Get a load of this guy: Michael Kinahan, a youth soccer coach in Scituate, Mass., a suburb of Boston. This spring he was planning to coach a team of 6- and 7-year-old girls. He came up with an original team nickname: Green Death.
In Boston, you know, green is all-purpose. The Green Monster. The Celtics uniforms. The subway line that takes you to Boylston Street. Kinahan must have thought he was safe, masking "death" with "green."
This is what Kinahan wrote late last month in an introductory e-mail to the parents of his would-be little charges:
OK, here's the real deal: Team 7 will be called Green Death. We will only acknowledge 'Team 7' for scheduling and disciplinary purposes. Green Death has had a long and colorful history, and I fully expect every player and parent to be on board with the team. This is not a team, but a family (some say cult), that you belong to forever.
Forget for a moment that in the history of organized team sports for the Under-8 crowd (maybe the old way, disorganized pick-up sports, was better) there has never been a little athlete who has ever confused his or her team for his or her family. It couldn't happen. The 7-and-under group knows better. The real question is: Why would a coach possibly want to use the word death as an inspiration to kids?
Coach K has an answer for that. (He has an answer for everything, in his e-mails to his team, at least -- on the advice of his lawyer he declined to comment to SI.com this week.) He wants his girls to "kick ass and take names on the field, off the field and throughout their lives." You know, the old sport-as-battle metaphor. You may view this message as unfortunate, owing to the fact that in the history of the world men have started a disproportionate number of heinous wars. Women, god bless 'em, are our best chance for world peace.
What's also unfortunate is that, in his welcoming e-mail to the Team 7 parents, Kinahan shows that he has game and passion. The text of his e-mail is well-written and, once you can weed out the nonsense, he makes some valid and interesting points. His mocking tone is spot-on. He writes, "After listening to the head of the referees drone on for about 30 minutes on the dangers of jewelry (time which I will never get back), no player will be allowed to play with pierced ears, hairclips, etc." Anybody who has ever been held hostage in that kind of setting -- and that's pretty much everybody -- knows how insufferable some people can be when given just a taste of authority.
But the shame of Coach K is that he can't control his own preachiness. He writes, "America's youth is becoming fat, lazy and non-competitive because competition is viewed as 'bad.'" American kids are becoming fat and lazy because American kids eat too much and play too much PlayStation. Overbearing coaches and parents have sapped the fun out of kids' sports so that, by the age of seven, about the only kids who want to play team sports are kids who are very good at them or kids being pushed into them by overeager parents. Other kids are shunted aside. Lazy? At what pool of kids is Coach K looking? The process for an American kid to get into an American college has never been more ruthless than it is today. The lazy Sunday afternoon is a vague memory, like grandmother's pot roast.
Kinahan's e-mail took on a life of its own in greater Scituate, and certainly part of the reason why is that the subject of kids' sports seems to rob people of their sense of humor. At times Kinahan is clearly trying to be funny. He writes, "I expect that the ladies be put on a diet of fish, undercooked red meat and lots of veggies. No junk food. Protein shakes are encouraged, and while blood doping and HGH use is frowned upon, there is no testing policy." If you find that kind of humor offensive, you're probably the over-protective parent of a U-8 soccer player.
But the satirist should never take himself too seriously, and Coach K does. He writes, "We do not cater to superstars, but prefer the gritty determination of journeymen who bring their lunch pail to work every week, chase every ball and dig in corners like a Michael Vick pit bull." Please. For Vick's dogs it was dig or die. A 6-year-old chasing a soccer ball is not a matter of life or death. To confuse one with the other is to show a gross misunderstanding of your role as the head coach of Team 7. (Yes, the team has an assistant coach, too.)
Predictably, in an age when people file suits after spilling hot coffee on themselves, the coach's little missive turned into a firestorm. Parents read it, passed it on to other parents. It got in the local paper, ThePatriot Ledger. All through Ledgerland, people weighed in on it. Many came to Coach K's defense. Others were ready to run him out of town. They settled on running him out of the league. Coach K learned a hard lesson: There's no tolerance for the outrageous these days.
Last week, in his letter of resignation Coach K wrote, "Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that some parents and the Board of Scituate Soccer failed to see the humor in my pre-season email." He didn't say he was getting out to spend more time with his family. (That would have been funny.) He resigned, for a year, because he didn't want to be a distraction to the players. How very adult of him.
The final line of his letter is, "Go Green Death!"
A funnier kicker to that letter might have been, "Go Team 7!" But the guess here is that humor, in the end, wasn't what Coach K was looking for. He was looking for W's. The more the better. As if winning is what a 6- and 7-year-old soccer players should worry about most. And, really, it's not -- is it?
HYMAN: Excerpt from Until It Hurts