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Schools of Thought: Face book 'em Dan-o

October 6, 2008
By BILL CAIN, The Leader-Herald

Whether we like it or not, kids are finding new and exciting ways to do stupid things.

This is why athletic and extra-curricular codes of conduct for student-athletes are revised every few years.

Each of the 13 school districts whose athletes are covered by The Leader-Herald have slightly different codes of conduct for their athletes with a lot of the same rules and different degrees of discipline for their violation. One similarity between all 13 districts is the lack of a cyber policy.

Director of the American Athletic Institute John Underwood said of the 759 school districts in New York, the majority has already adopted a cyber policy for their codes. Underwood helps school districts build these codes of conduct.

At least a couple local athletic directors are researching additions to their athletic codes. Both Gloversville's Mike DeMagistris and Johnstown's Mike Satterlee have expressed an interest in adding a cyber policy.

The interest was sparked after an e-mail was sent to Satterlee, Johnstown High School principal Mike Beatty and The Leader-Herald's news and sports departments. It contained seven pictures, three taken with picture phones, of Johnstown athletes drinking. The photos were retrieved from social networking Web sites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com.

Today's student-athletes are not carrying the same inhibitions around in their heads as athletes did 10 or 20 years ago. Sure, there was alcohol and drug use in high school back then, too, but few student-athletes of yesteryear would have been so brazen as to take pictures of themselves breaking the rules set down by their coaches and then post those pictures on a locker-room bulletin board or anywhere else for all to see.

Social networking Web sites are not as private as these kids may believe.

In fact, when over a dozen students from Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota landed in hot water in January over Facebook pictures which depicted them drinking, the American Civil Liberties Union sided with the school.

As reported by KARE-TV, ACLU executive director Charles Samuelson said, "Any kid who thinks what they post on a social networking Web site is private is an idiot." He also said the students rights were not violated because the school has a policy of zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use by its athletes.

"Schools have the right to withhold extra-curricular activities from students for almost any reason," he said. "They have the right to mine through them [the Web sites] and they can punish the students by eliminating the extra opportunities for them."

The AAI conducted a nationwide survey of 47,000 student-athletes in 2004. In response to one item on the survey, 63 percent of the student-athletes (roughly 29,610) said the consequences at their school for drug use by athletes was not harsh enough.

Also, 99 percent said athletes in their school use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs during the season and after athletic contests.

Basically, they know the consequences and are unafraid. The people in power are not going to catch them and, if they do, so what?

Many codes have dull teeth. If local kids are found in online pictures drinking, doing drugs or anything else illegal, the school districts have no teeth. They can't even gum them, as they don't even have a mouth to say, "Don't do this."

"If you don't have it in your code, you really can't enforce it when it hits the fan," Underwood said. "We don't have the luxury anymore of assuming someone understands something."

Neither can we assume the school officials understand the technology in question.

The specter of Photoshop software that can alter digital photographs scares some administrators into a cautious stance.

However, the issue, as I understand it, has more to do with the pictures these kids are posting to the Internet on various Web sites and less to do with anonymous e-mails. Of course, if someone anonymously e-mails a picture of a student-athlete drinking, the administration could then go to whatever social networking Web site or photo Web site - like Flickr.com - the picture was found on and see it for themselves where the kids in the picture had posted it.

Also, if over half the school districts in the state already have adopted cyber policies, at least a few must have dealt with the possibility of altered pictures and the ulterior motives of third parties.

Our school officials should make a phone call or two. Or 10.

I'm sure those schools' administrators would be glad to help us catch up with the times.

Bill Cain is a sportswriter for The Leader-Herald. We invite your feedback on this or any other sports-related topic. E-mail your opinions or ideas to us at sports@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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