Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/8/2017: The Taunting Girl’s Softball Team

Good Morning!

I’m squeezed today like fresh orange juice!

I have an early morning ethics seminar in about 90 minutes, so one topic is all I have time for. But it is a good warm-up, reaching an ethics issue—the proper level of punishment for civility breaches in sports— recently discussed here, but with very different factors and ethical considerations involved.

Here and Virginia, many are steaming over the harsh punishment handed down to the victorious Atlee Little League girls’ softball team, which was kicked out of  the Junior League World Series,  featuring the best 12-to-15-year-old girls teams in the world, only hours before its players were about to take the field on national television. The team’s offense: an unsportsmanlike social media post, taunting its last opponent.

Atlee prevailed in a week long tournament in Kirkland, Washington, culminating in tense 1-0 victory in the semifinal game against the host team. Apparently resentment between the teams ran high, and the game featured a controversy over the Kirkland team stealing signs. (Stealing signs in a girls’ softball game? Wow. I didn’t even think there were signs in girls’ softball!)

After the victory, the carptain of the Atlee team used Snapchat to post a photo of showing six members of the team flipping the Fuck You Finger at the Kirkland team.

The Atlee manager Scott Currie heard about the post and had it deleted. Then he arranged for his team to deliver a formal apology in person  to the Kirkland players the same evening. Nonetheless, it was too little, too late. The next morning the head office of the Little League World Series disqualified Atlee from the tournament, and awarded Kirkland the berth in the title game.

The Junior League  issued the following statement:

“After discovering a recent inappropriate social media post involving members of Atlee Little League’s Junior League Softball tournament team, the Little League® International Tournament Committee has removed the Southeast Region from the 2017 Junior League Softball World Series for violation of Little League’s policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct, inappropriate use of social media, and the high standard that Little League International holds for all its participants.”

Not surprisingly, supporters of the Atlee team, and the team itself, feel that the punishment is excessive.


1. It’s not. The punishment is certainly tough, but an important part of kids athletic programs is, or should be, educational. This is a terrific lesson to teach, and I will do my part to make certain that the tale is publicized far and wide. It should be taught in schools. It is a perfect cautionary tale.

2. If we are going to fight the political culture’s around the clock efforts to ensure that our rising generation makes us a Nation of Assholes, this is a battle won.

3. Defenders of the Atlee team point out that Kirkland was nasty to their girls. “Tit for Tat” is a rationalization, as is “They had it coming.” Those are neither defenses, nor excuses.

4. The other useful part of the message is “Beware social media.” That one may be the most important of all.

5. Losing a berth in the tournament hurts now, but losing jobs, income, respect  and reputations in adulthood will hurt far worse later.

Let’s hope the lesson is learned.


42 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/8/2017: The Taunting Girl’s Softball Team

  1. Kirkland’s behavior was also quite questionable. So their punishment? They get to move on. Lesson is provoke your opponents enought to get an over the top reaction.

    Neither team belongs.

  2. My guess is lesson won’t be learned. The girls got that culture from somewhere (read as parents)…

    When you get a large enough group “in the outs” with authority figures probably also just as feeling “in the outs”, instead of great introspection you see a certain amount of grumbling and turning in, doubling down and a big mess of convincing themselves they have been wronged…with a group large enough to provide rationalizing support.

    But that’s if the parents are like the kids (and make no mistake, children *are* barometers through which we can measure parents). I’ll hold out hope that enough parents and definitely the coach recognize the fault of this that the girls to take away a valuable lesson.

    Even if they don’t, hopefully the whole league does and others.

  3. It was excessive. There is no indication that the rest of the team participated, or even had knowledge of what the six girls were doing. The proper course of action in this case would be to disallow those six from participating in the game, while allowing the rest of the team to go forward.

    • And with that many penalized they might have to forfeit or lose anyway. But that would put the blame on the ones who offended.

      I’m just a little concerned that braggadocio and taunting is being treated so harshly. I remember threats by teams at all levels and eras in various in-person and through reporters and thought that was part of competition. This seemed generic and not personal. Athletes being rude before a game is not a shock. Is it an extra shock as it’s girls instead of football team? It just seems more free speech than deflating a ball or whacking another player where sportsmanship is an issue.

