It’s 12:15am on Friday morning and I can’t sleep.
1. The Griffith-Hammond basket-brawl. I’m pissed because it happened. I announce a lot of basketball and no doubt in the past couple of years the game in NWIndiana has gotten more physical, mean-spirited, undisciplined and dangerous. With the blatant animosity that players show for each other and refs, and that coaches and fans show for refs, players and each other – this was bound to happen. It did. So I can’t sleep.
2. The decision by the IHSAA to cancel the basketball seasons of Griffith and Hammond. There is much sadness and anger, but I agree with the decision.
3. Arbitrary and capricious. What I wonder about, however, is how that decision was made and what it means for athletic programs in the future. Listen to the podcasts of the two interviews that I did with IHSAA commissioner in the 18 hours following the decision. Basically, Bobby watched the video, talked to the coaches and administrators, and canceled their seasons. Case closed. “Swift and decisive action,” I think I called it on Tuesday.
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,,,But something’s been nagging at me. There have been many fights at Indiana high school games in past years, and none of those programs involved have been canceled for the season. I brought up to Bobby the bench-clearing brawl at the Fort Wayne South-Indianapolis Arsenal Tech football game. Watch that video, it’s just as frightening as the Griffith-Hammond brawl.
But in the Fort Wayne situation, Bobby handed out suspensions. Both teams got to compete in the post-season. What gives?
I’ve been thinking about this… so I can’t sleep. And what keeps coming back to me is a simple phrase – “arbitrary and capricious.” That’s what the late Judge Calvin Peete said in two well-known court cases a few years ago about the way that the IHSAA makes its decisions.
In separate cases – that of Kenny Harris and that of Angel Garcia – the IHSAA had declared the players ineligible. So the kids sued and Judge Peete ruled against the IHSAA, saying that the way they decided who gets to be eligible and who doesn’t is, you guessed it, “arbitrary and capricious.”
I covered both of those trials. And quite frankly, I didn’t then understand what judge Peete meant by “arbitrary and capricious.” I just remember that Kenny and Angel got to play and that Angel helped ECCentral win a state championship.
So back to my conversations with commissioner Cox this week. Several times Bobby said that he had met with member institutions and that they’re sick of the bad stuff at games, that if we don’t watch out we’ll be going to a funeral instead of a game. He also pointed to a commission that he set up that basically reiterated that everyone’s sick of the BS (bad stuff) at games.
I asked him then – is this a policy shift for the IHSAA? When in the past it was suspensions, now it’s cancellations?
“Our membership has spoken,” Bobby said.
Sounds like a shift in policy, or as my lawyer wife would say, the making of case law. As I see it, Bobby Cox is decreeing that if 1. your players get in a fight, 2. fans come on the floor or playing field, and 3. benches clear – your season is over.
If those are the rules, I’m good with that. As long as Bobby Cox writes them down.
Bobby needs to spell out exactly what will end a team’s season. Because if nothing’s written down, then it’s just one guy choosing who continues on after a fight and who doesn’t, without any written rules to go by. That’s the definition of Judge Peete’s “arbitrary and capricious.” Lawyers will have a field day, and when that happens we all suffer. Also, if you write down the rules and coaches read those specific rules to players, parents, fans, the media, you get a huge deterrent effect. Less fights, more sports. - Here’s the rules. If we violate them, then our season’s over.
4. Race hatred. In the wake of the IHSAA decision to ban the all- or mostly- black Griffith and Hammond teams for the rest of the season, and the simultaneous stripping of the all-black Jackie Robinson West Little League team of its US championship, I got some disturbing calls on the radio. Caller Joe said that white people – me included – secretly want to see black kids suffer. And to top that – “White police officers are just KKK members in blue uniforms.” The next caller - Will from the southeast side – echoed that. Couple that with white guys pointing at blacks as the problem, and sometimes it’s just too much to take. Listen to the podcasts and tell me how well you sleep.
5. Sportsmanship Dinner guys missing an opportunity.
As you know, 61 years ago there was a rumble at the Hammond sectional, so some Hammond businessmen got all the teams together and held a dinner so that it wouldn’t happen again. It’s been going and growing ever since, bringing around 30 teams, some 900 people in all, to a hall in Schererville the Monday before sectionals week. It’s one of the coolest enduring institutions around.
But the Sportsmanship Dinner committee, my childhood chum Billy Baker included, says the Griffith and Hammond teams can’t come to the dinner. As you’ll no doubt learn if you listen to the podcast of Baker and me hashing this one out, I couldn’t disagree more with the decision of the Sportsmanship Committee, as the words of Bobby Cox ring through my sleepless head –
“Let the healing begin.”
Here’s the moment that the healing begins. You invite Hammond High and Griffith to the dinner, and you give their players a couple minutes at the microphone. That’s when the healing begins. . Honor the spirit of healing that the Sportsmanship Dinner started with in the first place, guys. Seize the opportunity.
---- It’s not 12:15am anymore. It’s 1:47am, and in three hours and 43 minutes life starts playing out on the radio again. Hope you’ll be rested for it.