The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 5, 2012

Protect teen athletes from public criticism

Daily Item

---- — School officials and other adults who are responsible for managing and regulating scholastic sports are presented with unique challenges when it comes to confronting the privacy of young people who compete in front of hundreds or thousands of fans.

Out of concern that they might cause lasting embarrassment or violate laws about student privacy, officials do not disclose the identities of students penalized for fighting. In the Shikellamy-Selinsgrove game, after a tussle escalated into a full-scale bench-clearing brawl, the referees separated the players, huddled and announced that three players had been ejected from the game. Even though the thousands of fans had just witnessed the fight, there was no disclosure about which players were ejected.

It turned out the referees ejected the wrong Shikellamy player. That player served a one-game suspension. Four other players, identified by members of a PIAA committee after watching video of the fight, are due to now serve suspensions for their roles in the brawl. Three of those players will sit out tonight's homecoming game.

A player who allegedly participated in the fight and then apparently decided he does not want to play football, after all, will serve a two-game suspension on the next team he joins.

During the game, the referees ejected two Selinsgrove players and a single Shikellamy player. The PIAA committee found that the evidence indicated that the Shikellamy players had a greater role in beginning and escalating the altercation. Since the Selinsgrove players had already been given a penalty, the committee took no new action against them.

The strange effort to protect student privacy for behavior that takes place under the bright lights of athletic competition fostered confusion that slowed the resolution and to this day has agitated school officials and fans. It was, at best, clunky.

From the recent developments with NFL replacement referees, we know that even the most-tested refs have a hard time sorting out the confusion on the field and sometimes have to go to the videotape.

The NFL professionals, of course, conduct all this in a highly public environment where enviable compensation softens the blow of exaggerated criticism.

It is right to shield teenage scholastic athletes from high-voltage criticism.

We (the collective community "we") can accept some best intended missteps in the worthy effort to shield teenage athletes from criticism or embarrassment. Seems like a principle worth preserving even if circumstances mean that effort is a little contrived or silly at times.