      • I remember threats by teams at all levels and eras in various in-person and through reporters and thought that was part of competition.

        I only have high-school to go on, but I saw very little of it. At a cross country meet, one kid taunted and said some nasty things and ended up being made to sit the race out. A few times teams that had a friendly relationship engaged in good-natured teasing with each other but for the most part it was good luck beforehand and good run a handshake or a hug afterward. That goes for the track and cross country meets I ran in, and the soccer and tennis matches I attended.

        Football, I’ve no idea.

        • Football allows you to work aggression out on the field. Those that go too far are not allowed to play any more.

          Football coaches also had a bit more leeway in forms of punishment for player offenses. Now, not so much.

      • One of those rare occasions, where I agree with Deery, 100%. It may be info that I’m missing in this situation, but unless the league has morality clauses, or rules regarding private use of social media (which would be a whole ‘nother can of worms) what right do they have to regulate the social media use of their players?

        How does the league *know* the f-you was directed at the opposing team?
        What if the photo was posted a month after the game? A year?
        What if it were TAKEN a month after the game?
        What if they were in street clothes, rather than uniform?
        What if it were at home, rather on the bus leaving the game?
        What if it were one player?

        I HATE the degradation and coarsening of discourse as much (likely, a bit more) than the next person, and value educational opportunities greatly, but it sounds like overreach, and it seems like the coach was handling it appropriately (unlike big time college sports programs who try to beat NCAA adjudicators to the punch, by self-penalizing by sitting star players for 1 week against a weak opponent).

        As a side note, I used to be an Asst Coach for a high school football team, for 2 years. I chose to leave, because my competitiveness was clouding my ability to properly set a good example. I had one situation where I called a timeout late in a game, just to run up the score on an opponent (whom the other coaches were convinced had disrespected one of our coaches), and another where I stormed on the field and screamed at a ref for making a bad call that cost us a TD (after reviewing the tape, the call was legit bad, but the outcome did not cost us a score). I apologized at halftime (before reviewing the tape, simply bc the ref looked upset, knowing he blew the call, and I recognized that my behavior was deplorable), but I set a horrid example for sportsmanship and the proper way to treat another human. None of the other parents or coaches thought twice about it, but I knew it was time to go.

    • This may be a first, Deery. I agree with you.

      I also agree with Jack that there is great value in the lessons delivered by this series of events, and with every point he made following “It’s not.” It was excessive, and another example of turning an athletics competition into a social engineering experiment.

      Something like this happening in Little League is not a huge deal to me. These junior leagues are meant to show kids the value and ideals of athletics competition, and for a fact, the misbehavior described in Jack’s post undermines these values. Most of us were taught the old adage that “It’s not winning or losing, it’s how you play the game,” which is meant to emphasize sportsmanship, the realization (which is especially applicable at this level) that it is just a game for entertainment, not suitable for a life goal.

      I’m a big believer in the theory that when a compelling interest is at stake, the least intrusive route to satisfy that interest is the best. The team’s misbehavior was important enough to deserve a robust sanction, but anytime you effectively destroy a competition to send a message, even an extremely valuable one, you have overreacted. The team advanced over Atlee did not deserve it. In my opinion, the damage done by advancing a defeated team over a victorious one is more severe than the actual offense.

      • There would be an issue being able to even field a team. If you play as a team you suffer as a team. This was not just one player, but almost half the squad.

        • I don’t think the punishment should’ve been suspension of the players involved, either. It’s too harsh for a bit of taunting, and it affects the competition in an unacceptable way considering the offense.

          If there had been cheating or another competitive advantage in this affair, then yes, that is a kind of problem that requires drastic action that may be destructive to the competition. What we had here was mere assholery, and while I agree that there’s a great lesson to be learned overall, sending it so forcefully that you destroy the competition for non-competitive reasons is overkill.

      • “I’m a big believer in the theory that when a compelling interest is at stake, the least intrusive route to satisfy that interest is the best…If there had been cheating or another competitive advantage in this affair, then yes, that is a kind of problem that requires drastic action that may be destructive to the competition… destroy(ing) the competition for non-competitive reasons is overkill.”

        I agree completely.

    • I like your approach a bit better than what happened, but it’s a close call. Six missing player might trigger a forfeit anyway, and it certainly dooms the team and makes a mockery of the finals. Does that seem more lenient to you? Make the innocent team members endure a public humiliation playing the best team shorthanded?

