Sunday, November 14, 2010

The process that is due

The other day I posted a story about the recent controversy here in the Northeast about the Needham (MA) High School soccer team and the suspension of several of their players due to a hazing incident.

There have been a couple of developments since then based on some feedback I want to tackle.

First, one of Kicking Back's roving reporters was at the scene and reported that the match was very one sided in Brockton's favor. Also Needham took the extraordinary steps of keeping the press away from the players and coaches before and after the game, and refused to provide the press with a roster of the players, or an official record of match statistics.

This is interesting to me. While I can certainly understand keeping press and players separate, as these youths no doubt are not ready for such an experience (heck at 25 I was not ready for my first experience), I would have expected statements from the coaches at least in reaction to the game. Even here however things may have gone bad so I am not too critical on this point. But to not give official rosters or records of the match? Come on.

Second, a number of readers have contacted me about the negative criticism in the press about the students taking their concern to court. It is here I am going to draw a very fine line.

I believe in due process as defined in the 5th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution, and generally how it has been interpreted over time in both their substantive and procedural capacity. In this case most of the comments would seem to hone in on the procedural aspects of due process due to an alleged curtailment of a liberty, as quite clearly there is no "fundamental right" to participate in a sport as the substantive aspects of due process deal with.

Todd D. White of Adler Pollock & Sheehan represented the suspended players. While it has been reported Mr. White is a "... father of one of the soccer players ...", it is not clear if he is the father of one of the suspended players, or just the father of a player on the team. (source) This distinction is important as the parents of the players who chose to go to court have been criticized quite roundly, and Mr. White may simply be a "hired gun", and one who should not fall into that group. Also as a former soccer player himself for Columbia University (bio), he may just have felt the plight of the girls and taken up their cause. I for one, cast no aspersions at Mr. White for his acting as an advocate. Due process is critically important and if there was a genuine concern that it was violated, it should be challenged in the proper venue.

I do not share this same feeling for the Needham parents who initiated the suit. If Mr. White was a party to that decision, I feel the same way about him too, right up to the point he became their advocate and had to (publicly) put a lid on arguments other than those based in the law. As I stated before, in his role as advocate, I have the highest respect.

This "parent psychosis" was on full display in an open letter to the editor of the Boston Globe by Sharon Lund seen here. In this article we see many folk running to the defense of the suspended players calling the incident a "ritual," and "no big deal." This as the principal breaks his silence on the incident.

Reasonable minds can disagree if it was hazing, bullying, or some other conduct. However in either case the activity was clearly outlawed by the 2010 - 2011 Needham High School handbook which states in relevant part (source):
Under no conditions are there to be initiation rites of any kind. The School Committee disapproves of fraternities, sororities or clubs with similar characteristics in the High School, or in the school system in general; no initiations or similar activities by such organizations shall be permitted within the school system. Should an administrator assess student's actions to resemble an initiation or form of hazing, students will be asked to desist. Should the action continue students will be suspended.
From this, clearly the school has grounds to act, as well as based in section 14 of the NHS Student Athlete Handbook seen here. In fact the staff (coach inclusive) may be charged with a duty to act. Note also that the threshold for due process in a school setting is diminished significantly and reporting of the incident and brief investigation would likely be enough to suspend the players.

While no one is denying the conduct of the players, and the harm that may come to them with a suspension on their record, I still after much reflection believe that the school acted appropriately, the players got what they deserved, due process was met, and the parents are off the reservation on this one.

Maybe its me, but I just don't see how getting led around blindfolded on a dog leash and getting hit in the face with pies until my nose bleeds builds a team. To take it a step further, I do not see how the coach could condone such conduct either, and if he does not, should be singing from the rafters about it. While I am on the fence about terminating the coach if he is found participating or condoning the activities, I have to believe his affiliation with Needham High School, Soccer Dynamics, and NEFC will become more strained as a result even without being terminated. I say that as a player, coach, referee, spectator, and (maybe most importantly) a parent.

There are a host of differing opinions though, just look here to get a flavor.

While I don't expect this to die down any time soon, the more attention it is paid, the more the local colleges will remember it as these girls, who are yet unnamed, will be remembered.

It would be wrong for such an incident to mar them so early in their playing careers. For the others involved who should know better, shame on them.

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