Kirby: Soccer ref's death reminds us we all lash out in regrettable ways
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The last time I actively participated in organized sports was nearly 50 years ago, when I played extreme right field for the Park Lane Lions.

I only lasted half a season, but that was long enough for me to learn everything I would ever need to know about sports.

First was that I lacked the necessary coordination to run and catch at the same time. Hell, I could barely put the uniform on by myself. It took me the better part of a week to learn how to walk in cleats.

Second — and this was the most important — there was no element of any sport ever invented that I considered worth being yelled at by some angry guy in a coach's hat. These two facts were destined to collide.

One hot afternoon after being reduced to tears by Coach Hardlich's insulting criticism, I suggested something to him that would have required a disturbing amount of coordination on his part.

Fortunately I could run faster than Coach Hardlich. I was a block away before he recovered his wits. Fat lot of good it did me because he knew where I lived. The ensuing drama cost me an apology, a month of TV and soured me forever on team sports.

The lesson stayed with me, though. I would never understand what was so important about a game that it was worth that kind of behavior. Short answer: nothing

This isn't entirely about sports or even the recent stupidity that resulted in the death of a soccer referee at the hands of an angry player. It's about human behavior — essentially the penchant human beings have to wind ourselves up over relatively trivial things.

Most of us are wondering what could have been running through a 17-year-old kid's head when he decided throwing a punch was the appropriate response to a call he didn't like.

Long answer: The same thing that was running through your head the last time you responded to a situation in such a way that it made things worse.

The punch wasn't intended to kill Ricardo Portillo but rather to furiously make a point that in retrospect no longer matters. In the extremity of setting things right, human beings frequently lash out in other regrettable ways.

I've done it. There are at a dozen such things that instantly come to mind, things I wish I hadn't said or done that seemed perfectly justified at the time, things I'll pay for the rest of my life.

Note: What I said to Coach Hardlich that day isn't one of them.

It can be something really trivial like who can kick or throw a ball better than someone else, It can even be something far more important like whether you agree with your spouse about church, or your friend about politics.

Maybe you said something in the heat of the moment that poisoned a relationship. Yeah, you sure put your son or daughter in their place about the church. But was that worth never being able to see your grandkids?

Was being right about who paid for lunch last time so important that you allowed it to destroy a friendship that would have enriched the rest of your days?

You can't be human and not have responded in such a way that seemed necessary at the time but made things worse. If you're lucky, you get a chance to learn from your mistakes.

Part of that is knowing yourself well enough to recognize the situations that put you at risk, and then staying away from them.

It means being smart enough to take another breath when your ego is telling you otherwise. There aren't many things in life worth the punches we think we have a right to throw.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.