      • I think there’s a decent argument to be made for “Win as a team, lose as a team.” Or maybe “taunt as a team, get punished as a team.” Unfortunate for the kids not in the picture but I think they’ve learned a very valuable lesson as well. I do think the region should have just not sent a team rather than sending the team that lost. I also don’t buy the “It wasn’t the worst thing in the world” excuse/defense. If my daughter had done something like that at that age, she wouldn’t have been going to the next game anyway. Completely reprehensible. An embarrassment to the family. “Go to your room.”

        • Without group punishment (and rewards) there is no team cohesion. The military uses this method to great effect. We are (were) all green, and skin color did not matter. The actions of one impacts the team (as in combat: fall asleep on guard duty and the team may die) and the team is responsible for the actions of team members. The team uses peer pressure to enhance performance.

          It works.

  4. “The Atlee manager Scott Currie heard about the post and had it deleted. Then he arranged for his team to deliver a formal apology in person to the Kirkland players the same evening.”

    I think the manager should have gone one step further, he should have immediately removed the 6 players from the team roster, maybe permanently; if that meant that they could not play their next game because they didn’t have enough players then they forfeit the game.

    Based on the fact that the team manager wasn’t willing to remove the 6 players from the team and suffer the consequences, I think the punishment handed down from the Junior League was appropriate – the apology was only part of the solution but not enough by itself; however, if the team manager had removed the 6 players from the roster, the punishment would have been excessive.

    Now about the Junior League allowing Kirkland to advance after loosing the game fair and square to Atlee; I think this was dead wrong and sets a very bad precedence. The team lost fair and square and they should not advance in the tournament due to non-game events. If the Atlee team was removed from advancing in the tournament then they just forfeit the next game in the tournament.

      • There are a few things I would like to know about this story.

        1. First, if the one team was suspended for unsportsmanlike conduct, why wasn’t the other team? Was it because there was evidence that only implicated one side (seems most likely) or their’s was too excessive? Perhaps if they just flipped them off while leaving the parking lot nothing would have ever come of it.

        2. You mention that the organization had rules against this kind of thing. Do these rules outline loss as a punishment?

        3. Depending on how you answer my number 2, I have concerns with the organization stepping in when it seems like acceptable steps were already taken. If the kids are going to learn a lesson from this, it has got to come from the coach or else I don’t think they will ever hold themselves accountable.

        Jack, I know when it comes to children, you have different approaches, but I really don’t see much of a difference between this baseball story and the one you posted yesterday. If you could offer some clarification, it would be helpful.

    • Sounds about right. Don’t reward victims (who apparently don’t come in with clean hands) just for being victims. Juggle the tournament schedule to avoid anyone receiving a bye and go on with the tournament. In the unlikely but certainly not impossible scenario that Kirkland goes all the way, I can easily see a protest being filed by a team that won every other game and should not have had to face a team that lost on the field with no nefarious doings there.

  5. This is more of a notion than a fully-formed opinion but I’d be interested in hearing feedback. In a way, isn’t this further conditioning to young people that hardships and unpleasantness should be dealt with by authority rather than by individuals? As has been stated upthread, the offense wasn’t anything game-related that could have affected the final score. Rather, it was a rude gesture (one might say “hate speech?”) that grown-ups swooped in to punish.

    In sports, as in life, there will always be people who are rude and classless, who gloat when they win and protest when they lose. What’s the stronger takeaway to the youth here- not to be crude, or that hurt feelings should face consequences from authority?

    • Point illustrated with sports war stories:

      – A local softball rec league had a team who’d deliberately joined a lower-tier league so they could easily win every game, while constantly taunting their opponents. the league shrugged, but when someone had a chance to knock them out of playoff contention the other teams all chipped in to offer a keg to the underdogs and turned out in force to cheer the ringers’ surprise loss.

      – A rival football team in high school had a star QB who was the coach’s son and received typical King’s Pass wrist slaps for things like having alcohol at school. Rather than protesting his light punishment to the league our coaches got us nail-chewing mad at their “we’re untouchable” attitude, and it was settled on the field.

