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Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2000 /21 Shevat, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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The silly sound of silence -- IF YOU CAN'T SAY something nice, then no one can say anything at all.

That is the imbecilic solution some Maryland athletic officials came up with recently to deal with a small cadre of disruptive parents at youth basketball games involving 400 teams. Civility worrywarts in Anne Arundel County instituted a sweeping "Silent Saturday" experiment to "raise awareness" and send a "wake-up call" about a purported national epidemic of sports fan rage.

Here's how this zaniest of zero-tolerance policies worked: All spectators who attended county-sponsored basketball matches last weekend were forbidden from cheering, yelling, or making noise in the stands. Officials permitted non-provocative signs to be held up by fans. However, parents could not talk to players or make pronounced gestures of any kind.

To muffle their natural parental enthusiasm, some attendees chewed gum, sucked on lollipops, or taped their mouths shut during their children's competitions. Others sat on their hands or wore gloves just in case, heaven forfend, they lost their heads and attempted to clap during play. First-time offenders who broke the county-mandated silence received quiet verbal warnings; second offenses meant ejection from the arena. One poor mother was threatened with arrest.

The public behavior police did allow fans to smile -- in moderation, of course -- at players from afar. Limited applause was allowed at the end of games. "Even spectators at an opera -- who frequently clap or shout 'Bravo!' after a well-sung aria -- get to applaud more frequently than that," noted the exasperated editorial board of the Annapolis (Md.) Capital.

Supportive fans weren't the only ones muzzled on Silent Saturday. As usual, the heavy hands of the well-intentioned nearly ruined the very object of their rescue. Team coaches were also forbidden from effectively communicating with their kids on the court. A pathetic scene from one newspaper account demonstrated the absurd consequences of the gag rule: "Help out with the press," one coach whispered helplessly as his players ran about chaotically. "The press, c'mon."

The basketball coaches could not issue "attaboys" from the sideline. They could not make calls, goad inattentive players into position, or audibly strategize in any way. The coaches, in other words, were prevented from coaching. All in the name of helping the children! "What we're really trying to do is give back the games to kids," chirped Georgette Shalhoup, clueless county supervisor of recreation and parks sports.

Yes, it's true, some parents and coaches can be louts. And if you believe the media accounts, vulgar Sprewellism seems to be spreading like a cultural virus in school stadium bleachers across the country. Sports officials in Ohio, California, and Florida have toyed with spectator-free games, scoreless games, mandatory sportsmanship classes for parents, and civility pledges to combat what they perceive to be a global rudeness plague.

Like all misguided attempts rooted in radical egalitarianism, however, these efforts punish an innocent majority along with the guilty minority. Cutting off the tongues of all spectators to spite a few boorish game-spoilers is a lousy way to right wrongs. Frank Dean, a Maryland parent with a teenage daughter who played on Silent Saturday, had it exactly right: "They're doing social engineering here. It's just stupid."

The problem isn't collective loss of civility, but individual lack of self-control. Our Let-It-All-Hang-Out-Express-Yourself-Just-Do-It-Bring-On-The-Noise-Screw-The -Rules society is now desperately trying to get the monsters it created to Just Shut Up. Is any wonder this futile plea is falling on deaf ears?

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate