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Archive for the ‘Sportsmanship’ Category

When I was young, we used to play tackle football without pads and without helmets. A gang of us would get together on a Sunday morning on the high school field and go at it. We didn’t dislike each other; matter of fact, we were all friends…except when we were on opposite sides of the ball. Yes, ten yards gained you a first down, and you had four downs to do it. So far, everything – except the pads, of course – sound familiar? There were, however, some major differences. Our tackling techniques were not intended to hurt the ball carrier or to hurt ourselves. Oh, sure, we all got bloodied at some point, and perhaps there were a few twisted ankles, sprains, and once someone had to go for stitches. It had nothing to do with the game; some asshole had broken a bottle on the field and somebody fell on it with his arm…no big deal.

The point is that I don’t remember anyone ever getting knocked out in our games. We weren’t playing for blood; we were playing football for fun. Most of us were too skinny or too scared to put on pads and play football for our high schools. When I was a freshman, I played for the high school, but getting blocked once by Charlie Chalmes – his family owned the Greek restaurant in town – convinced me that pad, helmet, and high school varsity was something in which I would lose either interest or my life in a very short time. I opted for basketball, which at that time, was nothing like the contact sport it has become today.

While it may be difficult for younger people to understand, I’m not certain that soccer was even a word in our vocabulary. Oh, sure, there were hockey games at Reed’s Pond or in the flooded area down by Golleme’s Garage, but organized hockey at the high school level? What, are you nuts? Even in the pick-up games, rarely would someone be checked into a snow bank or intentionally tripped [wink, wink]. I remember George White telling the story of skating in one of those games and three times the same stranger – a bit older than George – stick handled the puck away from him. After the third time, when there was a break, George told this ‘man in black,’ that “You do that one more time you son-of-a-bitch, and I’m gonna shove my stick up your ass,” or words to that effect. Suffice it to say that George’s language was not that which could be used in mixed company. The man just smiled and skated away. Having overheard the comments, a couple of George’s friends came over. “Hey,” George, one of them said, “You shouldn’t talk like that to Father Heery.” Yes, George was embarrassed; yes, he skated over to the collarless man in black and apologized. The good Father responded that there were many times he felt as George did, but God was responsible for him keeping his cool. I have never forgotten that story, and while George and I talk or IM a bit, we don’t talk about that particular incident. Father Heery also coached the CYO basketball team on which this “Black Proddy,” as he called me, was allowed to play. Priests move from parish to parish, and the good Father was no different. He died in 1996 as The Very Reverend Cornelius J. Heery. He was a good person, and while I have digressed to speak of him, I will also tell you that I pray for his soul each evening

Getting back to the original point of this piece, I don’t recall any of the young men who played on the high school football team ever suffering ‘concussions.’ I don’t believe we knew what concussions were in those days. Of course, few schools had weight rooms or strength coaches. Today everything is different. Announcers talk about linemen who can bench 900 pounds, weigh 350, and can do the 40 in 4.5 seconds. The hits seem to be harder, more vicious and hurtful, and it appears that each play is viewed as an opportunity to put someone from the other side down and out for the rest of the game, the season, the career, or – with luck – in the ground permanently. You don’t have to agree or disagree; I’m merely telling you what it looks like to me. It used to be that, “kill the quarterback” was a figurative expression. From what I see today, it’s now used literally.

I wonder what would happen if we took away all of the pads that are used in football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and any other sport that demands pads? How would the players react? How about the coaches; the alumni; the millions of viewers who tune in to vicariously participate in their favorite rock ‘em, sock ‘em, athletic adventure? At the very top of the collegiate level, fund raising would suffer tremendously. Winning teams mean development officers more easily get the $$$ that help them to keep their jobs. Raising money for academics is more difficult than raising it for athletics.

Our knowledge base has increased tremendously over the past fifty or sixty years. Somehow, when it comes to athletic competition, however, that knowledge has been used to teach us how to inflict greater pain and more violence than it has in improving actual skill level. We’ve learned that not everyone learns at the same rate, but we haven’t learned what happens to the human body and mind when it is subjected to repeated violent encounters on a regular basis…and that’s too bad.

