Wednesday November 17th, 2010

By now, you may be among the millions of people who've seen the YouTube clip of the trick football play pulled off by the Driscoll Middle School of Corpus Christi, Texas.

If you've been watching President Obama abroad or otherwise wasting your time, here's what happens. Driscoll breaks out of the huddle, and the quarterback lines up over the ball. From the sideline, the assistant coach calls out that Driscoll deserves a five-yard penalty. At this point, the Driscoll center casually hands the ball over his shoulder to the quarterback. This is perfectly acceptable, even though we know that the center invariably delivers the ball through his legs. The quarterback then takes the ball and starts to advance five yards himself as the opponents look on confused. Then, clear of the opposition, the quarterback suddenly breaks into a run and dashes 67 yards for a touchdown.

The play is legal, and just about everybody who's seen it gets a real hoot out of it. In one online poll, a huge number of those who voted said the play was genius.

Well, it isn't. And it isn't funny and it isn't right.

Inevitably, athletes often employ gamesmanship. Remember this summer, when Derek Jeter, the All-American boy, idol of millions, faked getting hit by a pitch, and his acting was so good he was awarded first base? Well, Jeter is a grown-up, playing other grown-ups in a game umpired by grown-ups. So are wide receivers who pretend to catch a pass that really hit the ground first, and basketball players who flop back as if they were fouled. Like the Driscoll Middle School quarterback, it is perfectly legal to act in a game. But the players who do that in the pros are not embarrassing the opposition. They're just trying to con the umpire. It's a benign bit of hustle that would've made for some good Aesop's Fables if old Aesop were around writing a sports blog nowadays.

But the Driscoll team didn't act instinctively to try to put one over on a ref. The middle schoolers didn't even come up with the ruse. Their coach dreamed up the play, and even participated in it, hollering from the sideline. The referees weren't victimized. In fact, they had to play along.

No, it was only the other team's kids who were embarrassed and belittled by a children's coach being a wise guy, a bully of sorts. It wasn't genius at all. Sure, it was legal, but it wasn't fair. Laugh at kids being outslicked by a grown-up, and you're cruel. That isn't sport.

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