels less humiliated because they lost another 40 points to the second and third string? I think they probably already felt humiliated by having the time rules invoked.

    This isn't about law demanding and regulating an outcome. It is about people having that rare quality of decency to not rub their face in such a defeat. To not put them in the position of being haphazardly humiliated. lt is about letting them save some face instead of rubbing their face in it.

    It's why it isn't wrong not to (rule sense), but it does make you an asshole (cultural sense/ the code of the game)

    @BradnSA- Do you really think any self respecting scout cares what you did to a team you were up 80 points on in the forth quarter? Do you think they care that much what you did in the first quarter against such a team?

    It ain't much practice if the other team is already down by 70. It is a punching bag sort of practice. The other team signed up for a contest, not to be practice for the people who couldn't make the first string.

    To me I go with Hume-

    Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person, or in the person of any other, never as a merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

    The other team agreed to the game. To play by the rules of the game for a certain amount of time to ascertain a winner. In this case, to use the extra unnecessary time- because the game had in every one's mind been decided, as a practice squad to face- is not what the team signed on for. It took their agreement to play the length as separate from determining a winner. They were slaves to their agreement of the time, but the use of it in that way made them an unwilling servitor to the winning teams "practice".

    This is why all attempts to free them of the clock, let them fulfill the second half of their obligation honorably without rubbing their face in it is good sportsmanship, and make the one who engages in that route not an asshole.

    @Xenocles- If this was part of their league. They would have a valid game reason. And I think the other team would understand to a point. But, it does not appear to be so in this case, because then it really wouldn't make sense to take out your starters, and agree to a faster clock would it? I mean why slow at all then- as you wisely point out.

  98. Ryan K says:

    Ahhh, please warn if you're linking to a Rick Reilly article.

  99. Edward Brennan says:

    @David C.

    I bet there were probably consequences league wise if they didn't play the allotted time. Also, the losing team might actually trying to honorably fulfill their time commitment even if they already lost the game.

    The social cost in Monopoly can be quite the same- for all sides. The winner calls the loser a quitter, which is worse than loser socially.

  100. Palimpsest says:

    As someone who was a snide short fat gay kid 50 years ago, I don't miss the wonderful social maturation in the bubble that one poster here fondly recalls. So I'm all for a process which investigates any complaint of bullying rather than ignore it until there's a suicide or a lawsuit http://www.wane.com/news/indiana/gay-ind-teen-settles-bullying-lawsuit-for-65000. The school is right to investigate all complaints and quickly dismiss frivolous complaints.

    That said, one crazed parent behaving badly at their kids sports game is a feeble reed to launch a complaint about political correctness. Even so, there is worse behavior. There an article I read about a lawyers basketball league in New York. The league had to pay a decent salary to a commissioner because they found it had to be a lawyer to deal with all the protests and complaints filed by the teams.

    As for playing sports teams that are lopsided, codes vary but you play your best. It's up to the coaches or captains to do things like substitute in benchwarmers or just play the game. If there's a mercy rule, then ending a long rout is fine. But as a bad adult player I'd rather have the benefit of playing against a stronger team who plays their best so I can improve.

    That said, I fondly remember a college intramural volleyball league where when teams were completely lopsided and the game was quickly won, the teams agreed to exchange back lines to create a pickup game with approximately even teams. It was a great game.

    And when I became a volleyball referee at a bottom league at a gay games, I at one point offered a decent team the option that I would call all of their technical fouls even though the other team was so terrible that I couldn't call their fouls because I would have to whistle down all of their ball handling. They accepted so they would not get sloppy before their next real competition and knew they would win the game as a rout without ruining their own skills.

  101. James Pollock says:

    "It is bullshit to claim that in a team sport "playing their best" resides upon an individual"

    Nonsense. How do the coaches treat the wide receiver who doesn't put much effort into blocking because the play isn't coming their way? How about the baseball player who doesn't run for first on a popup? Or the basketball player who doesn't run the court on a fast break by the other team?