 

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“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Will someone kindly remind news and sports reporters around the country and, perhaps, around the world that this is the Olympic creed and tell them to stop trying to turn these ‘amateur’ games into some political sparring match? This concept of “It doesn’t matter if you win or not; it’s how you play the game” is colossal bullshit in today’s Olympiad.

Countries put together multi-billion dollar packages for the right to host the summer or winter Olympics. Why do they do this? Is there no understanding of where the true need for dollars is in most of these countries, including the United States?  I have no quarrel with a group of amateur athletes from all around the world competing on the best stage possible but I’m not certain that Beijing, China, one of the most heavily polluted cities in the world, or Sochi, Russia, at best known as a summer resort on the Black Sea are the best sites. Certainly, places like Albertville, France or Lillehammer in Norway make sense for the winter Olympic Games; any venue that one can be guaranteed true winter conditions will exist would suit me just fine. I’m certain that there are other cities or sites in Russia where the ‘snow factor’ wouldn’t be a concern. I can hardly wait to see what happens at the next winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018. Ask any veteran of the Korean War [not ‘Conflict’] and they will tell you that South Korea can be a bitch in the winter, but as in Sochi, security could be a problem.

Security of visitors from any country to any large, international event appears to be a security risk these days. Terrorists seem to strike with impunity across the globe and create horrific problems for even the most stable of the countries, whether they are in the West, the East, or anywhere in between. America, so terribly security conscious, was unable to stop a bombing at the 1996 Summer Games, and while Vladimir Putin’s ‘Steel Ring’ appears to be working well to date, there is still a long way to go in Sochi.

Beyond location and security are the Games themselves. These are supposed to be the best that amateur athletics can provide. There are no amateurs anymore. Every athlete who competes is a professional. They train and train and train. They are subsidized, subsidized, subsidized. It’s like calling the athletes who play Division 1 athletics ‘student-athletes’ when we know that the majority of their times is spent in the weight room rather than the classroom. Is it one hundred percent of D1 athletes. It absolutely is not, but don’t try to sell me on the idea that it’s below 85 percent. When the “Miracle on Ice” occurred at Lake Placid in 1980, it was the closest thing to amateur athletics that we’ve seen in a long time…and this may well be the last year that Canada and the United States field teams from the NHL. It also would be nice to see collegiate athletes also competing on the basketball court again rather than a bunch of professionals. Gold, silver, or bronze medals mean a hell of a lot more to young collegians than they do to multimillionaires.

Back to my original premise as a closing; yes, this is a competition, but it’s a competition between each person on each team or in each event. It is not the United States against Russia; it is not France against Germany. It is not the Norwegians against the Swedes or the Finns or whoever. It’s Daisuke Takahashi versus Jeremy Abbott and every other skater; its snowboarder versus snowboarder and screw the country from which one may come. It’s good, honest competition. The only sport I can address with any degree of knowledge happens to be swimming and that, of course, is not a winter Olympic sport. If an athlete can lower his or her time by 1/100th of a second and continue doing this that makes them smile. If they lose a race but better their time by less than a second, they can smile, because they know that they can and will do better. Does it hurt to lose? Of course it hurts and that’s exactly why they train…so that they will not lose. Would I prefer to see an American athlete win gold? Of course I would because I am an American, but if someone from another country wins, good for them; they trained harder and on that particular day had a better performance…so be it, but let’s judge the athletes and stop with this country competition.

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Becoming a member of a high school, college, or professional athletic team does not mean that one must get sodomized by other members of the team. Having a pine cone, a pencil, a broken flagpole, or a baseball bat or hockey stick stuffed up your butt is not “what everyone else goes through,” nor is it an appropriate rite of passage. Having to drink urine or actually get raped by a teammate’s penis, or in the case of women, a dildo, does not contribute to one’s maturation process. Drowning while attempting to walk across a swollen river does not prove you are a man; it proves you’re an idiot.

These are a sampling of the hazing procedures that have taken place…in 2013. These aren’t historic cases from eons ago. These are now. In a number of cases, police have become involved and some of the more senior team members are facing sexual battery charges. In a case at Virginia State University, charges of manslaughter are being sought against several students after two freshmen were swept away attempting to cross a river that had been engorged by unusually heavy rainfall.

