Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Archive for April 12th, 2010

That's not bullying! It's tradition!

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A big part of the problem in fighting bullying and hazing in schools, and on their sports teams, is that no one in authority can seem to agree on what bullying and hazing is. To you, mean cheerleaders stuffing another girl in a locker against her will is probably bullying. But to, say, a principal, it can be written off as a school tradition.

For example, take this incident at Elm Grove (La.) Middle School, near Shreveport.

A sixth-grade girl, Abigail Herring, said that during cheerleader tryouts, she was shoved into a locker, had trash thrown at her, and then had the door shut on her while another cheerleader stood guard for 20 minutes. Sounds a lot like bullying, right? Or hazing? Or something you probably would lose your shit over if you heard it happened to your kid? (For example, if you’re Abigail Herring’s mom, losing your shit enough to run to a local TV station so your daughter could tell her story.)

But to principal Bobby Marlow and his crack investigative team at Elm Grove Middle School, what happened to Abigail Herring was not bullying. From KSLA-TV in Shreveport:

He told us the school’s resource officer completed a thorough investigation, “and what bullying would be is when somebody is repeatedly affected in a negative way by someone.”

Marlow described what happened to Abigail Herring as an unofficial tradition he knew nothing about.  “Evidently, it had gone on for several years where a girl would get in a locker for good luck on the tryouts.”

So let’s see if I get Marlow straight. If we were in school together, and I shoved a broomstick up his ass once, that’s not bullying, because I wouldn’t be repeatedly affecting him in a negative way, right? Now, if I did it twice, that’s wrong. But once, OK.

And, if shoving a broomstick up someone’s ass was an “unofficial tradition” for “good luck,” I’m even more off the hook, right? “Hey, meat! Bend over for good luck! It’s an unofficial tradition! That we’ll only do once!”

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Why do we stuff you in a locker? Tradition!

To be fair to Marlow, plenty of parents, administrators and prosecutors somehow excuse bullying behavior they would never tolerate otherwise as long as it involves kids and sports. It’s this kind of twisting of logic that leads many of us to the conclusion that  waterboarding isn’t torture, at least when our side is doing it.

And in these cases of bullying and hazing involving kids in sports, the bullying is coming from people who are supposed to be part of the same team! On what planet can you, say, interview for a job and be told that before you can be part of the company, you have to participate in some “unofficial tradition” that involves your abject humiliation? You know, to prove yourself worthy. One of us.

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Gobble, gobble, we accept her.

For the record, Marlow says the “unofficial tradition” of stuffing prospective cheerleaders in a locker is over. At least that tradition. Oh, and apparently the good-luck charm didn’t work, because Abigail didn’t make the squad.

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USA Swimming proves that the Catholic Church isn't the only one with kid problems

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Recently my 12-year-old son asked my 66-year-old mother what the differences were between life as a kid now, and life as a kid in the 1950s, when she grew up in the same small town, Gladstone, Mich., as towel-throwing Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak (actually, she worked in his family’s diner, where Bart, nine years her junior, was by my mom’s telling a snot and a serial attention-seeker. Go figure!)

Anyway, my mom responded that, beyond the obvious differences wrought by technology, the biggest difference is that kids then didn’t have to worry about dangers like children have to now. However, I quickly corrected her. “You mean, kids didn’t KNOW what the dangers were then.”

I said that because I knew the story she had told me, which she repeated once I corrected her, about how her father warned her never to go to a deer camp with her friends and their fathers. That’s because once they got there, the dads took advantage of the remote location, and the knowledge no one would ever believe their daughters’ wild tales if they had the guts to tell them, to go on a molestation orgy.

I’ve thought about that story as USA Swimming, the national governing body of, obviously, swimming in the United States, comes under increasing criticism over how it handled, or didn’t handle, coaches who were alleged to have molested their charges.

The comparisons with the Catholic Church are easy and appropriate, because in each case people put in a position of trust were abusing that as they abused children, and because the lead authorities willfully ignored, covered up or otherwise did not take what now would be considered minimal appropriate action to ensure the abusers were removed and prosecuted.

Dribs and drabs of this information have come out, particularly with the trial and conviction of San Jose, Calif.-based coach Andrew King, who apparently has been molesting his swimmers for most of his 40 years as a coach, but who didn’t get caught until he was arrested in April 2009 on suspicion of molesting a 14-year-old girl. When the girl’s family sued — saying that USA Swimming and other authorities should have known about King’s conduct and ignored complaints about other coaches — 1972 Olympic gold medal swimmer Deena Dearduff Schmidt said she was molested by her coach as a preteen, a coach who is a Hall of Famer. (The coach’s name was not identified.)

The lawsuit also says that USA Swimming didn’t institute any sort of background screening for coaches until 2006, and even then barely put any teeth in its policy.

In a report that aired on ABC’s “20/20” on April 9, USA Swimming chief executive officer Chuck Weilgus appeared like a deer in headlights trying to explain the 36 coaches who had been banned by his organization for misconduct, and why the organization hadn’t done more.

In the “20/20” report, an Indiana-based coach named Ken Stopkotte said the problem of creepy swimming coaches has been a problem in his 27 years of working. Interesting he says that, considering that he once replaced a coach who left because of allegations he condoned hazing on his swim team.

USA Swimming has the chance to look clueless again on May 2, when ESPN airs its “Outside the Lines” report on its own investigation into the malfeasance of swimming coaches.

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USA Swimming’s problem, like the Catholic Church’s, is its unwillingness to admit that its representatives were responsible for such heinous acts, and its unwillingness to come down hard on those people. The problem is not unique to those organizations. As in this story about a famed New York high school basketball coach indicted on sexual crimes, there are plenty of authority figures from plenty of places who did plenty of horrible things over plenty of years to plenty of youth. Maybe in the 1950s my mother didn’t actively worry about the bad things adult authorities could do — but they were doing them.

The difference now, presumably, is that it’s much easier for parents and others to imagine that happening — and that they’re less apt to accept the lame explanations they once received, and the demands of silence placed upon their children. Until organizations, sports and otherwise, figure that out, they’re going to spend a lot of time on TV going “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” as they struggle to answer questions about their lack of oversight in the past, present and future.

It’s not just my grandfather warning about the dangers of deer camp anymore.

Written by rkcookjr

April 12, 2010 at 12:39 am