Cam Newton brawl is the latest example of adults damaging

Cam Newton brawl is the latest example of adults damaging youth sports

While watching my nephew's youth hockey game last weekend, I spotted a sign hanging on the glass next to the stands. It read:





I've seen a number of similar memories of perspective while watching my own sons play over the years. The messages bring to light what has become a national viewer narrative: that parents misbehave at their children's sporting events.

However, the fine print on this particular note was more of a warning: “Please remember that you are on private property and may be asked to leave at any time and for any reason.”

Former NFL quarterback Cam Newton and several other youth coaches in Atlanta weren't just asked to leave a youth football event last weekend when they got into a surprising and frightening scuffle. They were removed after security forces had to force them apart.

The fight, which started at the top of a staircase and led to a fence amid wild kicks and punches, underscores once again what is wrong with our children's sports. We know that parents can be overbearing and even physically and verbally abusive toward coaches and officials.

But this story isn't just about parents. It's about all the adults who are ruining youth sports for our children.

Adults like Newton, who runs a youth sports organization, fight in front of parents and children. Adults coach kids but feel like they're competing against each other, or they sit across from each other in the stands and feel like their egos are on the line. Adults monetize these same children with their so-called “Select” or “Elite” pay-to-play teams.

Adults participate on these teams at events such as the invitation-only We Ball Sports tournament that Newton's C1N football team participated in last weekend.

“I just think it’s society in general,” said Todd Nelson, associate director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. “You know, for the last four or five years, people have felt like they can express their opinions and do whatever they want and not have any consequences for it. I think that's unfortunate because I think they took that freedom. “We did it as a society and as Americans, and they took it to the extreme.”

Sports officials fear for their safety at youth sports events

I spoke with Nelson last year to share a story about how unruly behavior from spectators, particularly parents, has led to a national shortage of sports officials. He didn't even talk about the physical violence that we've seen at some youth sporting events.

Sunday's brawl involved the 34-year-old Newton and at least two other trainers. Those coaches came from TSP (TopShelf Performance), a national 18U 7-on-7 football program, a source told The Athletic. At the end of a video of the fight, as The Sporting News reported, Newton yells to someone off-camera, “I've got something for you,” suggesting more violence.

Unfortunately, adult violence at youth sporting events is nothing new. There are stories of angry parents throwing punches at sports officials in Florida, Indiana, Mississippi and California, among others.

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Even weapons came into play. In the summer of 2022, the brother of former NFL cornerback Aqib Talib pleaded guilty to murdering an opposing coach in a horrific incident in Texas. Last October in St. Louis, a youth soccer coach of 9- and 10-year-olds was shot four times by a parent who appeared upset that the coach had put his son on the team. Luckily this trainer survived.

When I read about such incidents, I think of the spring of 2022, when my then 14-year-old son wanted to play a baseball doubleheader in Northern Virginia. The games were canceled because a shooting occurred on the sidelines of a youth flag football game at a nearby school during an argument between, yes, adults.

Our worst qualities and those of society come out when we watch children play.

“They’re stealing the moment from kids,” said Brian Barlow, a soccer official interviewed for an HBO Sports documentary about violence against referees. (Note: The video contains swear words.)

MORE COACH STEVE: 70% of children drop out of youth sports by the age of 13. Here's how to fix the problem

Two lacrosse referees in New Jersey I interviewed last year said they feared for their safety as they walked to cars after games amid unruly spectators.

“So far I've been lucky that there haven't been any physical attacks – but after the competition I'm cautious about getting involved; I’d much rather not do it,” said Gary Herjo, who worked as a high school and youth lacrosse official for two decades.

In a survey of 36,000 sports officials conducted last year by the National Association of Sports Officials, 50% of men and women of all levels surveyed said they felt unsafe while doing their jobs.

Nearly 50% of officials surveyed in the NASO survey said sportsmanship was worst at the youth competition (travel) level.

Adults invest both money and emotions in children's games

Some of these coaches charge thousands of dollars per year to have your child play on their team. They run these businesses full-time and depend on them for their livelihood. They poach players from each other and annoy each other about it. It is a big business that takes advantage of and sometimes exploits our children.

During an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Adam Yahn, former GM of an elite junior hockey team in Ontario, Canada, referenced TSN's Rick Westhead's recent work investigating a team in the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

Westhead sparked an investigation into team finances by the GTHL. This was followed by a parent's accusation that player contributions and donations for the U12 club were not properly accounted for.

“We have to ask ourselves a question: Are we doing this for the children? Are we doing this to fulfill a dream, or are there people who make money from it instead of just supporting children in what used to be a voluntary coaching position?” says Yahn. “Parents push their children, but are there also others, who benefit financially from it? Have we moved from 'For the love of the game' to 'What's in it for me?' passed over?”

Coaches and parents can get heated because not only are we taking care of our kids, but we've invested so much money. But what burden do we really have to bear when the adults in charge can't behave?

Last December, a video went viral showing referees in Colorado fighting at a youth basketball game. Official pools are declining across the country, so less qualified and, in this case, less well-behaved referees are being hired.

“We have informed these independent contract officials that they are indefinitely suspended from working for the Gold Crown Foundation,” the foundation that hosted the game told TMZ. “Most importantly, we apologize to everyone who witnessed her unacceptable behavior – especially the children.”

All adults who are to be leaders of children's sports must take this message to heart. If there are any adults left.

Steve Borelli, also known as Coach Steve, has been an editor and writer at USA TODAY since 1999. He spent 10 years coaching his two sons' baseball and basketball teams. He and his wife Colleen are now the sporty parents of a high school and middle school student. His column appears weekly. For his previous columns, click here.

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