It appears that hazing, rather than losing its luster after the death of a marching band member at Florida A & M, has actually been gaining in popularity. At Towson University (MD), the entire girls cheerleading team has been suspended from competition for a year after discovery of a hazing incident. “Hazing in any form will not be tolerated at Towson University. We hold high expectations for all of our students and their conduct as leaders, both on and off campus,” Deb Moriarty, Towson University’s vice president for student affairs, said in the statement. “Out of concern for students’ privacy and their rights to due process that includes their right to appeal the suspension, it would be inappropriate for the university to comment further.” Meanwhile, the executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators appears to feel that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Since the school is in ‘no comment’ mode, as it should be, perhaps the head of the cheerleading association should have no comment at all.

Sodomy with their fingers seems to be a favorite hazing technique for this academic year. Five Plano (IL) high school students are facing criminal charges, including criminal sexual assault, aggravated battery and unlawful restraint after finger-fucking a younger basketball player. What I really don’t understand is the attitude of Eric Weis, Kendall County State’s attorney…”It wouldn’t meet the legal definition of what we consider hazing but it’s as close as you can come.” What do you want, Mr. State’s attorney, to have the kid butt-fucked by the entire team as halftime entertainment?

More and more institutions have adopted a zero tolerance policy when it comes to hazing during initiation for any kind of club, athletic or not. The problem comes when hazing is reported and the reporter becomes the victim. Such was the case at Milford, MA when a football coach saw what he considered to be hazing and blew his top. He was fired for yelling at the boys doing the hazing. The superintendent of schools – who was not in the locker room, by the way – has described the incident as “inappropriate rough-housing.” Can you say “cover my ass?”

There is no place for physical assault of any kind on any individual for any reason…ever. When I pledged a fraternity many moons ago, sure, I got my pant-covered butt slapped with “the paddle,” but my pants were never down to my knees nor was my butt ever exposed…and ours was one considered to have a pretty tough initiation process.

Today, it appears that there is no regard for a person’s dignity during the initiation process. The New England Patriots have a tradition of cutting the hair of the new players after they’ve made the team. It’s looked on as a part of the welcoming process…and some of the haircuts are pretty weird. This is a far cry from holding a younger high school football player down while an upperclassman rubs the younger one’s face with his genetalia. That is just plain sick.

Hazing has become humiliation. It has no place in high school or college. It’s about time that more colleges and universities joined places like Towson and say, “We will have zero tolerance for any form of hazing and will suspend or expel anyone so charged with that offense.” In other words, grow a pair Mr., Ms., Dean, and Doctor; grow a pair and stand your ground. You may lose your popularity, but you just might prevent a suicide or a murder.

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About this time every year for the past several years, I become somewhat emotional as well as pissed off at my body for letting me down. This year I guess I have an excuse because of the torn Achilles, but if it’s not one thing, it seems to be another. I’m speaking of the fact that I am no longer able to volunteer for my favorite charity, The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) which will be held this first weekend in August. The PMC raises money for the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. Since its beginnings in 1980, the PMC has raised over $375 million.

“What is this PMC?” you ask.

Oh please, don’t get me started. The PMC is a bike ride; it’s not a race; it’s a bike ride! For many, it’s a two-day ride from Sturbridge, Massachusetts to Provincetown, MA. Don’t bother to figure the mileage; it’s 192 miles. Don’t worry, these folks stop at the Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne for a sleepover before crossing the Bourne Bridge which is one of the two entrances to Cape Cod. Over the years, shorter routes have been added to accommodate the number of riders who want to be a part of this great organization. I guess here might be a good time to tell you that every penny raised by riders goes directly to the charity. Administrative costs come from a separate foundation – and the fact that there are overworked and underpaid slaves in the office who are beaten severely on a regular basis [just kidding]. There are now over a dozen routes to ride the PMC, and many are single-day rides.

