The world has changed in many ways over the last few generations. Some of those changes are good, such as smartphones, and some are bad, such as smartphones with annoying ringtones in public places. One of the negative differences is the decline of civility in our society. We see evidence in the news almost daily of people who don’t know the proper way to conduct themselves during a simple road rage incident, much less a drive-by shooting or bomb threat evacuation.
Etiquette is nearly a relic of the past. A recent survey of millennials, conducted in my head, revealed that 85% of them think Emily Post was the inventor of Post Raisin Bran. All of Emily’s wisdom and practical tips, so valuable to previous generations, are now dust in the wind, and we wayward sons and daughters must carry on as best we can, and hold on before we reach the point of no return.
Parents of young children are often too busy chauffeuring their kids from soccer practice to T-ball practice to football practice, to pass on the subtleties of acceptable human interaction. Fortunately, the answer is right there, in front of their noses, and their kids’ noses, and our noses. To fill the etiquette void, we have sports.
Sports are a microcosm of life. Sports are a microscope on life. Sports are a microphone of life, amplifying our actions in our unruly lives and delivering them to the headphones in our ears so we might better hear the consequences of the way our society behaves, at least until tinnitus sets in.
Take, for example, last fall’s Maryland vs. Penn State NCAA football game. For the pre-game coin toss, the captains from each team met at mid-field. In lieu of the traditional handshake, the Maryland captains chose to stand stiff as statues and refused to shake their opponents’ hands, thus giving a brilliant display to the youth of America on how not to conduct oneself in public. They chose butthead-manship over sportsmanship. School officials later apologized for the behavior of their captains, but the lesson on how to be an idiot was priceless. Nice job, Maryland.
Of course, each sport has its own set of manners to teach. Golf is usually high on the civilized scale, with hushed crowds politely allowing players to concentrate on long putts and large purses. A golfer happily calls a penalty on himself for an infraction unseen by the world. Football, on the other hand, features wild crowds who become the twelfth man on the field, and players gleefully get away with any infraction they can.
Football also teaches us that celebrating the tiniest success is encouraged and, in fact, expected. A receiver whose team is down 31-3 will still stomp, strut and dance after catching an 11 yard pass. I imagine there are rooms full of impressionable elementary school children busting moves after receiving a C+ on an exam.
Baseball has a different perspective on celebrating. A baseball player who hits a home run had better keep his joy to himself, lest he unleash a barrage of bean-balls by the opposing pitcher.
Perhaps the treasure-trove of manners that is hockey should just be left alone, except perhaps for those children who aspire to be Navy SEALS or CIA assassins.
It seems sports will end up sending kids mixed signals on proper behavior. Who can sort it out for them? The coaches duking it out on the sideline? The parents shouting from the stands? Who knows?
I say just take the kids home and give them a bowl of Emily’s Post Raisin Bran. That has as good of a chance of working as anything.