Two players caught on national TV sullying the post-game handshakes with their opponents prompted reaction and apologies.
Under the glare of the national spotlight, Coon Rapids Little Leaguers got caught with spit on their hands.
After a bruising 9-2 loss Wednesday in the Little League World Series, two of the team's star players were captured on ESPN spitting into their hands before exchanging handshakes with the team from Chandler, Ariz.
The bad sportsmanship caught teammates, coaches and parents by surprise, prompted a series of apologies, launched tirades in blogs and e-mails and has experts suggesting that this is a "teaching moment" about how to be a good sport.
Parents and league officials point out that the offenders on the team of 12- and 13-year-olds are "just kids," but they also quickly note that they need to be accountable for their actions.
Unfortunately, the team as whole is being tainted in a rash of nasty e-mails that were prompted by the national television exposure, parents said.
"You have to remember how old these kids are," said David Wold, whose son plays on the team but wasn't one of the kids who spit in his hand. "Emotions run high."
The incident went unnoticed Wednesday by other players, the coaches and the parents, said Pat Freese, the vice president of the Little League in Coon Rapids. Freese said he was at the game but learned about the spitting only when he got a phone call from someone who saw it on TV.
"We were all shocked, thinking no way could that happen," Freese said. Then he and the team's coaches sought out the video.
"The coaches looked at it and they were disgusted. They were beside themselves," he said. The team immediately issued an apology for the "inappropriate behavior."We recognize that through our actions we have reflected poorly on the community and disappointed a number of people," the team said in a written statement. "In addition, we apologize to the Little League organization and the Little League Baseball World Series."
The team also personally apologized to the players and coaches from Chandler.
The team's coaches declined to comment beyond their written statement. "We just don't want to make any further comments," said assistant coach Dan Cleveland.
Youth sports observers also note that the while the "spit handshake" is bad sportsmanship, it isn't new behavior.
"Kids have been spitting on their hands for years," said Nicole LaVoi, a member of the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium, a group of scholars studying youth sports.
"It troubles me on a very deep level that we put youth athletes on national television," she said. "But we're not going to reverse the structure of youth sports. ... The idea is to use this as a teaching moment: Life isn't fair sometimes ... and these kind of behaviors are not acceptable."
Doug Abrams, a University of Missouri law professor and hockey coach who has become a national watchdog of youth sports, said he wouldn't blame the coaches or parents in this incident. "These kids are 12 years old," he said. "You have to teach them that you have to be stronger in defeat. That you learn more from losing than winning."
The problem is that losing hurts.
"It's so emotional," Wold said. "Their heads are spinning. ... When you're so close to moving on and your dreams go down, you're hurt and devastated."
But a spit handshake is unacceptable, he agreed. "If any of the coaches would have seen that, they would not let those kids through the line."