My commitment to the PMC spanned over 10 years, not as a rider but as a volunteer. It began before my late wife, Joan, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, and it lasted after her death in 2008. It is impossible to describe the feeling, the emotions of preparing to volunteer, just as I’m certain it’s impossible to know how the riders must feel as the train, both separately and in groups, for the ride – training includes a one-day century ride; you’ve got it…100 miles in a single day. Obviously, not everyone puts themselves through that kind of a regimen, but there are some 7,000 plus who do.

On the day of the ride, emotions run high. There’s a great deal of hugging and kissing, well-wishing and yes, a great many tears. Many people ride with pictures attached to their jerseys; for others, it’s a list of those for whom they’re riding. Helmets are adorned with animals of all kinds, usually representative of a toy that was someone’s favorite. There have been times I’ve invited friends to “just come over and watch.” Every single one of them has later admitted that he or she has cried tears of joy for what they saw as genuine dedication and commitment on the part of the riders as well as the volunteers.

The year after Joan died, I was asked to be part of the very brief speaking program that precedes the start of the ride. It was tough, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. As I looked out at that sea of riders, I had trouble holding it together. These people were riding so that there wouldn’t be any more Joan’s or Jimmy’s. There they were…cops and teachers, college students and investment bankers, Red Sox wives and then-Senator John Kerry; there were husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and just about any profession you can name, including many of the doctors, nurses, and administrators from Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund…now that I think of it, I wonder who the hell was minding the store?

Now that I can no longer be an active part of this event, I do a bit as a supporter of a couple of riders. I’m proud to support them and I’m proud of my association with the PMC. If you’d like to learn more, please go to http://www.pmc.org and learn more about this wonderful program. Oh, and if you’ve got an extra buck or so, don’t be afraid to become part of the PMC. I guarantee it’ll feel good to give to such a worthy cause.

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I’m a New Englander, born and bred. I’m also …correction…I have been at different points in my life, an ardent Boston sports fan. I remember when Pumpsie Green became the first Black man to play for the Boston Red Sox, and the Sox were the last major league team to have a minority on their roster…I said, “sports fan” not sports fanatic. It had been twelve years since Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier, but hey, what can I tell you?

I’m old enough to remember going to a National League game at Braves Field on Commonwealth Avenue to watch Earl Torgeson, Tommy Holmes,  Sam Jethroe, Sibi Sisti, and the whole crowd. Compared to the stadiums of today, that was like a Little League field; no wonder they left Boston. While I never did get to wherever the hell the Boston Patriots were playing at the time, I was wise enough to realize that football is played in weather that is generally fit only for mad dogs and Englishmen. George Pyne, an old friend from the Cape (Cod, that is) played for them; then got traded to San Diego. He hung up his cleats when they wanted to ‘shoot up’ his knees for every game.

The Boston Bruins – pronounced “Broons” if you’re from around here – had the Kraut Line of Bobby Bauer, Woody Dumart and Milt Schmidt and later a couple of hotshots named Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson. I was never a huge hockey fan, but everyone in Boston became a fan in that 1969-1970 season when Orr took a pass from Sanderson to beat the St. Louis Blues to win Lord Stanley’s cup.

These were all tough people. From Ted Williams and Walt Dropo, of the Sox, Tommy Heinsohn and Jim Lusctucoff of the Celtics, any member of the Pats and Bruins, these were hardened competitors. The thing is that I don’t recall one of them being hauled into court on domestic violence, armed robbery, drunk driving, or murder charges. What has happened? I’m not talking about Boston professional sports teams only; I’m speaking of professional sports teams everywhere. Steroids and drug use, lying to Congress and expecting to get away with it; committing acts of mayhem and violence, are these the heroes we want our kids to emulate? Thankfully, my Little League catcher son had Carlton Fisk as a role model!

There are still plenty of heroes in professional sports. Unfortunately, these are the same people whose names never appear on police reports. These are the people who don’t believe they’re bigger than they truly are. These are the folks who know that they’re not above the law and act accordingly. They go to practice or to a game; they do their job…well or not so well, depending on the game, and then they pack it in and move on.

Then there are “the others;” These are the people who believe they should be allowed to do any damned thing they wish and get away with it. Since the last Super Bowl, 28 players from the NFL have been arrested. Few can rank up there with Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots who has been arrested for one murder and may find himself facing additional charges. Ausar Walcott of the Cleveland Browns found himself charged with attempted murder after punching a man in the head outside a club in New Jersey. The Browns, as did the Patriots with Hernandez, released Walcott from their roster immediately.