    The players of team sports are expected to put forth their best efforts for the team. One of the ways you earn a place on the field is by having superior athletic talent, but the quickest way back off it is to not put forth your best effort whenever you're on it.

    Consider the recent UO-WSU game. UO was (and it pains me no end to say this) the better team on the field. Even though they were way behind, WSU played to win until the bitter end, winding up with over 80 pass attempts. The UO defensive coordinator criticized the WSU head coach for this (because although they couldn't score enough, they ran up the stats). In other words, he criticized the losing team for trying to win right up until the game was over (how unsporting!) and played his first-string offense against UO's second- and third-string defense. (the poor Ducks were bullied, perhaps?)
    He had the sense to back off and apologize the next day.

  102. Not the IT Dept. says:

    It must have been pretty boring for the spectators to sit and watch that game. I prefer a little more excitement in my sports viewing.

    I think more than a few commenters are getting unnecessarily bent out of shape to an extent that is not justified by Ken's post. I prefer a little less excitement in my blog-reading.

  103. NS says:

    I'm showing up late to this thread, and don't have the time at the moment to read through all the comments, though I intend to over the weekend. Popehat fans tend to be an insightful bunch…

    I just wanted to relate my experience. I was never a stick-and-ball sport kind of kid, I took up go-karting when I was 9, and moved to amateur level formula car racing when I was 16. I don't come from a rich family, and financial support for amateur racing in Canada is thin on the ground, so I often had to make do with less than the best equipment, and less than the best technical support, in a sport that requires the best of both to be within sight of the finish line when the winner crosses it. In the 13 years I raced, though I won a few events, and had very strong finishes in my fair share, I spent a lot of years loosing quite badly.
    There is no joy in going a lap down to the leading pack, there is little pride to be found in double digit finishing positions. I have never bragged about being the last man to qualify for the finals. There were a great many moments when I felt deeply ashamed that I could not perform better in my chosen sport, and I put myself through a physical and mental hell preparing for, and running each event. This is something I don't think non-racers can really appreciate, I doubt most people know that you do not have to wreck in a racecar to break a couple ribs, or tear the tendons in your shoulders. You can do those things when all appears to be going perfectly.
    It all seemed very unfair at the time, but looking back, I'm glad that I went through it all. I may not be proud of all my performances, or the gear I had much of the time, but I am proud of the little boy that stood up to it, refused to give up on what he loved, and kept on racing. I'm proud that the man I am grew out of that little boy, and I remember those struggles when faced with adversity in my life today. If that little boy could stand up to that, I can stand up to my mortgage payments, my performance review, my car repair bill, whatever other trial is before me.
    If someone had stolen that from me as a child, at the time, I probably would have thought the world of them, but I'm glad they didn't, because it made me who I am, and I like who I am.

    tl;dr

    Loosing 91-0 is better than being the kind of looser that needs the other side to take a dive.

  104. azazel1024 says:

    I would personally argue that, to a limited degree, there is such a thing as "trying too hard" once you've already outclassed your opponent significantly.

    Yeah, sure, you bring out your second and third string guys. However, if you are still pounding them in to the dust and you have the ball with a couple of minutes left in the 4th, just run it or down it. You don't need to "push your hardest" with a couple of minutes left and you are up 60 points (or even 20 points). You don't need to be throwing hail mary passes and trick plays with litterally just a few plays left in the game.

    Beyond the closing moments of a game, yeah, I feel the same way. You don't tell your players to "let them get closer, but not too close". You maybe throw your back-up guys out there to get more experience and tell them to give it their all.

    I'd feel pretty humilated even if I was going up against someone way beyond my league…like say one-on-one with an NBA player (probably ANY NBA player) and they were deliberately "letting me get shots in" and pulling back. One thing in the closing minutes to just let up and let the game end instead of continuing to do your all to the last, but another to play most of the game like you need to "try to let the gimp feel good about themselves".

