NFL Health Playbook will feature a guest columnist every week, each with a different viewpoint of player health and safety from the youth level to pro football.
By Chris Golic, NFL Health Playbook columnist
There has been a lot of chatter about the recent recommendation made by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association regarding chants commonly heard at high school sporting events.
They are discouraging chants such as "air ball", "fundamentals" and "season's over", to name a few. The association's director said although they are not banning the chants, they are discouraging their use in hopes of promoting more positive chants.
While this story only recently caught national attention, this practice has been around for years at some high schools. Our family experienced it first-hand at the high school my three children attended.
When our oldest son Mike started his freshman year at the school in 2004, the student body had an active role in helping the team establish their home-court advantage. They chanted discouraging phrases and embraced unsportsmanlike behavior by turning their backs to the court during visiting team starting line up introductions -- pretty standard stuff for a high school basketball game.
Sometime during the next couple of years there was a complete 180-degree turn done by the school administration regarding acceptable chants. While I don't know for sure, I am willing to bet somebody crossed the line of good taste at a game, and as a result, the school administration over-corrected and squashed everything.
Suddenly, the school's dean of discipline was posted up at the bottom of the student section monitoring the chants and behavior of the students, looking for anyone who was deemed to be doing too much. On more than a few occasions my husband and I sat across the gym in the parent section and watched students get kicked out of the games for some pretty benign behavior. We also watched the attendance of the students diminish at the games. After all, who wants to be monitored at a social sporting event under the same watchful eye they experience during the day at school and reprimanded for behavior that was pretty typical for a high school sporting event?
Don't get me wrong, I am all for good sportsmanship and punishing someone who is truly nasty, but how have we reached this point? It has become all too common for adults to wipe things away altogether, rather than risk the possibility of ruffling a few feathers. Lets face it, keeping everyone happy is an impossible task and there is always somebody who is offended by something. It seems we are slowly sucking the fun out of everything.
I recently did a Twitter survey to get a sample of what people were thinking about this topic. Out of the 7,164 people who voted, 11 percent agreed with the chant ban while 89 percent disagreed. Obviously, the majority of us believe that this kind of action is excessive.
As a mother, I am sensitive to bullying and acknowledge that it is a real problem, but these kinds of chants do not fall into that category. There is certainly a line, such as using personal information to shame a particular athlete, or when language becomes obscene or discriminatory. But the base level cheers being discussed here don't even come close to fitting that description.
It's important to always be open to new ways to improve the sports experience for young people, but I feel that this does just the opposite for athletes and spectators, alike. Spectators feel less compelled to come support a team when constantly scrutinized. Athletes, who I believe are largely unaffected by the so-called negative chants, are deprived of the great gameday atmosphere that comes with an engaged fan base.
Athletes at the high school level, for the most part, are confident, strong-minded people who can handle some sports heckling. We should want our teenagers to engage in sporting events both as players and spectators.
These are the kind of events that help build a strong school community and encourage teenagers to be active with their peers. Young people have too many activities that tend to isolate them. The rise in popularity and use of computers, video games and the anonymity of social media makes it important for adults to find ways to keep them engaged in their school's social scene.
Micromanaging chants at sporting events seems counterproductive to the goal of creating students who are active members of their school community.
Christine Golic is the NFL's Consultant on Youth Football and a member of the Heads Up Football Advisory Committee. Golic is the wife of Mike Golic, a nine-year NFL veteran and co-host of ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning," and mother of two sons who played college football at Notre Dame and a daughter who is a swimmer at Notre Dame.