My sport is your sports (corporal) punishment?

An Iowa athletics official stated last week that the use of running for sports discipline should be considered corporal punishment.

I can see new cross country team t-shirt slogans now…

  • “Cross Country: Because caning and whipping would be cruel.”
  • “Cross country is corporal punishment. Your sport is just a game.”
  • “Run like you stole something… you may as well have, since running is punishment enough.”

The article doesn’t clarify whether it’s “running” or “extra running,” and talks about denying players water, which is a completely different (and scary) issue, but the general message is that running and running drills as punishment may become a thing of the past, at least in Iowa.

I’m actually not completely against this. A large part of me of me sides with my inner front-porch-sitting old man lamenting about the days when gas used to be a nickel: this is another inch down the slippery slope towards the total wussification of all American children.

But… there’s also partof me that thinks this isn’t  sign of the apocalypse. It could actually be a win for running.

How many people do you know who ran as punishment in school? Maybe you know former soccer players who had to run laps if they were late for practice, wrestlers who ran stairs in sweatsuits to drop weight, or football players who had to run in full gear for losing a game, etc. Maybe you were someone who had to run as punishment.

How much do you think they despised (or currently despise) running?

One of the things I love most about RVRR is that all couple-hundred members have unique running backgrounds. A surprisingly small percentage ran in school, and the majority started running much later in life for various reasons. Some members’ only prior experiences with running are the times they were forced to run disciplinary laps, and it took them years to see if running is really as bad as they remember. I respect those runners more than they’ll ever know. If my only memories of running were bleacher drills when I really wanted to be shooting hoops, there’s no way in heck I’d be a runner right now.

My inner grumpy old man is still unhappy with the lazy whippersnappers these days (yeah, I went there), and tend to think running isn’t that bad (I know I’m biased, but sheesh), but punitive running that’s excessive and borderline spiteful isn’t the answer. It may get that kid to show up to the next game on time, but do you think that’s going to cultivate a lifetime of athletics and respect for exercise? Doubtful.

A state ban may not be the answer, but I appreciate the idea being brought into the mainstream. It gave me a reason to reflect on what my high school team slogan – “My sport is your sports punishment” – slogan really meant. Believe me, I love the badassery from participating in a sport with such a tough reputation, but that slogan also did a number on alienating other athletes.

People who choose to be distance runners are a little crazy, and perhaps a little masochistic, and we know it. You can’t force someone into it, but you can push them away from it. Give the crazy a chance to come out on it’s own.

“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”

Steve Prefontaine


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