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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sayreville High School Cancels Football, Bullies The Good In Easy Way Out

Gutlessness comes in many forms. In its most pernicious form, it is disguised as compassion or equality or something else sounding benign in order to cover up its true intent or effect.

BREAKING NEWS FRIDAY NIGHT - Seven Sayreville HS football players arrested in connection with hazing assaults. (This underscores my point: Why couldn't actual accountability, targeted at those suspected of being primarily and perhaps criminally responsible, have been chosen instead of the broad brush of punishing the majority of innocent kids?)

This is my view, admittedly cynical, on the suspiciously-hasty decision by Sayreville (N.J.) High School administrators to cancel the football seasons of each of its football squads in response to allegations and preliminary findings of bullying. (Update: The first allegations were and are serious enough. Perhaps much more serious than indicated by the initial reports. Here is breaking news from Wednesday, and some expert analysis out Friday if you have a strong stomach, and a recap if you can stand it.)

Before you continue, understand that in no way am I condoning or minimizing the hazards of bullying (or anything worse and far beyond "bullying," which is what Wednesday's reports are starting to suggest, and which further reports out Friday really emphasize the potential criminal nature of some forcible assaults which go beyond "bullying" or even "hazing"). Read this column carefully. My criticisms of the school administrators should never be taken as an endorsement of the behavior they claim to be attacking. I do question the stated motives that are being voiced and wonder whether the haste in cancelling the football season might have been done to hasten an end to any investigation.

In short, I am asking: What are you doing with that shovel? Are you digging for the truth? Or trying to bury something?

As you'll see in this article, the primary stated objective is to "take a stand against bullying."

But has anyone thought about the initial -- real -- victims?

Has anyone thought about this: The kids, those who were bullied (and hopefully not worse), may be blamed or scapegoated for the season's cancellation.  The blame-the-victim syndrome occurs in many contexts in life; why not here?

Now, as an experienced attorney and an investigative attorney at that, I am naturally inquisitive and play my investigative cards close to the vest. Even when I publicly speculate on something, I hold something back. Anyone who is certain they know what I am thinking, especially when I comment publicly in the news media, is only very certainly an ignorant person. (You have questions? Come to the source -- me -- and come only to the source if you want to know what I am thinking. No one else knows or is authorized to say.) What I can reveal about my suspicions is this:

This decision, these findings, all of this is coming quickly. Too quickly. Makes me think either there's something to hide, or the real agenda is being hidden.

A real investigation is thorough and cautious, and puts getting the result right over expediency or how it looks to the public. (See my primer on outside investigations, including a link to my further criticisms of the "Bridgegate" internal investigation by the Gibson Dunn firm, by clicking here.) 

As stated above, this seems just too quick for comfort. Why cancel the season and ruin the sporting experience of high schoolers -- especially when some of them might lose out on college scholarships and otherwise miss out on what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience?

I would hate to think that these adolescents (I'm talking about the good ones, again) are being sacrificed on an altar of expediency, if it is more important for administrators to show they are, ostensibly, doing the right thing, than it is to actually do the right thing which is to protect the good kids through a legitimate investigation which prioritizes getting it right and holding the truly culpable accountable.

The unintended message (at least I hope it is unintended) to the good kids, likely the vast majority of student-athletes very much adversely affected by this, is that everyone is held responsible for the actions of a few.  This is injustice, pure and simple, and far from affirming some grandiose principle it undermines respect for authority by teaching the good kids they will be treated as responsible as the bad kids.

The unmistakable result is that holding someone accountable, even if it is the innocent, is a necessary price to pay. The reality is that adults either too incompetent or too lazy -- yet having no problem cashing their public-employee checks paid by taxpayers of the same town of Sayreville, NJ -- to use elbow grease to try to do the dirty work of figuring out who is really guilty, cannot be bothered to get it right.

The result is to take the easy way out. Instead of working hard, it's easier to just cancel the season.

It's as if someone were in a hurry to do that, to cancel the season, in order to "call off the dogs," to get the investigation stopped by being able to claim that a remedial action was taken, that the guilty have been punished, so there's "nothing to see here, just move along."

Yes, I am wondering whether something is being hidden here, and cancelling the season might be a way to cover it up.

But regardless of what theory ultimately proves correct, the cancellation of the football season is no way to reward good behavior. In fact, it is the most efficient way to induce more bad behavior. 

Punishing the good kids for the actions of a few, because the adults in charge cannot or will not have the patience and discipline to do a proper investigation, sends a very bad message indeed.

The good kids get bullied twice. First by their teammates. Secondly, by the school administrators charged with protecting their interests but who are showing that the kids come last.

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