Violent adult behavior at sporting events affects kids | Opinion

What are the children of the parents who ended up fighting at youth football game in Herriman, Utah going to take with them?


I don’t remember the exact day, or even which high school class it was. All I remember are the words.

A teacher singled me out in front of the class as someone who was likely to succeed at anything I put my mind to. Me, a goofy teenage kid who wondered, as I imagine many kids do, whether I could measure up to others. 

It couldn’t have made a bigger impact if it had been chiseled in my forehead.

Who knows why certain words stick with young people while other things we say fade into the wallpaper of life? As a rapidly aging adult, I’m constantly surprised by the things my grown children tell me they remember from their own upbringing. For instance, more than one has waxed poetic about long road trips to visit family that I vividly remember as tedious, filled with problems, crying children and frantic searches for the next rest stop bathroom.

But I have always remembered what that teacher said 45 years ago, even if I have forgotten his name or even what subject he was trying to teach. I’ve thought of it often while doing hard things. It has given me confidence. It probably has helped shape my life in ways of which even I am unaware.

Which has me wondering, what are the children of the parents who ended up fighting on the field of a youth football game in Herriman last Saturday going to take with them, possibly for the rest of their lives? Can negative things have just as long-lasting effects as positive ones?

Maybe you have seen the video. KSL said witnesses told of a referee’s call that angered some parents. They told of fistfights that broke out between some of them. A video shows a coach telling kids to run away from the scene. They look afraid as they scamper in their little football uniforms.

I’m not going to pretend parental violence at youth sports games is a new phenomenon. Saturday’s fracas doesn’t compare to the time, 21 years ago, when a father put something in a team’s drinking water at a practice in Las Vegas, causing players to violently vomit. He was trying to retaliate against a player he thought was picking on his son, according to

It doesn’t hold a candle to the dad who beat a hockey referee to death in Massachusetts in 2002, in front of two teams of boys.

No, it’s useless trying to complain about things getting worse. Someone will always remember something horrible in the old days. A pre-pandemic survey of sports officials did find it’s getting harder than it used to be to find people to referee high school games. I wonder why it ever would have been easy.

USA Today said, “more than 75 percent of all high school officials say ‘adult behavior’ is the primary reason they quit.”

But no, this isn’t about trends. It’s about the need to worry about the kids. The things they see and hear leave lasting impressions. They show kids how to act, and they teach them how to feel about themselves. It’s about our collective future.

The Business Relations Management Institute reported on a neuroscience study that showed negative words raised the levels of anxiety-inducing hormones in subjects being studied. It led to higher rates of “negative self-talk” in children.

The same report told of the book, “Words Can Change Your Brain,” by Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, and Mark Robert Waldman, a communications expert. It found that “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”

Also, positive thoughts “can quite literally change one’s reality.”

The data on traumatic stress is even more alarming. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration lists community and school violence as a source of trauma for children. Then it says this: “The impact of child traumatic stress can last well beyond childhood.” It can result in learning problems, health issues and even problems with the law.

We’re a sports-obsessed nation. A new study by found that 38% of parents whose children are under 18 have a child who will play on a team this fall. Of those, 59% say the cost will be a financial strain.

Maybe some people feel a subconscious need to get a certain result for their money. Maybe they feel a sense of entitlement. Or maybe they just lose control in the moment. 

All I know is that, while my life hasn’t been perfect and I haven’t succeeded at everything I’ve attempted, I do owe a great deal to a nameless teacher long ago. I also know we can’t afford not to fill today’s kids with more positive than negative things to see and hear.