ECM Guest Column: Sports culture protects athletes from punishment
By Don Heinzman ECM Guest Columnist
This month the annual pilgrimage by high school sports fans to sports temples will end with the celebration of the boys’ high school state basketball tournament.
They will have cheered 2,600 athletes who will have played in 120 winter sports tournaments.
These tournaments are big business for the Minnesota High School League, which rules over high school sports.
At this time last year 317,568 spectators went to the winter state tournaments and spent $3,139,575 for tickets.
Sports writers and announcers recorded every moment on paper, online and television.
No reporter had any problem getting information on scores, backgrounds and photos of the athletes. Coaches and high school principals were only too glad to tell all about their gifted athletes.
All this recognition is out of proportion to the athletes’ accomplishments, but that’s sports for you. High school state tournament teams give a shot in the arm to their schools and make their communities proud. That’s all good.
Sports are a character and team builder, no question about it.
Indeed we all have played a part in building a high school sports culture, and putting these players on pedestals.
Contrast all this openness to how reporters were stonewalled by Maple Grove High School and district officials where this same sports culture helped conceal the reasons why 13 high school hockey players were suspended for two and four games.
The school administration stiffed the media, citing privacy laws. The coach would not even tell reporters if the offending players apologized to their teammates.
Never mind that the public who pays the school bill was kept in the dark.
The media, however, went to work and checked the unofficial sources and found there was a private party where a homemade sex video was produced.
All this allegedly took place in a private home, and came to the attention of the coach and school officials a month later.
An internal investigation was conducted, and it was decided the players broke a team rule and a state high school league rule.
So the athletes were suspended, some for two games and some for four games. Why? We really don’t know.
Let’s face it. Those suspensions were slaps on their wrists. The offending players were back on the ice in two weeks.
Some will argue that the school board should have ended the season. That would be a lifelong lesson. One mother shrugged it off by saying, “Boys will be boys.” Another blamed the media for over playing the story. The offending team members were cheered when they took to the ice.
The Maple Grove taxpayers have a right to know from school and board officials who mistakenly decided this wasn’t the public’s business.
We understand Maple Grove school officials are in the process of using this unfortunate incident to teach students the ramifications of what happened at that private party and that there are prescribed consequences for breaking rules. The sports culture we’ve created unfortunately protects athletes from receiving harsher penalties and idolizes them when they score a goal. The sports culture wins again.
Don Heinzman is an editorial writer and columnist for ECM/Sun Newspapers.