The media frenzy around the fact that fifteen high school baseball players walked into a strip club in Florida has not helped to clarify the issues in this unfortunate circumstance. Sensationalizing the immature decision making of a group of high school athletes is distracting us from the real core issues.
Reaction to the Superintendent's handling of this troubling circumstance is most disturbing. Many have expressed that the school leadership has overreacted to a group of high school athletes disregarding the social parameters of their coaches, going into a bar underage with false identification and drinking.
In the grand scheme of life, it is not the end of the world. It is not murder, rape or violence. But it is lying, deception, recklessness and disrespect. Important issues, not only for teenagers, but for all of us.
If these baseball players signed a contract outlining a code of conduct for the season and that contract indicated what the consequences would be for non-compliance, why should they not be held accountable? If a parent helped these young men to break the contract and the law, why was he not arrested and/or held accountable?
High school is a critical time in every person's life. For the athlete who is college bound, his athletic performance could make the difference in whether or not he receives a scholarship. All the more, that athlete needs to be faithful to his word.
High school is not merely about excelling in your sport. It must be much more than that. It is about becoming all that you can be. It should be an opportunity for not only growing intellectually, but morally and humanly as well. It is a time in one's life to learn the value of priorities and the important lesson that with every choice there is a consequence and we should expect to be held accountable for that choice.
It is unfortunate that some of the seniors involved in this incident may have blemished opportunities and/or possibilities for their college careers. However, we must remember that they made their choices. They were not forced or coerced. It was not done to them, but rather they did it to themselves.
The constant refrain we hear from high school seniors is that they are mature enough to make their own choices. I agree. If we accept that, then they should pay the price, whatever it is, for their choices.
Unfortunately, human emotions are clouding and distorting the core issues here. Baseball for high school students is important, but should not be the key issue. The problem with this situation is that too many adults are missing the point.
A group of talented young men gave their word to conduct themselves in a law abiding way during a specific athletic season. For whatever reason, they broke their word and got caught. Not only did they hurt themselves, their families and their school, but they hurt their team and the game they allegedly loved so much.
At another time, in another past age, that public disclosure and embarrassment would have been enough of a consequence. The athletes involved would have learned an important life lesson.
However, in this present age, one's word means nothing. Contracts are seen as a joke that few adhere to. We adults don't lead by example, but rather we enable young people to be non-compliant because we refuse to hold them accountable.
The attitude that too many of us espouse is "they are going to do it anyway" or "what is the big deal; boys will be boys."
We are not talking about petty high school pranks that unconnected, individual kids engage in. Rather, we are talking about a group of young men who were representing not only their school, but also their larger community. These were young men who were called to a higher standard, who gave their word upfront to conduct themselves in a certain way during the season, both on and off the field.
This is not about rigid perfection, but rather progress. The danger in all of this is to lose sight of these young athletes. As adults we have failed them. If they were convinced that we meant what we said, most likely fifteen baseball players would not be lamenting a ruined season and a community would not be polarized and in an uproar.
These young people, probably long before they went to Florida, unconsciously got the message that some rules don't apply to them because they are high school kids and athletes. Why? Because we selectively enforce the rules. Some of us tell our kids that certain rules are ridiculous and we don't comply. Thus, the breakdown in accountability becomes infectious.
In a former age, athletes for the most part were above reproach. That attitude was probably wrong, but if the truth be told, most athletes would never risk being dismissed from the team for smoking or drinking. In those days, we knew that if we were found in non-compliance, there was no discussion, there was immediate dismissal. The thought of our parents suing and/or trying to appeal the decision was out of the question. Our parents were in concert with our coaches. For some of us, moving to a foreign country would have been easier than facing the ire of our fathers for getting bounced from the team.
For many of us in those days, there was a code of respect for the coach and our teammates that would keep us in check. We were not angelic, but we tried constantly to keep one another on track. The captain was our moral leader. He was on our backs if word got out that we were cheating on the rules or the "code."
We don't need fire and brimstone to return. However, we do need to revive respect, responsibility, accountability and leadership on and off the field, for our athletes, their coaches and adults in general. Athletes and students across the board need to reclaim a code of conduct grounded in their word, one that in principle is believable, unbreakable and honorable.
Hopefully we have all learned a life lesson from Massapequa.