When Pushing Hard Becomes Pushing Too Hard

Have you seen this video? (If not, you should know in advance that it’s pretty disturbing.)

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In the video, a freshman cheerleader at Denver East High School is forced to do a split. It clearly isn’t comfortable for her, and she screams and asks to stop. Instead, she is physically restrained and forced to continue.

According to the Denver Post, the cheer coach, Ozell Williams, has been fired. But even more shocking? The paper also cited a report that Williams had been fired from his prior job – just last year – “after similar complaints.”

When I saw the original report a few days ago, it was qualified with all of the “you haven’t heard the whole story” type remarks that we’re used to these days. So I waited to see what could possibly be shared that would make the video any different. And then I got annoyed – at myself.

What angered me the most was the notion that anyone (including me, apparently) could believe for even a moment that there was another story. It was a video of a child screaming and crying and clearly in pain. And the adults responsible weren’t helping. That’s the story.

It’s upsetting to that we’ve become so accustomed to winning, to buying into the notion of “no pain, no gain,” to believing that our kids just have to work a little bit harder, that we’d find any circumstances that would make this okay. It’s not okay.

Most kids don’t go pro in sports. Most kids play because they like it. They like cheering. They love clearing the hurdles. They get a sense of satisfaction when they knock the ball out of the park.

And I get that practice isn’t always fun. My kids do their share of complaining. Sometimes it’s too hot. Sometimes it’s too cold. Sometimes they’re tired. And yes, I make them go anyway.

But there’s a line. And when you cross over “practice isn’t always fun” to full on “I hate going to practice,” I think you’ve crossed it. And when it turns to “I’m being hurt at practice,” it’s gone way, way too far.

It’s not just this one cheer coach. It’s the football coach that makes you practice in the heat until you vomit. It’s the hockey coach who makes you do suicides until you can’t pick yourself up off of the ice anymore. It’s the soccer coach who tells you to lift weights without a spotter because results are more important than safety. As parents, we’ve all heard the stories. And all too often, we sit quietly because no one wants to be that parent.

This video? It didn’t make the news because of a parent. It made the news because a fellow cheerleader filmed it and alerted authorities. Another kid. Think about how brave that kid was. She dared to be the one who said, “This is not okay.” I hope we can all find that kind of courage. The courage to speak up and say that we won’t allow this sort of thing to happen to our kids (or to any kids).

Because sports are supposed to be fun. Otherwise, why do we bother?

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