Sportsmanship? In New Jersey?
Eh ... blow it out your ear.
That's the (completely accurate) stereotype about Garden State sports fans.
But the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees high-school sports in the state, hopes to change some of that with new rules regarding sportsmanship on the field.
And there's a growing national movement to rein in out-of-control parents at youth sports events.
To which we say: It's about time. And good luck.
The new NJSIAA rules, which will take effect in the fall, are an outgrowth of the state's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.
The rules, developed in cooperation with the state Attorney General's Office and the state Division on Civil Rights, forbid players from engaging in "harassing conduct related to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or religion." Coaches will be responsible for educating athletes about the rules.
Current NJSIAA rules require any student-athlete or coach engaging in verbal or physical misconduct to be disqualified for the next two scheduled games (or, in the case of football, from just one game).
Under the new rules, game officials can immediately assess penalties, and all incidents must be reported to the NJSIAA, which will refer them to the Division on Civil Rights.
Overkill? We don't think so. The new rules seem rather mild to us - and probably unlikely to do much to change on-field behavior.
But they do serve the valuable purpose of reminding everyone - players, coaches and parents - that certain kinds of taunting and trash-talking are simply unacceptable these days.
Meanwhile, the town of Buffalo Grove, Ill., has tried to send the same message to parents. Park officials there have erected new signs that say, "This is a game played by children," with "game" and "children" highlighted. The signs go on to say, "If they win or lose every game of the season, it will not impact what college they attend or their future potential income."
Youth sports, as anyone who has watched a recent Little League or high-school football game knows, can easily get out of control these days. Players routinely throw taunts at each other; parents are often worse, and some have attacked game officials, coaches or even players on the opposing team.
As we said, we don't have a lot of hope that this movement will change much in youth sports. There will always be coaches and parents who encourage unsportsmanlike behavior. And new rules or ball field signs aren't likely to change them.
The only antidote is more of those wonderful coaches and caring parents who do not tolerate poor sportsmanship. And that's about character, which some have and too many don't.