Down Syndrome Teen Scores TD; People Complain

Normally, this would seem like one of the most heart-warming stories of the year; to most people, it still is. Last week, St. Joseph Benton’s freshman team scored a late touchdown to avoid a 46-0 shutout. The ball-carrier, Matt Ziesel, is just 5′3″ and 115 pounds… and has Down Syndrome.

Matt Zeisel

As you’ve probably already surmised, the play was set up specifically for Matt, and opposing Maryville only provided enough defense to make it seem real for Ziesel; they “chased” him, but they weren’t going to hit him. Like rush defense in the Big XII, basically. Ziesel scored with a convoy of teammates cheering him on - video is after the break - and everybody was happy, right? Erm, no. Because this is the Internet, and people on the Internet are horrible.

First, from the story by the KANSAS CITY STAR:

With about 10 seconds left in the game, and Benton trailing 46-0, [head coach Dan] McCamy called his final timeout, told an assistant coach to organize the team for the “Matt play” and ran across the field to the Maryville defensive huddle — and to some puzzled looks from the opposing players.

“I’ve got a special situation,” McCamy remembers telling Maryville freshman defensive coach David McEnaney. “I know you guys want to get a shutout. Most teams would want a shutout, but in this situation I want to know if maybe you can let one of my guys run in for a touchdown.”

As you can see from the video above, that’s exactly what happened, and the Maryville freshmen should be commended for playing along so graciously.

But some commenters are outraged - no, seriously, they are - apparently because Maryville’s players didn’t gang-tackle a 15-year-old boy with Down Syndrome. Said one commenter at YouTube:

I don’t understand. Why is this a big deal? The other team didn’t even try to tackle him so how is this helping him? Its only giving him a false sense of hope and thats going to hurt him in the long run.

The Green defense needs to be thrown off the field for not teaching them a lesson.

And another:

doesn’t count, they didn’t even try to tackle him. If he was truly special he’d be better than everyone else without unnecessary handicapping. 

The KC Star had similarly negative comments, though with a touch more thoughtfulness and less s**theel:

I just can’t shake this nagging feeling that 21 people just played a prank on this kid…making him think he accomplished something that, in all honesty, he didn’t.

As with those on YouTube, though, they comprised a minority of the comments.

Thus, what would have normally been a uniformly celebratory comment section becomes split about 40-20-40 with positive comments, negative, and “WHAT IN THE BLOOD RED HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT.”

But let’s explore this, because this is what they call a “teaching moment.” After all, if people only get yelled at for expressing stupid thoughts, they aren’t going to learn anything but resentment.

“The team didn’t try hard and let the other team score a touchdown.”

Nobody can honestly argue - without severely underestimating the intelligence of Maryville’s athletes - that the team took “do not try hard at sports” away from that moment. If they learned anything, it’s that there is an intrinsic reward to doing good acts for the less fortunate members of the community, which is what this was. It was a game of freshman football that probably stopped being competitive before halftime. Not even varsity, man, freshman. That it might end at 46-6 instead of 46-0 has zero bearing on the world at large. That they did something right matters plenty more.

“They tricked the kid.”

News flash: this is what loving parents do all. the. time. When a four-year-old brings home a hopelessly messy drawing of a house that’s purple and appears to be on fire, a parent doesn’t criticize the child. And while Zeisel isn’t the coach’s son, the coach is probably a father himself, one who’s got healthy paternal instincts. Further, though we don’t personally know Zeisel and his condition, we are acutely and personally aware that many Down children have congenital heart problems from birth, and that getting tackled - even in a padded situation like this - is completely out of the question. Thus, the only way Zeisel is getting on the field is if he isn’t hit. If that one condition is enough to conclude that Zeisel must never get to set foot on a football field like this, then you’ve probably got some issues with life priorities.

If you mislead the kid, it’s bad long-term.

No. Again, this is part of raising a child - bolstering their self-esteem, especially when they’re different from most of their peers. Further, this was as much for the Zeisel family as Matt himself. After the stress of raising a child with Down Syndrome, even one fleeting moment of normality like this is a refreshing moment above water. To rain on that parade is to reveal yourself as somebody with tragically misplaced priorities and morality - and in some ways, that’s worse than having Down Syndrome. At least you’ve got a choice.