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Increasing incidences of violence—or “acting out” as it’s called today—in and around American sports are symptoms of deeper, wider, larger cultural problems. At least it’s difficult not to interpret sports-related violence this way.

And why shouldn’t we do so? High school, college, and professional athletics are not a world unto themselves despite what a few sports celebrities seem to think. Athletics is simply another thing we do in culture, our way of life.

Athletics at its best is a time-honored form of competitive fun, full of human drama, sacrifice, extraordinary effort and resolve even in defeat, sportsmanship and honor. It’s a form of self-expression that taps all human characteristics, including what religion calls sin. Unfortunately, we don’t escape ourselves in sports. The human dilemma still exists. We are both good and evil, so people cheat, lie, and “act out.”

This year’s preseason NFL games were marked by a rising tide of fan violence. August 20, at the San Francisco-Oakland game, fans fought in the stands, two men were shot outside the stadium, a person was beaten in a restroom, and security ejected 70 while police arrested 12—all over a game. We Americans used to look with smirks, smugness, and superiority upon soccer fan behavior worldwide, but no more. We can get into senseless violence just like everyone else. What happened to “family entertainment”?

After the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup NHL final fans rioted and burned in the streets, embarrassing a city and a sport, even if one known for on-ice fights. At a San Francisco Giants vs LA Dodgers game earlier this year a man was severely beaten. Similar violence has occurred at university and even high school athletic events, including the chanting of vulgar language aimed at opposing players.

Police and others suggest several reasons: alcohol, sold vigorously and consumed in quantity, in the stadium and at pre-game tailgating; higher ticket prices; joblessness; social media making us more aware of incidences that were there all along, and so it goes.

But none of this gets to the core of a generation coming of age with a greater sense of entitlement and fewer learned self-limitations than ever before. Nor does it acknowledge that American culture is becoming more capricious and violent across the board—more “random” mass murderers on university campuses, in malls, at high schools, more public figures enduring threats and employing security, more family violence and “He was such a quiet, nice boy” killers “acting out.”

It sounds too simple or maybe too complex in a philosophic sort of way, but I think it’s true: the generations coming of age in American culture now are a long way from the Greatest Generation in their understanding of individual responsibility, initiative, work ethic, character principles like integrity, willingness to defer gratification or sacrifice, and earn goals, even a willingness to set goals, and most of all, understanding and embracing the difference between right and wrong. Younger generations including to some extent my own Boomers were not taught right and wrong.

So if something isn’t going the way you want, you “act out.” You fight verbally or physically, you simply take what you think is owed, you cheat, you lie. In the worst cases, people respond violently.

I don’t think the answer is more security, better trained and better paid police, or more stringent alcohol policies. Sports venues are trying: at a recent Michigan State University football game the announcer borrowed from airports, telling people "If you see something, say something." I support all these efforts,, but I don't think they will solve the problem. I think the problem is deeper, going to the root of what it means to be a human being first and an American second. We’ve lost our sense of limits, which is to say law and order.

Ironically, limits liberate, at least the right kind of limits do. Limits based upon respect for life, others, and property, for example. Such limits free us to live, work, and pursue happiness. We’ve lost a lot of them, so we do what’s right in our own eyes—a not so good plan.

Government can’t provide a right sense of limits or vision of hope, nor certainly can corporations or athletics. Only we can do this, but we need help. Where, I want to know, are the churches?


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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