Stop for a moment and ask yourself where you would land on each of these little dilemmas:
- Your favorite frozen yogurt stop is owned by a man that has been charged with child pornography and other similar crimes, using footage from secret cameras he placed in the restroom of his establishment. But, this Friday night they run a promotion where any size fro-yo for only $1. Do you go, or boycott on principle?
- You hear noises outside your house and look to see a group of 4-5 teenagers running away from your neighbor’s garage. As they round the corner, you clearly see that one of them is the son of a member of your church. You learn later that windows were broken out and some tools were stolen from the garage. Police have nothing to go on, other than the hopes that someone will confess or that a witness comes forward. To make the dilemma more complex, you know that this young man has just been accepted to West Point Military Academy and will attend after graduation this year. Anything on his record may very well jeopardize that. What do you decide to do?
- You’ve had tickets to see your 9-year old son’s favorite Major League Baseball team for months. He’s been planning just what you’ll eat from ballpark vendors, has his glove ready to go, and his favorite team shirt already folded neatly awaiting this weekend’s game. The pitcher (and subsequently your son’s favorite player) for the game you’re attending is arrested three days before on a domestic assault charge for (allegedly) beating up his pregnant wife. He denies the allegations and, pending investigation, the team decides he will go ahead and pitch this weekend anyway. Do you attend the game?
So, how’d you land on each of these?
Maybe you say, “Hey, if they want to practically give away fro-yo, that’s gonna hurt them more than me boycotting.” Or, “I’d hate for one stupid mistake to cost a kid his future.” Perhaps you rationalize that, “My son won’t know the difference,” and talk yourself into going to the game.
Or just maybe you land on the opposite side of the argument on one or more of these. The bottom line is, they certainly sound easy when you are trying to judge what someone else should do. (OK, maybe the fro-yo is a no-brainer.)
Situations similar to these are what we find ourselves in today’s world of athletics. Sometimes, they are public, like the one across the state that I live in that happened recently:
On one side of the fence, your program and your school’s reputation are likely going to be called into question. On the other is your opportunity to affect a troubled young man’s sphere of influence, possibly even his future. So, what starts out as a seemingly “easy call” ends up being a situation where each answer has a positive and negative result.
Some decisions are easy. . . .or are they? Take this one from earlier this year, also in East TN:
Sure, we know that at the end of the day, the school likely terminated the contract of this coach. But the reality is we have a human being that is in need of real intervention. So, while the school simply must react in a negative way to his actions, what else is required of us? Or, if not required, per se, at least demanded in the name of human decency?
These situations, and others like them, show that athletics administration is growing exceedingly more complex and difficult. The job of “Athletic Director” at the secondary level was one that, even ten to fifteen years ago, was bestowed upon an active head coach as a reward – either for additional periods out of the classroom or to reward him or her financially. The list of responsibilities often began and culminated with making sure eligibility paperwork was filed with your state association or that buses were lined up for spring sports, and both of those tasks were likely passed down to the school secretary or guidance counselor. It’s not that situations like the ones in this article didn’t occur, but the landscape has changed as technology and the world has evolved and “progressed.”
Just think, thirty years ago when Memphis State University launched an investigation into the actions of their basketball coach, Dana Kirk, it took Sports Illustrated weeks to get enough information gathered up to print a story. Today, it would’ve been old news and national media outlets would already have someone else in their sights by the time the results were printed. This is due in no small role to the instantaneous nature of social media and other mediums that live and breathe on being first.
How does this influence how we process information or how we respond to one of those situations that we know will result in attention on our school, programs, coaches, and athletes? No longer does the high school AD get to sit on the sideline while the focus drifts towards the coach, the player, or the Principal or Superintendent in times of choppy waters.
Here’s a brief checklist to go through just as a resource. I’m sure the list is not exhaustive, but it still provides a little guidance when you know you’re navigating something that even has the potential to end with your quotes in the local (or larger) media.
- Who all does it affect? (This means both immediately and eventually.)
- Does the good outweigh the negative? (A little negative press over hiring a coach that was fired for mistreating players 15 years ago might be outweighed by the influence s/he will have today due to the person they now are.)
- Are you compromising the reputation of your school and all involved? (Granting immediate athletic eligibility to a player who was ineligible for academics or disciplinary reasons at another school may send an unintended message about your program or your school’s mission.)
- Who else should have a seat at the table? (Making decisions standing on an island are never in your best interest. Deciding whether to consult coaches, athletes, parents, supporters, or school or district administration is a key element.)
- How much is at stake? (This could mean parent support, community support, school reputation, or even the position or career as an AD.)
Whether you are a seasoned Athletic Administrator, or just getting your feet wet, it is possible that you have already encountered a situation that has caused you pause. It is even possible that the decision(s) that you were a part of never hit the media or caused you to lose sleep because you side-stepped those land mines. Keeping the right people involved, considering the impact from all directions, and maintaining a focus on your school’s reputation are all important to make those times a little easier. Bottom line – if you aren’t considering the impact it has on your most important resource – your student-athletes, both current and future- then you may make a decision that you later wish you could undo.