This updates covers July to December of 2011. The worst acts during that period were as follows:
1. The Penn State sex abuse scandal. This scandal didn’t occur in youth or high school sports, which is what the semiannual Bad Acts reports cover. However, it shined a light on a frequently occurring problem in youth sports.
In case someone is not familiar with the Penn State sex abuse scandal, let me briefly recap it. John Sandusky, a prominent former Penn State assistant football coach who was still affiliated with Penn State and its football program, used his position to allegedly gain access to underage boys and sexually abuse them. Penn State’s legendary, now late, head football coach, Joe Paterno, received some information about Sandusky’s alleged acts, and complied with state law by reporting to his superiors. However, he failed the moral test of notifying the police and taking active steps to ensure that the acts were investigated when it became clear that the University officials he’d reported to had (a) done nothing; and/or (b) had not informed him that they’d taken some action after he reported to them. Simply put, Paterno stuck his head in the sand.
2. Deadly force: We all know that poor sportsmanship can lead to some dangerous situations, but seldom do we see a situation where a sore loser's post-game reaction can be deadly. In July, a trained martial artist lost his cool, returned to the gym after he lost in a high school taekwondo tournament in San Jose, CA, and delivered a roundhouse kick to the face of the unsuspecting boy who had defeated him. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the victim of this unprovoked attack came within inches of having his nose bone driven back into his face, which would have killed him. As it was, the victim lost several teeth, and obviously needed medical treatment. The Mercury News reports that the attacker told investigators that he was upset with the contest official's rulings. So, there you have it. The perfect defense. Yes, the loser has invoked the bad old ref made me do it defense. In this case, nobody was buying it.
3. Helmet-to-helmet contact: Adam Chumley, from Georgia's Northside Christian Academy, couldn't handle losing so he reportedly grabbed an opposing player's helmet and commenced beating that player over the head with the helmet in a September football game. Chumley was charged with misdemeanor battery.
4. N-chanting: One doesn’t have to engage in violence to show a lack of grace in athletic competition. In December, Buffalo’s Kenmore East had a particularly offensive incident that was purely verbal; ultimately, the verbal ugliness led to a fight. The girls’ basketball team at Kenmore East had the gall to chant, "One, two, three, N word" before taking the floor. Not once, but before every game. When Tyra Batts, the lone African-American on the team objected and even fought a teammate over the incident, the chant became public knowledge. Interestingly, Batts verbally objected before she fought over the matter, and was told that the chant was a tradition. It is highly unlikely that it was, but one never knows.
Kenmore East engaged in bureaucratic justice. All the girls who engaged in the n word chant were suspended for one game, and two school days. Batts, on the other hand, received a five day suspension for fighting. Now, if that just seems wrong to you, you’re absolutely right. It should seem wrong.
Doubtless, the high school had a policy of suspending students for a few days for making racially insensitive comments. The school probably suspended students for five days for fighting. If a fight is sufficiently bad to warrant more than five days of punishment, the school probably moves for expulsion. So, by law the students who uttered the racist chant received justice and so did Batts. But, it sure seems wrong doesn’t it?
Now, the truth of the matter is that Batts had to receive a five day suspension for fighting. After all, she did have non-fight remedies at her disposal and she chose not to use them. Batts actually got justice in that respect. However, there's no way that the girls who chanted, "One, two, three, N word" got the penalty they deserved. In that respect, Batts didn’t get justice. The offensive girls got a standard bureaucratic penalty, and this standard bureaucratic justice left them with a lesser penalty than Batts got. That might not matter if hey got a heavy dose of public shame to go along with it, but it doesn't appear that they got that. Thus, I would have to say that in a particularly noxious incident, true justice was not served although bureaucratic justice was.
5. Three-for-one: Trevor Borom, the head basketball coach at Indianapolis’s Manual High School, just committed three bad acts rolled into one in October. First, Borom drove over to a girl's house in the middle of the day while her parents weren’t home. Borom was allegedly going to discuss the girls’ grades. Error number one: grown men don’t make social visits to young girls’ houses. Error number 2 might have been worse. Coach Borom got into a fight with a fifteen year old boy while visiting the girl. Error number 3 may be pure bad luck, but it’s still an error. Borom got caught on film. Can you say, “career suicide?” Worse, though, people actually trusted this man with their children.