    This gimp would feel a lot better knowing, hey…I scored 2 baskets against NBA player X in a game to 21! Sure, he crushed my, but LOOK, I managed to score on the guy period! Or track, hey, Usain Bolt just crushed me in a 100…but you know what, I was only 2 seconds behind him…and I got to run against Usain Bolt! How cool is that!

    One addendum. I have seen poor sportsmanship (especially college football and some NFL) where there was just a complete blow out. Its kind of one thing to celebrate after a score when its an even match, or as the underdog, but when you are up 5 touch downs and you run your 6th one in, spiking the ball and acting like a fool just makes you a jerk at that point. And I have seen it a number of times (ahhhemmm, most Florida Football teams).

  105. Tmast says:

    That's not our current culture, of course – I imagine most people would get even more angry or frustrated if they thought someone else was easing up deliberately.
    Still, it's not the only way – years ago I read a series of cop novels written by a Navajo. In several books he would point out the Navajo tradition of letting others win, as in if one kid is, say, winning a bunch of footraces, he'll deliberately start slowing up to let others win.

  106. Joel says:

    For people struggling to grasp how continuing to mercilessly rack up the score against a weak opponent can be a bad thing, try this analogy.

    Your 8 year old kid has some friends over and they're playing football, but they don't have anyone who can throw good, so they ask you to come play? You can easily throw it to the other end of the yard every time and it would be impossible for any of the kids to take you down, even if they gang up. Do you take advantage of that, since it should be your goal to always do the best you possibly can?

    It's a rhetorical question, but I'm going to assume the answer is no. Now it's not a perfect analogy (informal backyard game vs. formal sporting event) but the concept is the same. It's High School Football, not Professional. While I agree that handicapping yourself by basically not playing is wrong, there's some middle ground between just letting the other team score and playing as hard as you would against a equally matched team. In fact, I would argue continuing to score against a challenge-less opponent IS coasting. Finding ways to make it continue to be a challenge or learning experience for the winning team (such as putting in weaker players or trying new and untested plays or strategies) makes far more sense.

  107. Xenocles says:

    "Your 8 year old kid has some friends over and they're playing football, but they don't have anyone who can throw good, so they ask you to come play? You can easily throw it to the other end of the yard every time and it would be impossible for any of the kids to take you down, even if they gang up."

    Having done this sort of thing in my neighborhood, it's obvious that you let up a little here (though maybe not – some of the neighbor kids are good at shooting a soccer ball!) because there is never any pretense of parity. It's a pickup game that mixes adults and children; the game should never have been about real competition for the adults involved but about helping the kids have fun. Leagues that are organized and segregated by age or skill are pretty clearly different.

  108. Joel says:

    But are they? You talk about parity. If one school outclasses another to the extent of nearly 100-0, I would argue there is NOT parity. High school students are not created equal. Development in adolescents is HIGHLY variable so the difference between players from one school to another more or less IS the difference between children and adults.

  109. Xenocles says:

    It is their membership in the same organized league that confers a presumption of parity. In practical terms that presumption is often wrong, just as the opposite one can be (the NCAA allows FBS and FCS teams to play against each other, and often the team from the lower tier wins). If the game is for the record, it is the players' part to do their best from whistle to whistle. It is the coaches' part to manage their teams' resources with a view to the needs of that game, the rest of the season, and future seasons. That's why they can sub in other players without fear of bad sportsmanship – it makes sense to give starters a rest and non-starters playing time.

    But you can't keep kneeling for most of the game. Four kneels in a row can only burn about three minutes off the game clock before you hand the ball to the other team at your current field position. For the team that's ahead it makes sense (in football) to keep calling running plays to move the clock. That's good strategy whether you're up by ten or fifty. But what if the other team can't stop you even then?

    In sports (please do not extrapolate this to other fields like war) there is no honor in giving up. Neither is there any honor in your opponent giving up for you. I've been on both sides of blowouts, as both a player and a fan. I know being routed doesn't feel too good. It is now as an adult that I am able to understand that in sports any possible outcome I have earned through full and fair competition is better than the best possible outcome handed to me. It is the responsibility of the coaches to help the kids understand that.

