Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Loss of dignity, display of character

I never wait for inspiration's nudge, or for somebody to kiss me on the forehead, to pay attention. Being attentive connects us to others and to circumstance. Consequently, I keep a watchful eye and look for the Zen in my surroundings. It's amazing what we learn.

I have a story. It's not good, but it has a silver lining. Last Thursday night we were at the La Cañada High School football game against Monrovia High School. The Spartans lost, 77-0. That wasn't the worst part of the night.

I have high expectations of athletes. It's derived from the veneration accorded to athletics during the Golden Age of Greece. The word athlete meant something. They were esteemed warriors, demigods enacting the drama of sport on fields of glory. But when athletes don't live up to expected standards, I show no quarter.

Minutes after the game started, Monrovia was ahead 21-0. I have no problem with that; however what irked me were two Monrovia coaches standing on the La Cañada side trash-talking LCHS players, inclusive of foul language. One of the parents got in the face of the coaches and a law-enforcement official escorted them to their side of the field.

To my eye, there was an obvious lack of class in the coaching component of Monrovia football. Class is an aura of confidence; it's being sure without being cocky. Class has nothing to do with the score. It never runs scared. It's self-discipline and self-knowledge. It's the sure-footedness that comes with having proved you can meet life.

I felt sorry for the Monrovia players. They were being short-changed in one of life's greatest lessons, dignity. Dignity may be put to the test, but it can never be taken away unless it's surrendered. Last Thursday night the Monrovia football program surrendered its dignity. Personal fouls, un-sportsmanlike conduct and taunting are what they brought to the field.

If you're thinking that I'm too sensitive, don't. I had nine years in the Marines and my definition of contact doesn't include shoulder pads. That's my point. We worship at the alter of victory and dismiss the importance of civility. Where does that come from? It's derived from a culture supported by administration and coaches.

What's the lesson that Monrovia is teaching their athletes?

There was a silver lining to the evening. The La Cañada Spartans never gave up, never threw in the towel, and regardless of the score, those kids earned my respect. Character is defined through diversity.

To the Spartans, I offer this: From one warrior to another, I don't care if the score was 177-0, I was proud of you. The score doesn't define you; it's a number. You went down swinging and you were true to your school. That's admirable. You never really lose a game anyway, you just run out of time.

The greatest compliment a combat Marine can receive is, “When hell breaks lose, I want you in my foxhole.” Watching you the other night, I have to tell you that I'd go to war with you guys any time.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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