In today’s America, every incident sparks a reaction on both sides. Even when it shouldn’t.
The video of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer, now a high school football coach, grabbing the son of former NFL kicker Phil Dawson and pushing the boy backward before shoving him away has prompted both criticism and support. If, as the Dilfer defenders are arguing, the moment was sparked by Beau Dawson being disrespectful to Dilfer, the reaction was proper.
The reaction was not proper, regardless of what caused it.
Long gone are the days when adults can lay hands on minors as a gesture of anger or an act of discipline. This isn’t a matter of dispute or “both sides.” It’s a bright line that should not be crossed.
Some of us (like me) grew up at a time when, for example, laziness on the practice field prompted a cleat in the ass from the coach. Being out of position resulted in the grabbing of the facemask and the forceful yanking of the player into the right spot.
And God forbid if a player had a chance during a special-teams drill to block a punt but recoiled from the ball or the leg. I still can picture the moment from the eighth grade in October 1978 when a teammate pulled up after breaking free toward the punter. The coach ordered the player to run multiple times toward the coach as he kicked the ball directly into his head and face and body, repeatedly.
(At least the kid had the protection of a flimsy, ill-fitting helmet with a single bar across the bottom of his face.)
Those days are gone. Period. Full stop. That’s it. No debate. Coaches don’t touch players. It’s clear. It’s indisputable. Even if people are somehow coming up with ways to try to dispute it.
This also isn’t a question of whether Dilfer should be “canceled.” (Quick question: Canceled from what?) It’s a question of fitness to have the health and safety of youth football players entrusted to him. If you can’t control your anger when a player sasses you back or whatever, you shouldn’t be coaching children. And if pushing and shoving is one of your devices for inflicting discipline, you definitely shouldn’t be coaching children.
I’ll admit (although I’m a bit ashamed to do so) that part of me is a little conflicted about the subject of physicality in youth football coaching. To this day, I don’t stand still for very long because of all the times I was kicked in the ass by the coach and/or jerked around by my facemask. It has kept me from ever doing anything that could be characterized in any way, shape, or form as lazy or half-assed.
The fact that I still can vividly recall those moments means that it worked a little too well, however. It probably amounted to a series of small emotional scars. And it probably has contributed to what ultimately has become at times an unhealthy obsession with working and working and working, so that I never stop long enough to get kicked in the ass.
Obviously, there has to be a better way to teach kids about work and effort and respect and responsibility and everything else that football coaches at their best can impart to their players. The easiest way to move in that direction is to realize that it’s the 21st century and that coaches should never be pushing or shoving or kicking youth football players, at any time and for any reason.