Well! I returned from my seminar to find an excellent discussion underway regarding this Morning’s Ethics Warm-up, wholly devoted to the Virginia girls softball team that was hammered mercilessly for the raised middle fingers of six teammates to send off their vanquished foes in the semi-finals. Here are some further thoughts after reading the comments:
1. There is no question that the conduct of the girls concerned the game, the sport, and the League. They were in uniform. The message directed the “up yours” gesture to the other team. This is not a case where personal expression via social media was punished by an outside authority. Ethics Alarms has been profuse in its rejections of efforts by schools to punish students for their language, ideas or other expression on platforms like Facebook and Snapchat. Those are clearly, in my view, abuses of power, parental authority and free expression. This is not like such cases in any way. If a cheerleader squad, wearing the uniforms, colors and emblems of a school, behaved like these girls, punishment by the school would be appropriate, right up to the “death sentence” of dissolving the squad.
2. Would the reaction to the photo be different if it were a boy’s team? I just don’t think so.
3. The comparison has been made to the earlier post about Matt Joyce, a major league player, being suspended by the league for a comment made to one fan during a game in a heated exchange. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what anyone would think is similar about the two episodes, the primary difference being the fact that in one case, an adult was disciplined for professional misconduct on the field of play, and in the other, children were disciplined for breaching conduct their sport and organization exists in part to teach, reinforce and convey. The punishment of the player was $60,000 in lost income for a single word, not broadcast via social media. The team was not punished except to have to play without his services for two games, but then it was not colorably a team offense by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t even want to think about what an MLB team would do to six players who, in uniform, made the same gesture the girls did to “our fans.” They might all get released.
4. What the girls did was certainly a team offense. It was organized by the captain, and six players is a quorum in a 9 player game. I don’t know if they were the starters or not; it doesn’t matter. Hypothetical: What if the offending players were bitter subs trying to punish their own team out of spite? Answer: It wouldn’t matter, as far as the League was concerned. Nor should it. The conduct breached the rules and embarrassed the League in a national forum.
5. Annoyingly, the official Little League Code of Conduct is hard to acquire. I couldn’t find it online. Chapters are told they can adapt it somewhat, and this version, from the Snoqualmie Valley Little League, seems to be typical. Here is how it defines sportsmanship—the items in red are those which the Atlee team violated:
…playing hard, giving maximum effort and hustling regardless of ability or outcome
…enjoying the privilege of participating and the opportunity to compete
…being a humble winner and a gracious loser
…treating everyone as you would want to be treated
…cheering and encouraging all participants (on my team or the other team)
...never speaking in a degrading or negative manner toward any participant
…never using foul language
…never throwing any equipment
…never intentionally hurting, threatening or assaulting another participant
That’s four violations out of nine. That’s plenty.
Lesson: you have to obey the rules, and when you violate them intentionally, you are accountable.
The earlier children learn that rule, the better.
6. Here’s another: just because you are a winner, don’t expect special treatment. When you are prominent in a sport, activity or organization, you should be a role model. If you act unethically, expect the punishment to be less lenient, not more.
7. I agree that rewarding the Kirkland team, which had not exactly been a sportsmanship exemplar in the game it lost, bt allowing it to take the Atlee’s team’s place is troubling. There was a TV contract to honor, however. Absent that, the league should have declared a forfeit. This was ethics zugswang; no ethical options were available.
8. That the punishment was draconian doesn’t mean it was excessive. It was certainly at the far extreme of the possible measures for the League to take. Had I been the decision-maker, I wouldn’t have punished the team by kicking it out of the tournament. I might have symbolically punished the captain, who was the ringleader, by ordering her out of uniform and banning her from the game. I might have declared Atlee ineligible for the next year’s tournament. I might have made the team start with a 6 run deficit for each finger raised, or make the offenders play the field without gloves. Who knows what I might do. Still, it was a team offense. The argument that the non-participating players shouldn’t have to suffer for the conduct of six teammates isn’t how sports work, or how teams work. How many team members knew about the photo? How many approved of it? There wasn’t time for an i9nvestigation. All for one, and one for all. This is what you get for choosing a poor leader. That’s another valuable life lesson.
9. Taunting and preening is standard in football and basketball, not in baseball. Good for the Little League for being clear that it is not acceptable conduct or good sportsmanship. Taunting and preening in competition is called “acting like a jerk.” This is a controversy at the Major League Level: the fans enjoy the mini-celebrations, but when do they cross the line into being disrespectful and obnoxious? During the World Baseball Classic, the conduct of some of the Latin players was criticized as taunting and preening. Their defense: “It’s our culture!”
And this is why punishing the girls severely was important. We don’t want a culture (or a subculture) where acting like a jerk is considered “cool.”
10. The lesson that abusing social media can have major, undesirable, life-altering consequences become more crucial for our children to learn ever day.