The list goes on and on. There’s no need to recite the arrests, allegations, or suspensions. What these idiots fail to realize or more likely don’t give a damn about, is that they are – like it or not, Charles Barkley – role models for young kids. It’s just something that goes with the talent and the territory. When hockey players drop the gloves on the ice, everybody cheers. If those same hockey players beat someone to death, the cheers would turn to jeers and questions of why that happened. Fights are a part of hockey. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Do that in college and you’re suspended for one game or more. Basketball players get into fights on the court; emotions run high; there’s big money at stake. Off the court, for the most part, you hear comparatively little about them. The steroid scandal in baseball is bad but the guilty are now being punished. They may never be heard from again, but should we do so, you can bet your boots they’ll behave a bit differently.

It’s time that professional athletes be informed once more what they mean to their fans. David Ortiz’s outburst the other day was totally out of line. By his actions he has given permission for everyone who roots for him and the Red Sox permission to blow off steam by destroying something in the immediate vicinity. I didn’t happen to see where that “called strike” was, but I certainly have never seen the emotional Ortiz lose his cool that way. Remember what you mean to Boston, David.

I suppose it’s easy for professional athletes to believe they’re something special. In point of fact, they are; great talent; great ability; great paychecks…that does not give them the right to humiliate themselves, their teams or their fans. You’re not gods, guys; get over yourselves.

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I love watching football on television. By the time the end of August rolls around, I begin to get a bit quirky, thinking about all of the upcoming collegiate and professional football that will begin the first week of September and last into February. It’s thrilling to watch the runs, the tackles, the sweet feel of a long-completed pass for a touchdown or an equally long TD (that’s football talk) run as some Heisman candidate tiptoes his way down the sidelines for the “big gainer” that puts his team in position to “put six on the scoreboard” for the home team.

I tried playing football once. I didn’t mind all of the conditioning work or putting on all of that gear that made you look like something you could never be. I enjoyed it until our first scrimmage when Charlie Chimes (a real name, so help me), rang my bell with a block that sent me direct from the playing field to the local soda shoppe to enjoy a chocolate frappe. One hit; that’s all it took before I realized that this really was a sport that could be better enjoyed from the sidelines than on the field…safer and a hell of a lot healthier also. I had participated in games of tackle football without all that padding, and I guess we just didn’t hit that hard for fear of being hit harder in return. It wasn’t really even the hit that Charlie put on me; it was more the look in his eyes. You know, the kind that sends the message that says, “You are mine and I will grind you into little pieces and spit on them;” that kind of look; the one that immediately tunes up your brain, which sends its own message…get out of here now before you get yourself killed!

I watched Alabama play today. They have five offensive linemen who can run forty yards in under five seconds; not only that, but each of them weighs over 300 pounds. They don’t block their opponents; they eject them. To say that they enjoy what they do to opponents is akin to saying that the lions enjoyed their trips to the Coliseums to have dinner with the Christians. One can, I suppose, receive some solace in the fact that because these people weigh in at such a horrendous amount, one would never have to sit next to them in a classroom…a) there are no college classroom seats large enough or strong enough to hold them, and b) when did you ever see a Division I college football lineman in a collegiate classroom? That really isn’t fair, but there are far too many D1 players who are on the field Saturday afternoons only that they might reach the next level and someday be able to play on Sunday.

All of these ‘little’ things aside, When you look at the size of the stadiums in which these gladiators compete, you realize where Zeiss, Nikon, Swift, Bushnell, and Canon are making their money. In addition, I’ll bet that the oxygen vendors do a hell of a business in the top tiers. You mean you have to pay just to get a nosebleed…and that’s not even on the field? “Oh, it’s not the same on television,” these die-hard fans will tell you. They’re right. They’re so far away from the field that the sound of a touchdown doesn’t reach them until the next kickoff. As the season moves along, they’re freezing their collective butts off while I’m sitting in front of a warm fireplace chomping on popcorn, maybe having a little drinkie or two, and taking in all of the close-up action from less than ten feet away. With high definition television, I can even make out the tattoos on most of the players. What is it with these tattoos? Assuming that you do graduate from college, and assuming that you aren’t quite good enough for the NFL, how are you going to explain a body that looks like a roadmap to a prospective employer? Is this supposed to inspire confidence at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Macy’s, or even MacDonald’s?  Uh, I really don’t think so. There really is life after football guys; before you decide that you wish to look like something out of the Metropolitan or the National Gallery, consider the consequences of your actions.

