McCarthy latest example of forgetting it’s just a game

Apparently, Mike McCarthy’s fall from grace has turned into a death spiral. Without a job to worry about, the ex-head coach of the Green Bay Packers doesn’t seem as worried about public optics as he decided to go ballistic against a referee for a bad call.

Sure, you can point out that he got hot with some of the refs when the Packers were playing. However, this incident was at a high school basketball game in Pulaski, and he wasn’t even the coach. He was in the stands, and his stepson was a player for the opposing team.

For those who weren’t in the crowd — or watching the Green Bay news stations in the last couple of days — here’s the story in a nutshell. The referees made a call in Tuesday night’s game that McCarthy didn’t like, and he berated the officials and followed them off the floor after the conclusion of the game. Now a complaint has been filed with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association against McCarthy, and news coverage has put a fresh face on a continuously annoying issue — a lack of respect for authority.

Those referees were hired to oversee sporting events, make sure all the players follow the rules, and that they don’t beat each other to death. Like judges, they determine if you’re guilty of being bad and what price you’ll pay for such behavior. Also like judges, sometimes they don’t make the right call, but we don’t see court defendants go crazy on judges, and the rare one that does usually ends up in jail.

For ages, fans have booed their displeasure when they felt the refs made a bad call or failed to make a good call, but now, fans have gone from being balcony hecklers to saying, “Hold my beer; I’m going to knock some sense into that zebra!” Most of the time, the confrontations are verbal, with borderline stalking in McCarthy’s case.

However, some confrontations have turned physical. You needn’t look any further than our own backyard, when the Shawano Police Department was called to the Crawford Center on Feb. 10 on a report that a coach hit a referee during a youth hockey tournament. There was no arrest, but the coach was removed from the building.

Why do these people lash out? Even at the professional level, at the end of the day, it’s just a game, and you’re not a lesser person if your team loses. These are events with younger athletes, though, and with high school in particular, these athletes are witnessing personal meltdowns like McCarthy’s and wondering, if a big shot NFL coach can do this, maybe we can do it, too.

This comes at a particularly bad time for two reasons. First, McCarthy must be looking for another coaching job after getting shown the door by the Packers, and other teams must be looking at this viral report online and wondering, “Do we want to risk a public relations disaster?”

The second reason is a little closer to home. The WIAA is already having difficulty finding people willing to coach high school sporting events because refs are leaving, and many of them claim the constant abuse from fans, coaches and occasionally players is not worth the pittance they’re getting paid. What happens when the schools and youth leagues can’t find refs to officiate? Games are cancelled.

Both schools were swift to respond to McCarthy’s tantrum. Janel Batten, Pulaski’s athletic director, called the behavior “unacceptable.” That was followed up with a response from Steph Mathu, the athletic director for Notre Dame Academy, the opposing team, who claimed that “the parent” (aka McCarthy) contacted the school Wednesday to apologize and said, “We appreciate his outreach and we look forward to moving ahead in a faith-centered and esteemed fashion.”

That’s certainly very gracious of the school, but to this point, the turn-the-other-cheek approach has not been effective.

In my view, WIAA should make it clear to McCarthy and any future bleacher refs that their behavior will not be tolerated and institute a ban. The rest of the gymnasium managed to exhibit good sportsmanship and were there for a good time. Why should everyone else have to put up with the antics of a bad sport and let him continue to be a potential disruptor? If you want to bring back the refs you’ve lost, the best way is to clear out the riff-raff. To not do so will eventually ruin the game for everyone when no one wants to run them.

In the meantime, we should give credit to everyone who managed to keep their cool, even when the refs made a call they didn’t like. It’s easy enough to blow a gasket, but it takes real maturity to not bow to fury and just remind yourself that, in the end, it’s just a game.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.