Forfeiting: The Right Thing To Do

In life, one of the most valuable lessons to learn is how to lose. No matter how successful you are, no matter how much money you got, or no matter how gifted you might be, there will always be times when adversity comes around and knocks you down. Everyone loses. If you have never lost in your life, it means you probably haven’t won either. The best way to learn the lessons of losing is to play sports. Please don’t challenge me on that, there is simply no better way to learn the humility, agony, and heartache of losing than through athletics. However, sometimes an exception will pop up.

I came across a headline a couple days ago that read “Plains football to forfeit to Bigfork” (Plains and Bigfork are two small towns in western Montana). I instantly became intrigued. Teams never seem to forfeit, scenarios started swirling around in my head before I looked down to read the article. Did Plains have to suspend all of its players because of a behavioral issue? Did a tragedy hit the team/community that would make playing a football game seem too petty? Did a severe flu bug wipe the whole team out? Did team officials think the Montana smoke was too severe to play in? No, No, No, and NO.

On Friday night, the Plains Horsemen suffered a 79-0 defeat at the hands of Loyola High School, a small Catholic school in Missoula. The loss pushed Plains to 0-3 on the season. When the dust cleared after the blow out on Friday night, the Horsemen had lost one player to a broken collarbone and three others to concussions. The settling of the dust did not just reveal the injuries of the game however, it also offered a glimpse of what was to come next week for the Horsemen: An undefeated Bigfork team (3-0) that had just beaten its Friday night opponent by the score of 42-0. With the undermanned squad facing an impossible game, the activities coordinator of Plains sent an e-mail to the Bigfork activities coordinator stating that the Horsemen would forfeit.

As someone who started off this post by praising the lessons of losing and as someone who has played on his fair share of under 500 teams, you might think I would look down on the decision by the Plains activities coordinator. But my stance couldn’t be further from the truth.

People more hardcore than me might tell the coaches and administrators of Plains to suck it up and go out on Friday night and get slaughtered. They would probably look past the obvious safety threat and tell the players to grow a pair and shake it off. They might even throw out cliché words and phrases like “pride,” “courage,” “gut check,” and “man up” to convince the team that it was their responsibility to play in that football game. People like this who claim to be true competitors are really just folks who are so removed from their athletic playing days (if they even had them) and life in general that they are beyond delusional.

There is absolutely no redeeming life lesson in going out on a playing field where you not only have a chance at losing 100-0 but you also have a chance at losing your health. As I said above, the byproducts of a normal loss produce positive lifelong characteristics such as humility and accountability. The byproducts of a potential Plains vs. Bigfork loss would have produced humiliation and broken bones.

Put yourself in the shoes of a Plains football player: Could you imagine going to sleep at night this week leading up to the game thinking about how bad the final score was going to read come Saturday night? Could you imagine how hopeless and defeated the players would feel at practice as they went through the fruitless motions of whatever drills and irrelevant game plan the coaches had planned for them to “prepare” them for the contest? Could you imagine the sick to the stomach feeling the Plains players would have in their stomachs as the Bigfork bus pulled up to the school? Could you imagine the deep fear that would resonate within every single Horsemen athlete the moment the ball was kicked off to start the game? No reasoning could justify letting this game occur.

We are talking about high school kids here. Yes, they do need some tough love and some hard knocks (Lord knows I did) but not by the way of an embarrassing and dangerous few hours of football on their home field in front of their families and girlfriends. In high school athletics, especially at the smaller school levels, it sometimes occurs where the talent level between two teams is much too wide. While I don’t believe this alone constitutes reason to forfeit I do believe that if there is a safety component involved as well the game should be called off.

I applaud the decision by the Plains administration to forfeit the game. They are undoubtedly going to take some heat from people who don’t know any better who feel that not showing up to a game is blasphemous and a cardinal sin of athletics. But you know what? The leaders at that school will happily take the unfair criticism because they know it is a justifiable price for the well-being and health of their kids. Way to make the right decision. Don’t Blink.