I live in a football town. We are many things as well, but on Saturday, you will hear the ladies at the hair salon chatting about the home team as often as you will new babies and divorces. Our favorite coach is not above reproach, and we make annual pilgrimages across the country just to be in the parking lot of the game we expect our team to play.
Unfortunately, being serious about football, means there is always someone who bends or just breaks the rules, or simply is too passionate to make good decisions at times. It is part of our expectations that specific schools have moved players from other jurisdictions to boost their team’s talent. Knowing this (even if it is just in our own minds) does not mean we even care to do anything about it. The people doing this are very skilled at making sure they do not get caught. Some of them do eventually, or are simply looked down on no matter how well their team plays. Contrary to popular belief; sports are not all about the wins.
Yes, we all like to win usually, but no one gets their kids involved in sports to win. No one puts a ball in their child’s hand and says, “Now go win the game!” the first time. They lead them to increase their physical skills over time. The encourage them to work well with others and manage disappointment. Those few who become focused on the win as their child’s skills improve, are rarely about watching their child win, but are more interested in what the win can bring; college scholarships, careers, fame and fortune. The wins themselves are nice, but only a stepping stone to somewhere else.
There are more lessons within sports, than anyone has yet set down together. We often forget some of the benefits of sports, as well as the impact the participants have on their communities, rather it be a farm town high school or big city professionals with fans all over the country. When professional players make the news, some of the other lessons may come to the for-front, but people rarely discuss the lessons, only the disappointments.
Today the lessons don’t come from the pros. Bill Buldini, a high school coach in Osceola County Florida, has broken the rules; the Florida High School Athletic Association does not permit a school employee nor anyone connected to the school’s athletic department can provide housing assistance to any players. This sounds like a good policy unless you have a member of your high school team who is living on the street.
The answer may sound simple: in order to comply with the rules, juts find someone else with whom the player can live. How, exactly would you recommend doing that? Send an e-mail to the non-athletic teachers? Maybe a letter circulated amongst the players? Of course these potential solutions violate the privacy of the player and is certain to be humiliating at best.
Therein lies the problem; you cannot involve someone else in aiding an individual, without sharing the details of their circumstance. How do you take care of people you know are in need without causing un-necessary embarrassment? According to the rules-you don’t.
Every kid in that school knows who these news stories are about. When a kid is close with a teacher, sharing rides and such, the other kids notice, and then they talk. Even if the coach had been discreet, that school know knows So-and-so was homeless. They likely are again, now that the coach is being investigated.
The problem is not the rule. It is there for a reason. The problem isn’t even the FHSAA, required to investigate whatever punishment may be considered necessary. The problem is the media. It may be a good problem: this publicity may lead to programs within school systems that provide housing for homeless students. But will it?
Freedom of speech is not just a right-it is a responsibility. Just because you have the right to say or print something, does not mean that you should. Withholding names of minors or rape victims, is not responsible reporting. Unless there is some overwhelming need for the public to know, why report stories that involve the potential humiliation of someone? In this technological age, we may have nothing more than an illusion of privacy, but we still can be compassionate. Was it necessary to report this story, or was it just a scoop the reporter thought would make them famous?
Around here we are constantly learning from football. We have learned that our fans can go to far, rioting and making opponents fearful. We have learned that you can be anywhere in the country, and when a game is on, our community is somewhere close eager to invite anyone to join the fun. We have learned that it’s better to have a rivalry with a worthwhile team we can respect. We have learned that our players, and their families, become parts of our lives, and we give generously even when inspiration has lost their battle with cancer.
Most importantly, football has taught us that within any group, there are problems to be solved, within the rules and without. It is how we care for our people as they solve those problems that makes our teams winners or losers.