A young man playing high school athletics has been accused of rape and rumors persist regarding additional sexual misconducts. I preface this story by stating that this young man has been a star athlete almost his entire life. He is a multi-sport talent and had been inundated with numerous scholarship offerings.
Since the allegations and rumors have surfaced, this young man’s life has begun to unravel. The scholarships have been either been rescinded or put into limbo along with his future.
I remember back when I was a young athlete, my friends and I would share stories and gossip with other buddies and girlfriends from other high schools and soon everyone knew everyone else’s business. That’s the way it is with young people finding their way into adulthood while still hanging on to what little youth they have left.
So as the story goes, the rumors reached other high schools and their parents and administrators and security and so on and son on.
I’m not here to lay out my thoughts regarding guilt or innocence or even the allegations, I will let the legal process make that determination. What I am here to explain is my take on the gray area of sportsmanship and bullying.
After a brief suspension from his high school basketball team, on an allegedly unrelated matter, this young man is now back on the court playing again.
Recently, his high school played a heated contest with one of their arch rivals. The opposing high school’s student section began chanting, “No means no”, a seeming reaction to the sexual assault allegations and rumors levied against this star athlete. This chant has incited the young man’s parents and supporters to the point of which they are now sending out petitions to “stop the taunting and bullying”.
I’ll come back with my thoughts regarding the chants and petitions in just a moment.
Additionally I have discovered that the opposing students were originally going to wear jerseys of the college that had rescinded this young man’s scholarship. Instead, the students wore black. These shirts signified the rape rumor that the sexual assault came after the girl in question “blacked out” from a night of alleged drinking.
I also understand that the opposing school administrators and coaches found out about the college jerseys to be worn and stopped that action by alerting students that anyone caught wearing this particular jersey would not be allowed into the gymnasium. The meaning of the black shirts was not discovered until after the game had been completed and was only known to the students who actually participated by wearing the colored shirt.
Now, back to the purpose for this article. What’s taunting and what’s bullying?
While there are specific guidelines regarding both, I reference former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when he ruled on the topic of obscenity in the case of Jacobellis vs. Ohio in 1964, “I know it when I see it”.
If you’re up in arms about a student section using the terminology “No means no”, I think you’re a little off base here. While I would like to see students cheer for their own team and leave the heckling out of it, in today’s day and age you’re asking for a utopian society and we all know that’s a fairytale. I mean come on, listen to some parents yell like enraged babbling idiots and you need look no farther as to where the apples are falling from the tree. How many parents have petitioned to have other parents removed or their voices stifled from high school sporting events? My guess is not many if any at all. It’s a little hypocritical to now ask for administrators to shut the kids up.
Secondly, take into consideration that some of these students may be friends of the alleged victim(s) and they are merely chanting the same slogan that women’s rights groups and victims of rape groups have been chanting for years. Their chants of “No means no” could be merely in support of their friend. What if this young man was accused of selling drugs instead of rape, do you mean to tell me that a student section chanting “Just say no” or “Hugs not drugs” would be as vilified?
What if the students from the opposing high school decided to walk a picket line in front of or near this young man’s high school with signs that read “No means no”, would you then be signing petitions to have them stopped and their freedom of speech or expression taken away as well? In your definition, isn’t that still taunting or bullying? What if this particular young man took a 3 point shot that didn’t even hit the rim and then every time he touched the basketball, from there on out, the opposing students starting chanting “Aiiirrrr Balllll”….technically, isn’t that taunting?
I appreciate the “No means no” chant a lot more than the commonly used “You suck” or worse. Believe me, I heard far worse when I played.
After reading the 56 page Sportsmanship Guideline on the WIAA website, you can make an argument that no one be allowed into a gymnasium or stadium ever again. I could go to any game on any Friday night and technically police the stands to make almost every student and spectator leave the arena.
The only phrase in the 56 pages that directly pertains to this particular argument is this (Page 5 under the subset of Student Groups “Refrain from taunting or making any kind of derogatory remarks to your opponents during the game, especially comments of ethnic, racial or sexual nature.”)
My idea of taunting comes to the forefront with the use of a specific player’s name over and over and flinging vulgar language in that same player’s direction. That, to me, then crosses the line.
As far as bullying goes, this doesn’t pass the “smell test”. The field of athletics is different from any classroom and/or any office you’ll ever participate in. On the field trash talking alone could be considered bullying in its own right. Remember, fans have been saying things and using chants to throw their opponents off their game for years. A bigger athlete setting a hard pick on your son or daughter while saying “nice hair” (in a sarcastic way) 4 to 5 times in a game is looked at as just competition but if your son or daughter is bumped hard in a school’s hallway with the same sarcastic saying vaulted at them 4 to 5 times in one school day, that’s bullying. Do you see where I’m going with this?
What this unfortunate situation amounts to is some protective parents and friends wanting due process to play out before judgments are rendered and the obvious maternal protective instincts kicking in. Heck, if it were my kid, I would feel as helpless and as outraged as these parents and friends obviously do. As a parent I can somewhat empathize with them but I do try to remember, parenting is preventing as much as it is protecting.
My advice to the parents and friends trying to protect this young man, if you think that the chants are effecting his mental wellbeing, then pull him from the sport. Playing sports at a varsity level is a privilege, not a right. It’s about protecting your young adult, not silencing the world….right? If he does continue to play, he’s to expect some type of derogatory behavior directed towards him, after all he is a star athlete whom the opponents want to hinder in any way possible.
Now that this story is out there and gaining momentum, I’m sure that other administrators and coaches are aware of what’s about to happen and will take the necessary steps to create a somewhat respectful atmosphere but young adults are smart, they’ll figure out ways to let their voices be heard.
One other note, to this young man, you have obviously put yourself in situations that have allowed this negative atmosphere to flourish. As you grow into a mature adult I hope that you realize that you have no one else to blame but yourself. The old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” comes to mind.
Again, in this particular story I make no assumptions of guilt or innocence, I just want to know where the line is as to what kids, young adults, parents, can and can’t say at sporting events.