It's only a game

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"©
by Mickey Charles CEO,

Thomas Junta
Thomas Junta reacts after the jury reads the verdict convicting him of involuntary manslaughter in the beating death of Michael Costin.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -- It was bound to happen. The insanity of win at all costs has taken sports from being a game to embracing a psychological malaise that was destined to end in tragedy beyond our wildest dreams. No instinct of the human mind is more protective than that of a parent for a child. Couple that with living lost youth and disappointments through that child and tragedy, in one form or another, is waiting in the wings and makes Hamlet look like a comedic musical.

Competition between youngsters was blown completely out of proportion in Cambridge, Massachusetts recently before the real game got underway. Parental interference reached heights never anticipated. Was it predictable? Did we know it was going to happen? Could we possibly have identified the particular situation, instance, date and circumstance where this would unfold? Impossible. But the harbingers were there all around us. They have taken place for decades prior to the father of a young hockey player inflicting so many injuries upon another father acting in a coaching role that he died from the blows delivered within a fleeting and incredible few moments.

Thomas Junta, 44, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for beating another man to death at his son's hockey practice before terrified onlookers could step in and stop the sordid scene unfolding before them. One family totally destroyed, and another is on the brink of disaster.

Junta faces up to 20 years in prison but, as a first time offender, it is likely that he will be sentenced to three-to-five years when the judge in the case makes that decision on January 25th. Junta had killed Michael Costin, 40, in what he called self-defense, as they quarreled over the degree of the rough play during a practice session.

Costin 's three sons, as well as the Junta youngster, Quinlan, witnessed this fight and all were there, in the courtroom, to watch the tragedy being replayed over and over along with Costin's 11-year-old daughter. The age of the boys ranged from 11 to 14. Is this what youth sports is all about?

It was a noncontact scrimmage, supervised by Costin, but the parental instincts of Junta kicked in when he saw too much slashing, checking and his son being hit in the face with an elbow thrown by another player. He protested to Costin but the man running the scrimmage excused it by yelling back, "That's hockey!" A scuffle ensued and was quickly broken up by bystanders. Junta left the rink but returned, the anger welling within and the two men came to blows.

NHL fight
The Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks give the fans their money's worth during an October 2001 NHL game. Fans have come to expect hockey players to drop the gloves and sticks, and settle issues with their fists.
Was Costin right? Is that what hockey is, nothing more than a fight on ice? The tone of the game has been set in the NHL. More stitches have been sewn than you will find in Tommy Hilfinger or Donna Karin's summer fashion parade. Scars are emblems, hockey sticks are weapons, and concussions are as frequent as the falling rain in the forests of Brazil. These athletes are the paradigm for youngsters who play hockey.

Baseball players spit in the face of umpires. Technical fouls for insulting referees and going chest to chest with them are a badge of honor in the NBA, by players and coaches alike. Taunting the opposition in the NFL has found its copycat followers on the streets and in the schoolyards of our country. Discipline and respect for the game, for the competition, is about as frequent as your winning the lottery.

The games in which our youth indulge are played out in the stands by the parents who attend and see each event as a vicarious opportunity to excel. It is not fun. It is kill or be killed and that is what has taken place, finally and sadly, in Cambridge. The threats, slurs, invectives, diatribes, challenges, expletives, demeaning of one another, aspersions cast upon the other children, has culminated into a finality devoid of reason.

Nothing is dearer to us than our children. To extend that into the world of sports and the fun that participation is supposed to entail is blatantly bizarre. Making idols of athletes who do not see themselves as role models but only as players with a purpose, to make as much money as possible in any manner they can, accompanied by an ego that knows no bounds and caters to no one save themselves is disturbingly dumb. These are our kids, not the instruments to use in order to live the lives we lost long ago. They are youngsters playing a game. The interplanetary title is not at stake. The ability to learn sportsmanship while absorbing the meaning of competitiveness that does not mirror the professional ranks should be paramount in one's thinking.

Losing happens. It is the nature of things. Teaching a seven year old that she must be on the Olympic team by the time she is 14 and stealing her childhood just might not be the best thing one can do. Pre-teen boys need not be inundated with dreams of collegiate stardom or visions of the NFL, NHL or NBA. Not every farm boy that can throw a baseball through a small hole at one end of the barn and out the other before it touches the ground is destined to be a starter for the New York Yankees before he is 21.

One parent has just killed another. "It could never happen to me." That's what he said. Then it happened and the result is two families in disarray with a stunned nation looking on and wondering about all the confrontations other parents have witnessed, or been involved with, that came this close. Scary.

That's what we need, to be scared. But, for how long? They should post placards of the names, Junta & Costin, at every youth sporting event with a simple one-word reminder? "Remember." Are the parents really going to learn anything from this harshest of lessons? You gotta be kidding!

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