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Sports superstar, or man of character? Why do we have to choose?

Ah, football. Is there a sport anywhere on earth that stirs such passion, such emotion? Well soccer maybe, but to a diehard football fan, soccer’s a distant second. 

Carole Townsend

And just as passionately in love with the sport as football fans are, there are significant others everywhere who are just as passionately, well, out of love with it. I believe they are called “football widows.”

I’m not one of those. I love football. Haven’t always, mind you, but when my son started playing when he was in the fifth grade, I developed a great respect for the training, determination and focus required to succeed in the sport. Today (some fifteen or so years later), I love to see a college or professional ball player who both excels in the sport and also understands that young children nationwide look up to him as a role model. That is a monumental responsibility landing square on the shoulders of a young man.

Playing team sports builds character in a young person. It teaches them to work with others toward a common goal. It teaches them, hopefully, to put their own self-serving desires second to the team’s goals.  Now, I am not one of those parents who believes that a child should be handed a trophy simply because his mom signed him up to play ball. I believe trophies, medals, awards and such should be earned. I believe that character is built not by collecting medals, but by working hard and yes, even by experiencing disappointment every now and then. We are not really preparing our children for real life if we give them the idea that they’ll get a pat on the back for just showing up, are we?

It’s just as important, I think, for parents to conduct themselves appropriately when their child enters the playing arena, as it is for the child; more so, in fact. In the fifteen-plus years that our children played youth and then high school sports, I certainly got educated in parent conduct. After all, we live in Gwinnett County, a Sports Illustrated Sports Town, USA, community. Competitiveness is born into kids here. 

Our four children played football, softball, golf, wrestling and soccer, and the girls also cheered. In all the years that they participated in these sports, I’ve seen quite a few stunts. I’ve seen a crazed mom jump on a coach’s back straight from the stands, demanding to know why her little angel didn’t get more playing time. I have heard moms and dads alike cursing and jeering at other children on the playing field (both football and cheer moms). I’ve seen two dads – coaches, no less – get into a fist fight in the middle of a youth football field, when the boys were supposed to go out and shake hands with players from the opposing team. Dozens of little boys just stood there and stared as two grown men acted like spoiled, ill-mannered children.

I won’t even get into the catty, nasty behaviors I’ve seen exhibited by cheer moms. Cheer moms make football moms look like amateurs by comparison.

Perhaps the most striking memory I have of misbehaving parents is actually that of a football mom, a Gwinnett elementary school teacher, no less. My son played ball with her oldest son, so I got a front row seat to a lot of her shenanigans. This woman screamed and yelled at other players at will. She did the same to parents, and this was at practices. She was an absolute nightmare at games. She threw things. She berated her husband, a coach by default, with bug-eyed abandon, no matter who looked on. To hear this woman talk, her boys were ready for the NFL by age ten. Heaven help the man, woman or child who interfered with her little darlings’ paths to stardom. And on Monday mornings, she’d walk into school to teach little children mathematics.

I share all of this not to single out any one person, but to draw the logical connection between parent behavior and player behavior. Top-notch players don’t grow up to be punks at the college level by accident, just as they don’t grow up to be excellent role models by accident. Professional players don’t get arrested for DUI and domestic violence by accident, just as they don’t become philanthropists and mentors by accident. Character, in sports as in life, is intentional. It is demonstrated, molded and encouraged by those who mentor the players.

Well, I’ll climb down off my soapbox now that I’ve had my say. I suppose the problem of crazy sports parents will never change, at least not until someone bans them from sporting events unless they can behave in a manner that is, at least, respectful of others.

In about a month, America will set aside the better part of a Sunday for the crown jewel of pro football games, the Superbowl. During that four-or-so-hour ad-fest, we will get to see athletes perform at their very best, and at their very worst, in both physical prowess and in character. While watching, be sure to look for their parent(s) in the stands. You should be able to spot them; apples don’t fall too far at all from the tree.

By the way, even football widows can enjoy the Superbowl. Who doesn’t enjoy a clever, wildly expensive commercial?

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth and newest book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, is slated for April 5, 2016 publication. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her most recent book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a sidesplitting look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. Her first two books, RED LIPSTICK AND CLEAN UNDERWEAR (a book about our Mothers’ advice) and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH (a hilarious look at the unique, charming and sometimes outrageous ways we Southerners conduct ourselves) earned Carole almost instant national fame, with her “distinctive humor and hysterical honesty,” – Los Angeles Times. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the southeast region, teaching writers’ workshops, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well being of the family. For more information, visit