Few things are as sacrosanct to so many people as high school football.
That’s what makes the decision by a New Jersey school to shut down the season in response to allegations of sexual abuse all that more empowering.
Nothing — or no one — should be above the safety of students. To condone the alleged actions of players through inaction would be a travesty. For others not to use this lesson to reflect on their own teams would be a lost opportunity.
The assertions being made against some of the Sayreville football players extend far beyond bullying. There are horrific tales of sexual assault of younger players.
Too many people are willing to view such behavior as “boys will be boys” incidents. One parent questioned why all the players should be made to suffer — given that so far only seven have been arrested on charges from aggravated sexual assault to criminal restraint — and considering that “no one died.”
What audacity to think that should be the benchmark for punishment. Try convincing those who are reported to have been pinned down and sexually penetrated they should be happy to be alive.
Here’s a reason why this decision is fair: Because when a culture of impropriety such as this exists and has apparently been allowed to continue so long that others are too intimated to speak out about any abuse, it’s time to stop and evaluate where things are and where they go next.
School district Superintendent Richard Labbe isn’t so sure it won’t take longer to rectify the problems.
“I will say clearly: Whether we have a football program moving forward is certainly a question in my mind,” he told NJ.com.
Some speculate that could mean another year without football for the school. Others think the allegations are so severe they warrant suspending the football program until every current player is out of school.
That is an understandable feeling, but would be a shame because those who are younger players would miss the opportunity to learn the positive lessons football or any other high school sport can provide. Sports can provide discipline, leadership and teamwork.
Sometimes things turn sour, and for whatever reason adults who should know what is going on fail to do so or knowingly look the other way.
Fortunately, the situation at Sayreville is an anomaly — a problem that has risen to the nth power.
But it’s something that could happen almost anywhere if unchecked, even here in Lima and its surrounding counties.
It’s a good time for those who are involved in sports anywhere to take a look at their own teams, their own situations. Are there activities that seem not quite right, but have been a part of “tradition” for so long they are overlooked? Is even mild bullying met with the same “boys (or girls) will be boys (or girls)” dismissal?
Don’t allow it. Speak up.
The lessons learned now, both on the field and off, will help mold young players for the future.