6.A hand for each hand: Every couple of years we see someone who thinks it’s funny to make a mockery of the post-game handshake by doing something offensive. We’ve seen people spit on their hands and then shake all of their unsuspecting opponents’ hands. We’ve seen people slap the opponents’ hands really hard, and we’ve even seen one person who gave a hard hit to some of her opponents. A Washington (Ohio) football player probably thought that it was witty to place a sharp object in his receiver’s glove before shaking his opponents’ hands. Of course he was wrong – he was classless and immature. However, youth will occasionally be classless and immature. We expect that, and we can teach our way out of it. What we don’t expect to have to deal with is a trip to the hospital. But, that’s exactly what happened here as the student who used the sharp object punctured the skin of 27 of his opponents, requiring all 27 to have to go to the hospital for tetanus shots after a September football game.
7. A brutal lock-out: Georgia’s Warren County High got a nasty reception after winning their road game against Hancock Central. Their locker room was locked, leaving them stranded on the field. Then, the opposing players and fans swarmed them. Warren County Coach David Daniels stepped in between two players, and a Hancock player hit him over the head with a helmet, causing injuries that required surgery. The brutal beating was under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in October, but I don’t know the results of the investigation.
8. Facebook standoff: A few months ago, I said that we’d probably see a flash mob incident in high school sports in 2011-12. This wasn’t a flashmob incident; it was a Facebook incident. Apparently, students use Facebook to insult each other. Their on-line threats lead to tension, and when the students finally see each other a fight is likely. This case was worse. There were allegations that a Hancock assistant coach used Facebook to post a message that told Warren County, “Better stay yo a** in WC.” When the assistant coach stoops to this level, the kids may not have a fighting chance.
This wasn’t the only Facebook sparked bad act of the year either. Could it be that the flashmobs of last summer have moved over to Facebook?
9. A handy dandy: Sometimes you have to wonder about the coaches at high school games. In November, two Baytown, Texas football teams had an ugly fourth quarter brawl. Both teams’ coaches decided that the formality of the post-game handshake couldn’t be dispensed with. So, you guessed it, the two teams lined up for the post-game handshake and proceeded to have a fight of such magnitude that police had to enter the field and use pepper spray to separate the players. The post-game handshake is a wonderful formal gesture, but safety - and common sense - should always come before formal gestures.
In each listing of “bad acts” I will point out a good act, program or organization. I’ve noted two “good acts” in this listing.
First, there are times when winning isn't the most important thing. Cross-country runner Josh Ripley of Minnesota’s Andover High realized this, and carried an injured competitor a half mile back to the starting line after his opponent suffered a cut that ultimately required 20 stitches. Then, Josh turned around and completed the race.
Second, Ohio’s Louisville High School's Alex Schooley was called for an excessive celebration penalty after scoring a fourth quarter touchdown with 1:15 remaining in the game. The penalty helped Louisville's opponent gain good field position, and ultimately helped them get into position for a game-winning field goal. Schooley was penalized for pointing at the sky after his score, but he had good cause. His friend had died and Schooley was one of the pallbearers.
Schooley’s gesture was understandable, but only if you knew the circumstances. If you didn't, then the penalty was simply an act of rules enforcement. And that's the whole point. We have excessive celebration rules to deter a team sport from being marred by acts of self-aggrandizement. Officials are supposed to enforce those rules, and they're not supposed to waive the rules for subjective factors. Of course, it is most unlikely that the officials knew why Schooley was celebrating. But what if they did? Do we want officials to arbitrarily waive rules based on their sympathy with one player? It's a slippery slope.
Anyway, you know what happened after the game ... or at least I bet you think you know. Yes, the hometown fans ripped the mean old official, and Hank Zaborniak, the assistant commissioner for the state high school sports association, explained the rationale behind the rule. However, the story doesn't end with the fans ripping the official and the state governing body looking like bureaucrats. Oh, no. One man rose above it all.
Louisville Athletic Director Rich Venuto cleaned the whole mess up by going on television the day after the game, and pointing out that the official did exactly what he was supposed to do. Venuto stated that he hoped his fans would accept the call and move on.
Venuto was right. There are lessons to be learned in sports. One lesson, which is particularly painful, is that we must display the attributes that we value even in the most adverse moments. This was a most adverse moment, and we should sympathize with the student who was penalized. However, we must also do what the AD did, and tell that child and his supporters that, even though we sympathize, we are still held to our standard.
Posted February 19, 2012