Between the Lines: Finding the good amidst the bad
High school sports are not in a bad place, but taking in the news over the last few months might have you fooled — concussions, hazing, drug use, coach misconduct. It’s been an ugly fall.
The worst was the sexual assault by a group of New Jersey high school football players on their teammates, disguised as some sort of hazing ritual. The team was suspended, games were canceled and jobs are in limbo.How does something like this happen anywhere, much less an institution where children are supposed to be safe from harm?
The image problem comes from the way news is disseminated these days. Whether it’s a soccer team in rural Montana or a cross country runner in the mountains of Colorado, we hear about it all. That’s not going to change, so in a way, we must come to grips with the “new normal.”
When I was a sports reporter at a daily newspaper, coaches always blamed the media for jumping on these stories. The argument was, “Well, you guys don’t report the good. You don’t write a story when a kid gets an ‘A’ but you’re right there when they make a mistake.”
Poor public perception is not the media’s fault. And the reason those stories aren’t told is because kids are expected to be good students and follow the rules — normal isn’t news. It’s falling out of line that attracts attention, and that’s what we’re witnessing.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t great stories worth telling, but it’s up to coaches and athletic administrators to wave that flag for their programs. Athletes battle back from brutal injuries, coaches volunteer in their communities, and teams defy the odds to win their conference or state championships. All can be worthy of attention.
Our columnist Dr. David Hoch and others have written about the importance of public relations in athletic programs, and that’s an aspect of your job that must be taken seriously. It may not be easy, and some of you may not have the healthiest relationship with local media, but it’s up to you to shine light on the good. It also means you can’t run and hide amidst the bad.
As a reporter, I was asked all the time why we hadn’t reported on this or that, and oftentimes I was clueless. Nobody picked up the phone, nobody sent me an email or gave me notice of what was happening. The stories went untold.
Bad things will continue to happen in high school athletic programs because these are kids, and kids are going to make mistakes. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the athletic program is in shambles or coaches need to lose their jobs. Sometimes, it’s a culture problem intensified by someone in charge, but we can’t be quick to persecute those at the top without knowing the circumstances.
We can never put an end to hazing, or completely protect athletes from concussions. What we can do is combat negative attention by publicizing all that’s right with education-based athletics. No matter where you are, I promise there are uplifting stories waiting to be told. All they need is a voice.