      I know the “good guy” underdogs don’t always win but I certainly got way more out of having my chance, rather than having someone step in and say “they did a mean thing, now they don’t get to play, you win by default.”

  6. I have not coached baseball for several years but had 30 years coaching experience prior to that in youth leagues. What should also be of concern is what type of coaching environment existed? Are these kids just renegades? Is there anything that caused such a unified amount of disrespect? I all my years all but one discipline issue was with multiple players and that was just two. What type of structure existed in games/practices that may have given tacit support to such behaviors?

    • This is typical social media fodder, Rick. The girls just got caught.

      this is why my kids are not allowed to use social media: the total lack of civility, standards, or common sense.

  7. Well I guess adolescence is a time that kids do dumb things. Being a smart ass is one of them and we won’t see a whole flock of helicopter parents protesting the disqualification of the team.

    • I hate the outright abuse of travelers because of different laws in different states; however, ignorance of laws in different states, especially gun laws, is absolutely no excuse. I know the gun laws in lots of states because I look them up well before I travel to or through them.

      From the video; the guy’s magazine should have been confiscated and a stiff fine assessed for possession of an non-lethal illegal oversize magazine, throwing the guy in jail is outright intentional ABUSE and not proportionate to the crime! I wonder if he could sue; I’m sure there’s lots more like him, maybe class action; maybe the NRA would help?

      The lady in the video should have known and complied with the gun laws in New York regardless of whether she followed the rules for flying; rules for flying do not override state/municipal laws for dangerous weapons. Know the laws in places you travel to and through; ignorance is absolutely no excuse. She made the wrong choice.

      That said…

      The real problem with flying with sidearms is that flights can be diverted to unexpected places, like New York and if your destination is NOT New York, you’re stilled screwed if you happen to be diverted to New York for unforeseen reasons – law enforcement will not take that into consideration! Do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly to jail!

      Even though I’m licensed all over the United States for concealed carry, I will no longer travel via airlines with my sidearm, at least not until places like New York fix their outright abusive laws regarding licensed concealed carry an accommodate for things that are beyond the licensee’s control and give the licensee an absolutely positively secure place to store your sidearm while temporarily in the state. If my understanding is correct; in New York if they were to find out that your checked baggage contained a sidearm during a temporary layover while transferring from one flight to another they can come into the terminal, arrest you, drag you out of the terminal, and throw you in jail.

      Personally I drive whenever possible and stay the hell out of states like New York.

  8. How would this case differ from a professional case in which 6 players behaved the same way? Should a team be cost an almost certain World Series win?

  9. I think the interesting thing of the story coming out now is reports that the photo was actually taken from the practice field before the game was played, and was clearly a taunt and not some reaction to what happened during the game.

    I still don’t like rewarding Kirkland with advancing, unless the thinking is that the Atlee team would (should?) have been disqualified at the time so the game wouldn’t have been played. Since the Kirkland’s teams actions during the game weren’t the greatest either, the best would have been to just disqualify the team.

    Problem, I’m sure, is the next game was being televised nationally. Cancelling the game would have meant losing the televised publicity for the league, so they had to do something for it.

    • Yes and along those lines Kirkland is the host team. Now they get the host team and their fans in the title game. And the director who made the decision is from…Kirkland. Strongly doubt the league would have reacted the same way if Kirkland had won and behaved the way the Atlee team did.

  10. A few comments a little late since I’ve had a long day…
    1. On this being ethics zugzwang… Yes, it is, but if Jack came up with less draconian measures (see his next post) that might have been better.
    2. The Kirkland team should not have been rewarded. Period. This happened in my backyard, and Little League around here is obnoxious enough without “rewarding” a team for being victims (same goes for HS football). If teaching a lesson is the most important thing and the only way to teach that lesson is by eliminating the offending team you go ahead with the forfeit and it the penalty fee from the broken TV contract.
    3. If there is no rule (which is likely) to deal with the situation, but the coach is showing willingness to deal with it, you should reach out to the coach to figure out what the appropriate punishment is. If the apology and removal of the post are insufficient (and they were insufficient) you work out with a team representative what the appropriate punishment is. The way the league handled it the decision looks arbitrary and happens to favor the local team. Now you have diluted the value of the lesson you’re giving because it will be perceived as throwing a bone to the locals.

Leave a Reply to slickwilly Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.