Legal “Rights” To High School Athletics

I’ll apologize at the start for the length of this post…

I’ve been sent this news story (found here) multiple times over the past couple weeks from people either sending it as an FYI or curious to know my opinion on it.  Before I comment on it, I feel like I need to place a couple disclaimers:

1. I have spent some time researching legalities in high school sports, but I am not even close to a legal expert.
2.  Again, I am not a legal expert.  Not even close.
3.  I have read multiple articles that summarize this case, and I have read both the court summons and the affidavit.  That said, I haven’t studied this particular case in close detail.  As I comment throughout this post, I do so based on my own understanding of what I’ve read.

OK – quick summary:
– The kid went to a school music concert (presumably as a participant) in 2010 causing him to miss a basketball game.
– The school’s Code of Conduct stipulated that students would attend fine arts performances in the case of such a conflict.
– The kid served a half game suspension as a result of attending the concert, then  claims he was slowly deprived of playing time and was treated poorly for the rest of that season and the seasons leading up to his 2013 graduation.
– The kid used Twitter to express his disgust early in the 2012-13 season.
– The kid was removed from the team in December of 2012.
– Conversations between the kid/parent and school administration took place in the spring of 2013.
– This suit was filed in the fall of 2014 after discussions went nowhere.

In reading through some various content, it appears that the kid is claiming that his current lawsuit is not a retaliation against the school because of his removal from the team but rather an attempt to change the political structure of the administration at his previous high school.  As I read through the summaries, I see a whole lot wrong with just about everybody associated with this case.  In the long run, my guess is that the only winner in this case will be the kid’s lawyer (who probably knows that he is going to lose this case,  but he’s going to make a nice payday and get some nationwide press in the process).

Here’s where I think the kid is wrong:
First and foremost, high school athletics has been protected MULTIPLE times as a privilege, not a right, and therefore doesn’t fall under protection of any state law or constitutional amendment as they apply to public education.  Meaning: participation on a public school team is subject to whatever rules and regulations deemed necessary by the school or team (this is why teams can have such rules like haircut guidelines).  To be clear, I’m not advocating or condoning the use of arbitrary rules for the sake of having rules, but athletic teams do need to hold their athletes to a higher standard than the general student body.
Knowing that athletics is a privilege and not a right, 1st Amendment free speech is not protected.  The kid’s tweets regarding his role on the team are a viable reason for removing him from the team (many college teams now have rules against players using social media – Twitter in particular).  Similarly, due process (14th Amendment) is not protected on athletic teams (in fact, recent recommendations to athletic directors have been to remove any mention of due process from the Code of Conduct because it isn’t necessary).  More than that, the mention that guidelines within the student handbook weren’t followed (the written summary of accusations) aren’t applicable because the incident happened during athletics (not protected) and not as a student receiving public education (protected). Again, not that I suggest doing this, but coaches and administrators can remove players from teams for many, many different reasons.
The allegation that removal from this team hampered the kid’s opportunity at scholarship dollars is foolish.  As I wrote in a previous post, if only 3% of high school athletes get athletic scholarships, it’s impossible to assume that any 1 kid will meet that criteria.  Even if he had the natural athletic ability to compete at the college level (and he might because he’s now a college high jumper), ability alone doesn’t guarantee a scholarship.  It doesn’t matter that he “…had the desire to participate…at the highest level…”

Where the coaches went wrong:
If school policy dictated that music takes precedence over athletics, the kid shouldn’t have sat as a result of his music participation.  We have this same procedure in place for our athletic programs, and my expectation is that our coaches wouldn’t punish a kid for doing what we tell the kid he/she has to do.
If the kid’s playing time was significantly reduced, the kid should have been made aware of why during an individual player meeting.  If the coach wasn’t hosting individual player meetings, I wonder how he thought any of his players were going to improve in the areas the coach found lacking?
Despite 1st Amendment free speech rights not being protected for high school athletics, the coach should still have had some type of social media policy listed in team rules.

Where the admin went wrong:
It’s tough for me to comment completely on this because I haven’t seen a response affidavit outlining the administration’s side of the story.  Based on what the kid has reported, I don’t agree with some of the comments and actions made by admin, but I won’t accept those comments as truth yet, either.  The single biggest mistake that I can see without digging is that the coach was allowed to sit the kid for a half following a policy put into place by the school.  If the school dictates attending fine arts over athletics, I’m disappointed that the kid was punished for attending his music concert.  The rest of it is speculative for those of us at a distance; I won’t attempt to know or learn if or why his playing time was reduced.

My takeaway from this whole mess:
Kids – your participation on an athletic team is a privilege granted to you because you have some natural ability.  You are responsible for keeping that privilege.
Kids – you probably aren’t going to get a college scholarship.  Work hard and do the right things because that’s what you do, not to earn the golden ring.  Quit treating high school athletics like a definite step to the next level.
Coaches – have your policies and procedures in writing for your athletes to see at the outset of the season.  Then follow them.
Coaches – at the very least, have pre-season and post-season individual meetings with your players.  The only way they can get better is to know (1) what you expect of them and (2) what they aren’t doing right.
Coaches – understand that you coach a high school sport.  That’s it.  Kids, like adults, have a lot of stuff going on in their lives, so it’s important that we’re tolerant of those issues.
Administration –  like coaches, get your school policies in writing.  Then follow them.
Administration – stay professional in the way you deal with kids and parents.  I shudder every time I read articles or comments where an admin appears to be acting as a higher authority.  We are in our roles in part because of how we interact with people.  It’s part of our duty to treat people in the professional manner expected from our offices.

Am I right?  Am I wrong?  Am I WAY wrong?  Let me know via comment or email!  I’m interested in others’ opinions on this topic.

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