  110. Richard Gadsden says:

    There is a fascinating discussion of Running up the score on the wikipedia talk page on the topic – it's a lot more valuable than the actual wikipedia page, which is boring.

  111. Loren says:

    When I was in high school, we were a new school and I was in the first graduating class. My junior year, we played a varsity schedule, even though we had no seniors in the school. We had several games ended early because of the 45 point mercy rule. Now I was, at best a third string player, but I would have loved for our coach to rotate some of us in. Our first stringers were not being successful, so what was lost by putting the 2nd and 3rd string in? Well it might have caused the game to end a little early. If the rule had not been in place, maybe the coach would have felt more free about playing other than the starters.

  112. Joel says:

    @Xenocles: In professional level sports, I think your argument has a lot of credence, but I still don't believe it really applies to High School, because in High School, membership in the same organized league has almost nothing to do with ability as is based on rather arbitrary things like school size (in which each division has a vast range of available population sizes so that the smallest schools in the division really can't compete with the biggest) and region (where there may be too few schools in a reasonable area that CAN compete fairly). And even then, class sizes can vary so much from year to year that a single school can change divisions on a regular basis and never really fit into the league in which they are placed. In situations where every team has the same available pool to pick players from, sure, I'll buy that the teams can be considered on paper to have equal footing, but most high school teams are built on "whatever's already available", so some schools have an inherent advantage.

  113. Marvo says:

    Thanks Richard Gadsden for that Wikipedia link, fascinating the different viewpoints of people schooled in different cultures. I have the British view of feeling that it would be arrogant and patronising to the losing side to let up on them.

  114. Sami says:

    Okay, that story is incredibly touching, and yet, mercy isn't the word I'd use for it. Kindness, perhaps, or decency… or it just comes under the heading of what I'd use for your previous examples, which is sportsmanship.

    Complaining about losing, mind you, is being a bad sport.

    That story, though. If nothing else, it's really nice to read a story about a clearly Christian community actually living up to Christian values.

  115. JohnMc says:

    Some things need to be said I did not see in either the OP or comments –

    – The coach had pleaded with the sanctioning body NOT to place his team in that district line up. They were over matched for most of them. He pointed out that he will not relax his expectation for his players as they still have to play for State standing AGAINST THE TEAMS THEY NORMALLY PLAYED.

    – The coach yes played all the way down to the 3rd string. He also ran out the clock on possessions to slow down the pace. Ran out the clock at the end of the halves. Ran mostly a ground game so his team had to earn the points rather than going to the air.

    Another words this coach did everything in his power to slow down the game but not penalize his own team. Quite honestly the person that is unsportmanlike is the person who filed the bullying charge.

  116. Trent says:

    Clearly it's time for a society-wide Harrison Bergeron rule.

    Oh. Wait.

    That's Common Core.

    No. That's No Child Left Behind, or in other words every kid in school can only learn as fast as the dumbest or least motivated child. GW Bush should be forced to listen to Al Gore read the Tax code for the rest of eternity for creating NCLB (and I'm being generous on that punishment).

  117. Palimpsest says:

    I hope the mercy link (which made me cry) is not a suggestion that we stop commenting on Prenda flailings, at least not before they're incarcerated.

  118. dmather says:

    "We have to protect the children!"

    Well, I'm a father and love my kids intensely! My personal view is that part of my job in protecting my children is to let them know that; sometimes you loose, sometimes bad things happen, sometimes you make mistakes. The important this is to get back up, learn from the experience and be better prepared the next time. If kids don't learn how to deal with disappointments and losses and failures when they are younger……well good luck teaching them how to when they get older. Not saying it can't be done, but it is so many times more difficult.

  119. Michael says:

    Early on in the comments someone was talking about never playing to lose. I can certainly relate to that. My 9 year old son was my last opponent in a 4 round Swiss style chess tournament. He hadn't won a game yet that day. He looked at me and asked me if I could let him win. I looked him in the eye and told him that he knew I couldn't do that. It is a hard moment in a persons life to cause momentary pain. But, it would have been a harder time if i had become Mr. "Nice" dad and just let him win. For the record. He lost. Also for the record, in the tournament two weeks before. He beat me. So, it wasn't a foregone conclusion that I would win.