I kid about college football. It’s a great sporting spectacle. In addition to entertaining the students and alumni, it can also be the difference between a new chemistry lab or postponing its building. Big time football and a highly successful program is mana from Heaven for development officers and college presidents. We win on Saturday; our alumni appeals are answered positively until the next Saturday; we lose and don’t bother to make the calls.

Football is wonderful. It’s a great learning experience. If you’re like me, you learn that the first time you get hit by someone about twice your size just how great football can be…for someone else. I place much too high a value on my healthy body for continued participation. Being a spectator really has its advantages…no pain, no pain!

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Juli and I just returned from food shopping. She did the shopping at both Costco and Roche Brothers; I don’t go into stores much anymore because I don’t walk all that well. Helluva an admission for someone who still considers himself to be in reasonably good health, but there it is. The irony of it is that I did go to the gym this morning and worked out on the elliptical machine. That’s different from walking in a store. No, it’s not laziness and I wasn’t too tired; frankly, and I really hate to admit this, I can’t do what I used to be able to do.

When I was younger I played basketball. It wasn’t the same game that it is today. We didn’t bang each other around quite as much as they do in the NBA or some of the collegiate conferences. That’s not to say we didn’t wind up on the floor or finish a game with bruised ribs or a few other injuries but we were “nuttin” compared to the way they play today. It took 20 years before I had to have my first knee operation; the second one followed a year later, and the first back surgery a year after that.

When we’re young, we’re invincible. When we get old, we learn that what we did when we were young might have been one hell of a lot of fun, buy oh boy, do we ever pay for it. I figured it out recently (for another visit to a new doctor…of course) and I’ve had over a dozen major surgeries in my life. I suppose that’s nothing compared to those with chronic illness but it sure does seem like a pretty high number to me. Must have seemed like it to the doctor, too, for he looked at the list, looked up at me, and said, “You’ve had quite a few lives, haven’t you?” How the hell do you answer that one?

The one thing I have learned from all of this is that each minute is a blessing. I probably could have gone into the stores with Juli; matter of fact, I probably should have gone into the stores with Juli…what the hell, it was my credit card. Yes, my legs might have hurt, but I still have my legs. Look at Stephanie Decker. She lost one foot and part of the other leg, and she’s only in her thirties. I’m a wimp compared to this mom who saved her kids from certain tornado death by sacrificing her own body. She claims she’s not a hero; I don’t see how her husband and her kids can ever see her as anything but a hero. Juli agrees with Stephanie that she’s not a hero. “She’s a mom,” Juli said, “and that’s what you do when you’re a mom.” Juli has two grown children and I just hope that her children appreciate that, although they may have thought she was tough, they can never disagree that with her attitude of “my kids come first,” she did the “mom thing” pretty damned well.

If you’re looking for the antithesis of Stephanie Decker, you have to look no further than Winthrop, Massachusetts where 42-year old ‘dad,’ Joseph Cordes thought he could help his daughter’s high school ice hockey team win games by shining a laser pointer into the eyes of the opposing goalies. Lasers can blind, but this idiot didn’t appear to care. It appears that this was not the first time this ignorant person had used his laser in an attempt to help his daughter’s team win. Accusations were made last year but were never followed up. This year it’s a different story, and what are the police charging him with? Would you believe disturbing the peace? I think I’d prefer to see a charge of aggravated assault, at the very minimum along with a reasonably stiff jail sentence. I’m just hoping that the families of the two goalies who were affected bring a civil suit.

Here are the opposite ends of the spectrum…a heroic mother and an idiotic father…and I’m bitching about a little leg pain. Wait up, Juli, I’ll be right along!

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