WELCOME, POPULA READERS, to Ask The Sophist—the advice column that tells you what you want to hear! Bring your troubles or conflicts to The Sophist, at TheSophist@popula.com and The Sophist will explain why your preferred course of action is the correct one.
Dear The Sophist:
My eight-year-old son is playing flag football. It is the youth sport sweeping the nation! He played last year and they went 1-9 or something. Whatever, that’s the way it goes. He loved it.
His team this year in our new city had too many players, so they broke them into two teams. Alas, now they have too few players.
Last week, in the 7-on-7 league, his team had only five available kids, and the opposing coach would not even drop one player, to settle for a 6-to-5 advantage. (In his league in our old city, the other team would drop to an equal number of players, or loan out a guy or two.) Here, the game was played 7 on 5. They lost 55–0.
My son was often guarding two or three guys on long bombs, kinda like the Jets game when they blitzed eight players and lost to the Raiders.
He is tough but sensitive; he doesn’t give a crap if he gives up a touchdown or scores a touchdown, as long as it’s even. But he was seriously discouraged by the 7-on-5 thing and the fact it wasn’t a fair fight, so no matter what he did, he got burned. He’s eight!
Here’s the question. Let’s say it is a 7–5 player split again this weekend, which would lead to another 60-0, USA-invading-Grenada result. Our coach is too scared and macho to do anything about it, but as a parent, would you consider going up to the opposing coach and saying, “Hey, these are eight-year-olds, can you just play six so it’s more fun for everyone?” And if he refuses, force his hand and say “Well, if you’re going to insist on 7-on-5 then my son is not going to play and there’s no game.” (I sort of have some leeway since we’re only here for a year and I won’t have to deal with the other parents or coach for the rest of his school years.)
I’m totally not a Little League screaming dad, but I do have a bee in my bonnet about fairness and just being decent when it is third and fourth graders. Mind you, I’m totally happy if the other team has a 6-on-5 player advantage! But two is too much. Isn’t it? (A totally separate issue is the reason they had only five players is because some of his teammates are also in soccer and fall baseball leagues.)
Throwing a Flag
Dear Penalty Killer,
You are concerned about your kid here, and rightly so. But you’re writing because you also feel that you ought to be concerned about your social role. The Sophist understands the pressures you’re perceiving here. You do not want to be seen as the kind of parent who yells at the opposing coach, who ruins it for the other parents and the other kids, all for the sake of your own agenda. You do not want your kid to see you demanding special favors for him. Life is supposed to be about dealing with adversity, right?
One way of learning to deal with adversity, though, is by learning when to say “To hell with this.” Persistence is nice—essential! priceless!—but there are other things your kid needs to master in life, too. Such as how to recognize when something is bullshit, and how to get out of it accordingly.
And this football thing is bullshit! Bizarre, sadistic bullshit. The Sophist assures you, you are not even remotely the heavy in this situation. The heavies are the league, and the opposing coach, and the opposing team’s parents, and the entire structure that has somehow come to the conclusion that it is rightful, fair, or desirable for eight-year-old children to be trapped on the wrong side of the 1940 NFL Championship Game—or on either side, really.
It’s miserable for your son to be trying to chase the ball everywhere at once, but what are his opponents getting out of it, for their part? Where’s the joy catching a touchdown pass when you’re one of three guys overwhelming the lone safety? What lesson is that young wideout learning that won’t be cruelly debunked the next time he encounters honest man-to-man coverage?
It is too bad that your team’s fellow parents double-booked their kids’ sports events, leaving your son’s squad short—but those parents are not the ones being punished for it! Under no theory of justice does it make sense to force the kids who did show up to endure an intentional mismatch. They’re not being taught that flag football demands commitment and accountability, they’re being taught that flag football is no fun. Maybe this means the league won’t need to split any more overfilled rosters next season, because all the kids will have switched to badminton.
Patient, stoic endurance may be a virtue in its proper place, but it can easily blur into passive acquiescence. There are a lot of people who benefit from that blurring: the boss who forgets to pay you what you’re owed, the politicians who slash government services, the corporations that jack up their profit margins under cover of inflation. Your ultimatum will draw a clear and memorable line for the players. When the game is rigged, kids, you have the right to walk away.
Don’t forget to teach ’em the ol’ fumblerooski,