Published On: Wed, Aug 31st, 2016
Sports | By

ON THE SIDELINES: Freedom of speech is great, but these are just kids





In this age of social media, the world is literally in our hands through the marvel – or scourge, whichever you prefer – that we call the internet.  The internet has provided us with unlimited access to information, knowledge, and educational resources, and in turn, we’ve responded with memes, videos of people falling down, and site after site after site of people giving their opinions on everything from sports to movies to politics.

I am a staunch supporter of free speech.  However, I am not a fan of that speech when it becomes unnecessarily hurtful, especially towards children.  As I’ve written before, many times adults forget that the ones playing high schools sports are not adults themselves but just kids…some as young as 13 or 14.

In the heat of the moment of games, we oftentimes hear really inappropriate things yelled out at these young student-athletes.  But, what really gets me is the mean-spirited, many times anonymous, comments made on internet sites.

I’m proud to work for a newspaper that doesn’t put up with that sort of behavior.  A few years ago, I was asked to write policies for the One Feather regarding news coverage, journalism ethics, etc.  I made a point to include a clause in there about sports coverage as it relates to student-athletes which reads, “Cherokee One Feather staff will refrain from harsh criticisms in articles or photo cutlines.”

When writing my sports articles, I am about the facts as all sports writers should be.  When I’m doing this column, I can interject my opinion.  There is a huge difference, but that’s another column.

There’s a real difference in writing about things such as fumbles, interceptions, turnovers in basketball, etc. and criticizing the players that made them.  Most people covering high school sports have enough decorum to do the same as I do and stick to the facts.  If a team loses, they lose.  If they’re outscored 59-0…well, that’s what happened.  Report it.  But, undue criticism doesn’t do anyone any good, and it’s counterproductive to what student-athletes and their schools are working towards and that’s increased self-confidence and self-esteem.

I wish the same could be said of many sports sites around the country and on individual Facebook pages.  It is never okay to harshly criticize high school children playing a sport for fun.  It just isn’t.  It’s ridiculous enough to yell these things at them during the game, but to post them online for the whole world to see is just wrong.  I really feel the old adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” comes into play here.

With our policy, the One Feather doesn’t allow comments such as this on our Facebook page.  I can say though with pride for Braves fans and those who follow our page that we have never had to delete such a comment.  That is just about incredible, but it is true.  I hope the One Feather never has to.

Over the summer, my daughter was awarded a free trip to Washington, DC for being a winner in this year’s Young Native Writers Essay Contest.  While there, she visited the Newseum and purchased a shirt for me that reads, “Freedom of speech is not a license to be stupid”.

I think that shirt just about sums it up.  Go Braves!