By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion
I am not a sports fan. I have never watched a NFL or NBA game for more than a few passing seconds. I am utterly indifferent to LSU’s fortunes, or lack of them, in this, or any other season. That gives me a different perspective on the split between select and non-select schools in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association playoffs. This isn’t high statecraft, it is high school sports. Could we please take a deep breath and calm down?
An official with the LHSAA, an organization that exemplifies the expression “tempest in a teapot,” and an amusing pomposity, recently referred to the association as “the proverbial dumpster fire.” In case his subtle point was lost on his audience, a helpful photograph of a flaming dumpster was included. It wasn’t the most politic statement, but it is not entirely inaccurate.
I may not care about sports, but I do care about the young people playing them in our state’s high schools. I have photographed our local high school teams for the past seven years. The finer points of what is going on may escape me, but I have aquired a good deal of respect for many of the coaches and players. They, and their fellow athletes, are ill served by both the status quo and the new select/non-select split. One can debate the merits of the split, and the myriad of dysfunctional rules, but that is missing the point. Somewhere along the line, we have lost sight of the whole point of why we have athletics in the schools in the first place. Why are shady transfers, grade manipulation, illegal recruiting, and any number of abuses so routine, rather than shameful exceptions, that there is a need felt for more regulation? Nonsense! What is needed is for someone to be the adult in the room and say that sports are an adjunct to a high school’s mission of educating their students and preparing them for adult life. They are not an end in themselves. We all need to take a step back and take a long hard look in the mirror. What is wrong cannot be fixed by piling on more layers of regulation. The fault lies within us.
I would like to return to first principles here. What is the purpose of high school sports? What benefits do we wish our sons and daughters to earn from their time as athletes? What lessons do we wish them to learn? Conversely, to what bad examples and wrong lessons are the athletes being exposed? What can we, the taxpayers, citizens, parents and families of Louisiana, do to address these problems?
The students are not the problem, the adults are. Purposely failing your child in 6th grade so he will be bigger in high school is incomprehensible to me, yet it is distressingly common. How many private “academies” do we have in the state who have no African American students who are not on a sports team? How many athletes age out or are forced out by injury, thus left ill equipped for the real world off the court or field; a real world that is quite uninterested in their fast fading athletic glory? How often do we witness parental behavior at a game that is boorish at best and occasionally criminal? All too many coaches lose control of themselves and reguarly launch into obscenity laced tantrums. They demean the positions of trust they hold and warp the development of the young men in their charge.
What is to become of a young man who never learned that the rules apply to him, whose athletic prowess allowed him to slide by with his behavior and his studies? The rules really do apply to everyone. That is a hard lesson to learn at 19 after you’ve been arrested. I can think of several young men from my teaching days that suffered from stunted lives, star athletes who were coddled rather than taught. It would have been better for them to have never played.
These things have consequences. Unfortunately, the price is paid by the young men who are suffering from bad examples and misplaced priorities. What lessons does a coach’s obscenity laden tantrum teach the young men on the team and the school community? This is how a man deals with adversity? This is how a man conducts himself? Those young men will be out in the world soon enough. They deserve good examples. We don’t need more rules. We need adults.