“Families fuss.” A girls’ basketball coach who has become a father figure to a full generation of players he has coached in my new hometown, and a brother to me, says that in a post-game conversation four or five times every season.

It’s a consistent answer that almost always anticipates the question. It should be read with a “whaddya gonna do” shrug. At some point during the game in question, it means there was a minor incident that some of us still understand is part and parcel to student athletics, whether it was a benching, a face-to-face foot-stomping, or a clipboard-busting timeout huddle that was audible over the pep band.

I accept his explanation at face value for a hundred reasons, not the least of which is that I understand basketball bickering or household squabbles aren’t always clean and neat. They don’t necessarily fit in the pretty, little box built to hold our day-to-day concept of best behavior, because the stakes and emotional investment are different.

He also has earned the benefit of the doubt. His team went 34-2 this year. His program has won more than 400 games and five regional titles. The young women under his watch invariably perform at a high level after those teachable moments They continue enjoying and excelling at the game in high school and college. They affirm their appreciation by returning as assistant coaches. And they fulfill every sane person’s ultimate goal for this entire process by becoming great citizens and raising fabulous families of their own.

All of which leads us to our latest, fabricated national controversy, and another societal conversation I can’t believe we’re having, simply because Michigan State coach Tom Izzo yelled and gesticulated at freshman Aaron Henry on national television.

I’ve seen this foolishness presented as a “debate.” Heaven knows everything from sports to politics to pop culture is these days. We’re utterly gray area-phobic; to our absolute, black-and-white shame, by the way.

There is zero debate about this. If your child is incapable of handling a 30-second, spit-shined soliloquy from an authority figure such as the one Sparty’s highly decorated boss doled out, then sports assuredly aren’t for him or her.

It’s fairly safe to extrapolate this conclusion a bit further and presume they won’t be cut out for marriage, parenthood, employment, driving a car, paying bills or solving the inevitable Rubik’s Cubes of everyday life, either.

We wonder why there is a culture of hopelessness and a lack of discipline pervasive in our society, yet we continue to wish out loud that people who utilize Izzo’s educational style didn’t have a voice in it.

This idea that everyone with a sphere of influence must behave like Mister Rogers is neither realistic nor healthy. Life isn’t fair, no matter how much you try to gerrymander the results.

Click on your social media icons, scroll your feed for seven seconds and you’ll discover that it has become great sport to disparage “millennials” and decry their supposed lack of preparedness for the world’s harsh realities. Yet we also trip over ourselves to proclaim passe the people and institutions that might actually give them a fighting chance to succeed.

Call it what you want, but these are maddeningly mixed messages and a sad, self-fulfilling prophecy.

The weakness and Utopian fervor of a few in that generation admittedly make the entire lot an easy target. So riddle me this: Where did they learn it? If young adults born around the turn of century are ill-suited to the demands of higher education or the workforce, sorry not sorry, it’s the people my age, and the baby boomers who shepherded us, who are primarily responsible.

WE have done it by demanding unattainable perfection from everyone in the public eye.

WE have done it by disparaging all teachers, police officers, clergy, CEOs, coaches and referees over the misdeeds or failures of a few. And yes, I realize Izzo to some degree is held to a different standard because his school egregiously handled another coach’s obscene abuse of authority. If you’re incapable of seeing that these are polar-opposite situations, I can’t help you.

WE have done it by changing the grading scale, handing out too many trophies or finagling acceptance into a better college than our kid deserves.

WE, not THEY. The adults created this scenario. Not the kids. We’re the ones who weren’t tough enough to handle the Tom Izzos of the world correcting our progeny in a manner that ultimately made the game and any future tight spots in their life go more smoothly.

We’ve poisoned the water in our own backyard yet don’t seem satisfied with that level of sabotage, so some in the army of insanity now aim their attack at our best and brightest on the national scene.

I thank God that sanity seems to have prevailed in the War on Izzo. His legacy of four-year letter winners, and of NBA players and everyday Joes alike who swear by him even if he swore at them, surely will continue.

And I’m thankful the vast majority of communities in Maine, Kentucky and parts unknown still embrace and encourage coaches who openly challenge our kids. Because sports, and the lessons they teach, might be our best and last hope for getting out of this mess we’re in.

Families fuss, indeed. But the ones who stick together in that much-maligned, traditional fashion play an immeasurable role in making this world a better, stronger place.

Kalle Oakes spent 27 years with the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.

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