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Keri Leach

Illinois Wesleyan University's Keri Leach (21) makes the catch against North Park University in the first game of the double header Sunday, April 22, 2012. (The Pantagraph/LORI ANN COOK-NEISLER)

Before Dennis Eckersley became a dominant relief pitcher, he was a starter with a 6-11 record and a 4.57 earned run average in 1986. A once-promising career was spiraling quickly. That offseason, Eckersley learned why.

A day after attending a family gathering he was shown a video of his behavior. He was horrified by the sight of a drunken man saying and doing all the wrong things, in front of children no less. Sickened and embarrassed, he checked into a rehab center for treatment of alcoholism.

A Hall of Fame closer was born, or rather, reborn. All it took was one video.

Chances are he didn’t watch the whole thing. Probably couldn’t bear it.

Maybe that’s where we should start in the pursuit of sportsmanship in sports.

Video.

A whole lot of video … of players, certainly, but also coaches, parents, fans, ourselves.

Play it back the next day.

Watch the rage. Hear the language. Take note of the red faces, waved fists and worse.

Tell me how you look. Then try and tell me others are to blame for the demise of sportsmanship.

A 46-year-old man died Saturday in Utah, a week after being punched while officiating a youth soccer game. He issued a yellow card to a 17-year-old goalkeeper, who responded by punching Ricardo Portillo in the face.

A volunteer referee in the recreational league, Portillo suffered swelling on his brain, slipped into a coma and later died, leaving behind three daughters and three grandchildren.

It is merely the latest example — albeit more tragic than most — of the lack of respect for officials at all levels of sports.

Young players see professional athletes jaw at referees, talk trash and get standing ovations. They play for coaches who spend entire timeouts berating those in striped shirts. They see parents, often their own, scream at officials and accept that as the norm.

In time, they become parents, have children who play sports.

The rage rages on.

It is difficult to watch, which is exactly why we should.

No one shot video of me when my daughters played sports. That’s too bad. The message might have hit home sooner.

Video would have revealed a grown man stomping bleachers in disgust at a junior high basketball game, childish as that is.

It would have shown a dad yelling at officials and/or pleading with umpires. It would have revealed unsightly bursts of anger from a guy who was brought up to respect officials and accept their decisions.

Video would have exposed the hypocrisy in that, made me realize that if my eyes could see how ridiculous the behavior was, so could everyone else.

Of the many things you learn from playing sports — commitment, perseverance, teamwork, etc. — being a good sport somehow has been lost. That is our fault more than anyone currently in uniform.

How many soccer referees have to get punched or Little League umpires get assaulted before we recognize the root of the problem, commit to a solution?

When are we going to see sports for what they have become, and see that sportsmanship starts with you, me, all of us?

Maybe video would help.   

Randy Kindred is at rkindred@pantagraph.com. The Kindred Blog: www.pantagraph.com/blogs

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