Booted for flipping the bird harsh? Sure. Necessary? Absolutely

Eric Adelson
Columnist

Imagine watching a Little League game on television and the cameras pan to the dugout. Standing there are several players with their middle fingers outstretched toward the opponents on the other side. Would that warrant a disqualification of those players?

It should. And the same behavior on social media should as well. So credit Little League officials for taking a strong stand on sportsmanship over the weekend when it disqualified an entire girls softball team after a Snapchat photo depicted six of the players flipping the bird with the caption, “Watch out host.”

The players who made the gesture belonged to the Atlee team out of Virginia, and their target was a team from Kirkland, Washington. Atlee won the Junior World Series game on Friday, 1-0, but the outcome was reversed when officials saw the photo.

(Via Snapchat)

“After discovering a recent inappropriate social media post involving members of Atlee Little League’s Junior League Softball tournament team, the Little League International Tournament Committee has removed the Southeast Region from the 2017 Junior League Softball World Series for violation of Little League’s policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct, inappropriate use of social media, and the high standard that Little League International holds for all its participants,” a statement from the tournament read.

Little League also held itself to a high standard by stepping in. It could have easily passed the buck, and left it up to the coach.

Atlee’s manager, Scott Currie, told the Times-Dispatch the decision was a “travesty for these girls,” adding that, “Yes, they screwed up, but I don’t think the punishment fit the crime.”

In Currie’s defense, he made the players delete the post and apologize to Kirkland. But the real “travesty” would be looking the other way. Because of the small team size in junior little league softball (only 12 players on Atlee), suspending six players is effectively suspending the entire group, so it was tough to be selective in this situation. The top officials went all the way. They did the right thing.

Social media behavior is boorish in general, but low standards shouldn’t be accepted because everyone is doing it these days. Cyberbullying is a real problem among teenagers, and part of that is because the cell phone or laptop screen provides a buffer between the poster and the consequences. Here’s betting none of the Atlee girls would have done the same thing during a postgame handshake. But that doesn’t mean the effect of their behavior is different.

The anguish for the Atlee team is real. They lost a chance for a title, a chance to play on national television into the weekend, and the chance to come home as heroines. Instead, there were a group of supporters at the Richmond airport, some with signs like, “You are all stars to us,” some with hugs. There were, according to the Washington Post, “a lot of tears.”

But there was also a lesson: social media impact lasts even if the Snap doesn’t. The players on that team will probably be much more careful in the future, when their college application or job is on the line instead of a Little League game. We are now in a world where Harvard has rescinded acceptances for social media behavior and Penn State dropped a football prospect for his online presence.

What about the players who didn’t join in the photo? Shouldn’t their parents be upset? Their kids did nothing wrong, and they lost a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the title. But their reaction should be directed to the girls who cost the team, or better yet their parents. Many parents across the country, if they heard about their child flipping the bird to an opponent, wouldn’t have to wait for a decision from an official; they would yank their kid off the field immediately.

The team released a statement to WRIC.com offering that it was “very sorry” for what happened, but also adding the following:

“We expect Little League International will take the time to fully investigate the matter, and we will comply with this investigation by providing all information about unpleasant interactions, including the social media post and the time leading up to that event – not all of which were on the part of those of the Atlee softball team.”

Maybe Kirkland also behaved poorly – there were ejections after a sign-stealing incident – but that’s a separate matter. The Atlee players did this to themselves.

Many on social media and in real life are upset with the culture of the participation trophy, where everyone is made to feel like a winner.

Well, even participation trophies need to be earned.

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