Ray Rice and Kindergarten

Keith McCurdy
Keith McCurdy

So what is our response to the whole Ray Rice “situation”?  I heard this question today and had to laugh at the irony.  Here we are as a culture, seeing what could be outcome evidence of what we produce once again in the world of elite athletics, and we begin trying to analyze where Ray Rice went wrong.

There will be an endless parade of specialists and professionals discussing “anger management” issues (do you think?), “battered wife syndrome”, whether or not this is a “race” issue, or is it due to the violence in football?  Be prepared, it will come.

What you will most likely not hear is how this is related to kindergarten and parenting….what?   Yes kindergarten and parenting.  What I am talking about is not Ray Rice specifically, but how we as a culture continue to produce elite athletes who do terrible things.  The answer is not figuring out Ray Rice, the dirty little secret here is that we can’t.  Individuals do terrible things for a myriad of reasons and attempting to “sideline diagnose” is a fool’s errand…..but we will try anyway.

I have already heard a few folks begin to question the bigger, more important picture.  Just today on a local sports talk show I heard the host discussing the need for the NCAA to address the issue of physical abuse.  I applaud that suggestion, but we must go much further.

By college, young men are well gelled into who they will ultimately become, especially in the world of athletics.  The idea of intersecting an entitled, elitist in a meaningful way in college is extremely difficult and often at odds with the program.  Both pro and college athletics are driven by money, pure and simple.

What if we went back a little further, into high school?  The unfortunate thing here is the reality that no one wants to confront a varsity star athlete for bad behavior.  This is not surprising information for high school athletes.  I have them and their peers in my office regularly, discussing the “bad behavior” that is rampant on many varsity teams.  It is most often ignored by parents, coaches and administrators alike.

How about a little further…youth athletics.  How often do you hear of a mom or dad removing junior from the travel team for attitude or not being obedient at home?  On the whole, it is rare.  What I hear most often is that junior has made a “commitment” to be a member of a team so to remove him would be wrong and teaches him the wrong lesson.

This reminds me of a brief conversation I had several years ago with a travel soccer coach when I suggested that the parents of the star player remove him from the team for cussing the mom out regularly and being physically abusive.  The coach was angry and called me to ask how dare I make that suggestion?  His point was that junior had made a commitment and it was wrong for him not to fulfill it.  My question back to him was what was “most” important…that junior complete his commitment to the travel soccer team or that he learn to be a healthy functioning member of his family?  The coach hung up.

We have a never ending parade of decision points in the lives of our children….and we as a culture are not managing them well at all.

Now to kindergarten….what is most important?  What leads to success in the early years of school?   Unfortunately, parents are regularly sold a false notion that reading and writing and demonstrating academic prowess at early ages somehow relates to future success.  Quite simply, this is a myth.

We have many studies, unpopular as they are, that have demonstrated gains made in early intervention programs such as Head Start, evaporate in the first few years of formal education.

What leads to success in school, is the development of integrity and self-regulation – the ability to know and do what is right, even when it is difficult or when you just don’t want to.  This learning begins in full force about the time junior begins walking and talking.

When we begin to value “character” over “achievement” as a society, we will begin to see a different type of outcome indicators than the Ray Rices or Lance Armstrongs of the world.  When we begin to demand that our children demonstrate character and integrity to even have the privilege to play on a team, we will see change.  When high school athletics value academic work ethic and personal character above all else, things will be different.  When colleges require the utmost of integrity and self-discipline both on and off the field from athletes who represent their schools……we won’t even have to worry about the pros!

Keith McCurdy works with children, families, and individuals in the Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas in hopes of helping to rebuild the American family.   For more information and ideas, take a look at his new website and blog at theradicalparent.com.

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