  120. A Critic says:

    "Clearly it's time for a society-wide Harrison Bergeron rule.

    Oh. Wait.

    That's Common Core."

    Check out the Common Core Harrison Bergeron lesson plan:

    http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Kurt-Vonnegut-Jrs-Harrison-Bergeron-Common-Core-Questions-Notes-832770

    " Filled with a ton of information related to state standards, as well as images to spark the imagination!"

  121. Anony Mouse says:

    Mercy? We always called it the "slaughter rule". Which probably says something. I'm not sure what, but something.

  122. Eric says:

    I haven't read the comments yet, but I saw this as well, living in Texas. The Aledo 1st string team played something like 21 snaps, then got pulled for 2nd, 3rd, 4th stringers. You can't tell those kids to stop playing hard. The coach can run the ball for every play, Texas uses NCAA rules. IF the coaches agree, the clock can run non-stop the entire second half, no matter what happens. No stoppages for first downs, incompletions, out-of-bounds, etc. I have seen that happen in lower-scoring games.

    We also have 6-man games that end in 100-99, or similar scores.

    Aledo is #1 in their respective classification. Western Hills isn't a powerhouse. I have no problem with the score as long as Aledo does what they can to minimize it once it is obvious. They did what they could. The WH coach didn't complain. His team has probably been beaten as bad or worse in the past.

    The parent is just teaching his kid(s) a sad lesson. Instead of trying harder and giving it 110%, just quit and claim you are being held down by the "man." So sad really. The fact that this is a story nationwide is a sad commentary on America, but the score is just fine in my book.

  123. Eric says:

    FW Western Hills schedule The closest game was a 9-7 loss, to a team that is just as horrible in Texas. Their other games were losses by at least 14 and in many cases 20+

  124. Happy Fun Ball says:

    I lived by a simple mantra back in my b-ball days: "I play to have fun, I compete to win." I had some good and bad teams in my younger years. I was on a little league team that went undefeated in the regular season. We lost in the 1st round of the playoffs. An IM b-ball team that went undefeated with an average win lead in the fifties and one game where we won 90-18. I'v been on absolutley horrible b teams where we got our butts handed to us each night. Being gym rats, we all tended to know each other whether we were on the same team or not and had sportsmanship all around in even in defeat.
    I wish I had more interest in sports and organized coaching when I was younger, and I worry how my kids get rewarded just for participating at most levels these days
    I think that this complaint is/should be public and the name released in the community. Though shame may not bother this person, people should remember their stupidity.
    Pathetic.

  125. grouch says:

    The "mercy" (a.k.a. sportsmanship) rule around here for high school football games is a running clock when one team gets ahead by 42 points. The unwritten mercy rule, by agreement between coaches during the game, is that the other players — JV, freshmen, etc. — get substituted for the starters when the outcome of the game is no longer in doubt, regardless of whether or not there is a running clock. Scoring usually ceases or slows to a trickle when the smaller, younger players start being substituted in. There's no BCS system in place, so there's no reason to discard sportsmanship to run up the score to enhance the likelihood of the computer choosing you for a bowl game.

    My son is an assistant coach and I'm starting my 9th season of filming for the team. (I have the piles of filled tapes, DVDs and hard drives to prove it). I've never recorded a 91-0 game. In my opinion, coaches should get together during a time-out at about half that score and let the other kids play. It's not bullying if they don't, however.

    What's that complaining father teaching his son? I wonder how embarassed the son is.

  1. October 23, 2013

    […] In that light (and because it's a good post) I want to highlight Ken's "What Does Mercy Look Like?" over at Popehat. (To be fair to TMQ, in the specific case that motivated Ken's post, […]

  2. October 25, 2013

    […] at Popehat offers some perspective on the events at Aledo High School in […]