When you work as a sports official you get used to people sensationalizing just about anything:
- “If you don’t call that ref someone is going to get killed!”
- “You must be the single worst official I have ever seen!”
- “You aren’t keeping my players safe!”
- “What did I [the coach] do? I didn’t do anything wrong, and if you say I did then you’re a liar!”
Context is huge is officiating. So when I see a sensationalized news story that either does not research the full context of a story, or eliminates a key piece of information that provides context, I like to wait and see what else comes out.
http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/10/07/long-island-middle-school-bans-footballs-other-recreational-items/ – This is the article that broke the story of a Long Island middle school banning “footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls, or anything that might hurt someone on school grounds.” As to be expected, every internet keyboard warrior came out in droves and responded to this article. Some stated that is this proof of the wussification of America, while others said that you can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting children. When I first read this article I had a strong reaction to it because the article was written in a way to get me to have a strong reaction and drive up viewership and comments on the article’s website. However, this CBS Local New York author did not include a major part which actually explains the situation more reasonably.
http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/09/living/parents-middle-school-bans-balls-recess/index.html – I waited one day, and sure enough a report from correspondent and editor-at-large Kelly Wallace actually put the sensationalized story into context. Apparently the Local CBS writer could not find the school’s press release stating that the ban on “footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls, or anything that might hurt someone on school grounds,” was also started due to construction nearby. Forcing kids to play their familiar and fun games in much closer proximity to one another, which increased the potential for injury. “Soft nerf balls will be provided during recess, and kids can play with hardballs during gym and intramural athletics” reported Kelly Wallace. That means that the ban that was sensationalized by the earlier article was really just a ban on items that could cause injury due to kids getting packed together because of the construction near the school.
Now, my beef with the CNN article is that while it provided much needed context about the school’s decision to ban fun things to play with at recess, it also had a sensational title. My tenth grade english teacher taught me that titles need to be exciting enough to grab the reader’s attention, but also tell the reader what they will read. Here is what both articles should have titled their reporting with:
Long Island Middle School Bans Hard Balls At Recess Due To Dangerous Construction Activity
See what I did there? It is still a punchy and exciting title, but it provides much needed context to a hot-button issue. Aside from the title, I have no problems with Kelly Wallace’s article. I do have an issue with just about everything in the CBS Local article, and here are a few sentences I have a problem with:
- “Without helmets and pads, children are much more susceptible to getting hurt, experts said.” – Wow. I feel dumber after reading that. Of course pads and helmets protect children. Heck, they protect everyone! I’m still not going to put a kid in padded armor just so he or she can leave the house unattended or cross the street by themselves.
- “They have instituted a ban on footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls, or anything that might hurt someone on school grounds.” – Let’s examine that last point about anything that might hurt someone. That implies that schools should consider eliminating all hard surfaces kids could run into, sharp objects that kids could poke themselves with, small objects that kids could choke on, and hot foods that kids could burn their mouths with. The world is a dangerous place, and you can’t protect a child from everything. I’d rather the kid learn to not run full speed into a concrete wall when he’s four because the memory of not doing something that foolish will be burned into his mind for the rest of his life.
- Both articles quoted Port Washington Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Maloney stating, “Some of these injuries can unintentionally become very serious, so we want to make sure our children have fun, but are also protected.” I believe Dr. Maloney needs to choose her words more carefully because any injury can “unintentionally” become very serious. I have seen kids fall after a very soft hit, but they break their collarbone because they hit the ground in a weird way. I’ve also seen players take a cross-check directly to their helmet and absorb the hit without injury. There is a huge range when it comes to injuries, but the only way to prevent “unintentional” injuries is to keep kids in padded rooms with a helmet on and no interaction with other human beings. Hopefully they won’t “unintentionally” go crazy from the lack of contact with other people.
- “The Port Washington district said the softer foam balls put students in the best situation to cut down the chance of getting injured.” – The Port Washington district’s stance on soft foam balls misses a key provision. Say a bunch of kids are playing touch football with the soft nerf ball. One kid jumps up to catch the ball, but doesn’t stick the landing. His awkward landing breaks his leg, which lands him in the Emergency Room, and he has to wear a cast for the next four months. The soft nerf ball did not cut down on his change of getting injured, and I contend that kids have a fair chance at breaking a leg whether they play with a regular football or a soft one.
I am an official. My job is keeping players safe, but I always know that players can get injured on legal plays just as they can get injured on illegal plays. The only way to keep players from getting hurt playing the game they love is to not let them play the game.
The originator of lacrosse rules, William George Beers, said it best – “no game is worth a fig if it has not some spice of danger”. I believe kids need to learn how to get hurt. Otherwise they never learn how to deal with pain.
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