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Constant video recording catches athletes' bad behavior

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

Every week, the sports world is seemingly aghast at the latest example of bad behavior captured on video.

Either get used to it or change the behavior, because technology is making it possible to see everything.

Whether you're playing, coaching, officiating or cheering, the message is clear: Smile, because you're probably on camera.

Smartphones and video shot nonstop from many angles are documenting every play, and that makes it likely that someone who has suffered a sudden loss of sanity and tried to kick, poke, scratch or suffocate an opponent will be caught.

Unsportsmanlike conduct is being exposed like never before, and at every level — youth to high school, college to the pros.

Thank goodness September has come and gone. There were high school football incidents of players attacking an official during a game in Texas; a player swinging a helmet at an opponent in New Jersey; a player placing an IcyHot-like substance under an opponent's face mask in La Cañada Flintridge; a player kicking a helmetless quarterback in Lakewood.

In pro baseball, there was Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon of the Washington Nationals fighting in the dugout during a game.

Some are wondering whether the bad behavior means the country is declining into moral decay.

More likely, the rise of social media and the ability to put cameras everywhere has exposed behavior that has been taking place on fields for generations.

"The old days of nobody knowing what goes on at the bottom of the pile of a football game are gone," said Andrew Yellen, a Northridge-based sports psychologist and former football coach at Van Nuys Grant.

And that might be a good thing, because people can no longer get away with saying one thing while video shows something else.

"People don't like getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar," Yellen said. "Whether it's a physical attack, or something said, or inappropriate behavior, people tend to deny unless there's pretty clear evidence. Video is pretty clear evidence. In some respects, you have people taking on the role of pseudo detectives."

Cheap shots happen in many sports, but video is making it more difficult for the cowards to escape culpability. Even if an official misses an incident that should have led to an ejection, video can lead to accountability.

"When people realize, 'Wow, there are people filming everything I do,' that tends to alter their behavior in a positive direction," Yellen said. "However, when you have somebody prone to anger outbursts anyway, they don't think about, 'Wow, I can end up going viral.' "

Everyone had better start understanding that bad behavior during sports competitions isn't going to stay hidden.

During a water polo championship match last month, Studio City Harvard-Westlake Coach Brian Flacks saw six cameras around the pool capturing the event. It's well known that water polo can be very physical, especially underwater, with lots of grabbing, wrestling and tussling.

"You're going to capture every single moment," Flacks said. "Everyone is being held accountable for actions going on."

Colleges have begun tweeting ways for fans at packed football stadiums to click a button on a computer and find themselves among thousands in the crowd. It's amazing technology, but it means fans have to be careful what they are doing, because they are under constant surveillance, just like the players.

In the era of YouTube, Facebook, iPhones, GoPro and Hudl, bad behavior has never been so thoroughly documented in sports.

Hopefully, the exposure will motivate people to stop behaving so badly.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSondheimer

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