Archive for Accountability with Athletes

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: What’s the Right Punishment for the 3 UCLA Hoopsters Caught Shoplifting in China?

Here’s a pop quiz for you.

What’s the appropriate punishment for the three freshman UCLA basketball players who were caught shoplifting in China?

Now, they all said the right things at their recent televised press conference…that they will learn from this experience….that they apologize…and what they did was not who they really are – not the way they were brought up.

They even thanked the President and the United States Government.

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ACCOUNTABILITY: HS Athletes Who Put Integrity Ahead of Winning

“When No One Is Watching”: Two Stories of High School Athletes’ Integrity

By Doug Abrams

With national and international crises and discord dominating the news these days, it takes something special for a youth sports story to reach a major metropolitan newspaper’s editorial page. On June 2, the Minneapolis Star Tribune saluted 16-year-old high school junior Kaylee Gossen, a varsity golfer whose story provides a welcome respite from news accounts of the troubles that sometimes mar the games that children and adolescents play.

Kaylee reminded us that integrity counts in youth sports, and that people respect spirited competitors who take the high road. Without diminishing her will to win, the Marshall, Minnesota golfer delivered the timely reminder when the personal stakes counted the most.

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You’re an adult attending a HS basketball game between two rival high schools, The game is close….the stands are packed…a lot is riding on the outcome of the game.

You notice that a group of students begin to start to shout and make less than flattering comments about the visiting team, and also about the ref’s. Their comments get even worse after a close and debatable call is made.

And then, in the second half, as some of the visiting players are fouled and go to the free throw line, just as each player begins to focus on their free throw, those same rowdy HS kids become extremely loud and obnoxious and try to distract the opposing player.

As an adult spectator, would you step up and say something to these obnoxious kids, and tell them to exhibit some better behavior?

Or do you just sit back and assume that this kind of behavior is normal and accepted these days? Or assume that either a security guard or the athletic director will come by and tell the kids to behave?

In other words, what would you do if you found yourself in this kind of situation?

When I asked this hypothetical question to the audience at the Yogi Berra Museum a few weeks ago, their response was divided. Some said they would bring this rowdy behavior to the attention to the authorities in the hope that appropriate actions would be taken. of the AD.

Others, however, said that this is just part of our American sports culture these days, and not only are the students in the stands – and their parents —  accepting of it…but somewhat surprising (at least to me) so are the players on the court.

What do you think?

The majority of my callers on my radio show said that either they had stood up and chastised the obnoxious kids….but that the key to getting the kids to behave was to reprimand them politely and with respect, and most importantly, with a sense of authority. Each caller said that when those key components were part of the equation, the kids would back down right away.

One caller did suggest that no, there’s no need to make the kids behave. After all, he wanted his young kids to learn how to deal with obnoxious crowds as they got older. But that was the one caller who had a dissenting opinion. Everybody else made it clear that kids today need to conform to social convention, and if they get out of control, then either the refs can stop the game and demand the kids be ushered out, or that the AD or security can make sure the kids leave.

In other words, the kids have to be held accountable for their outlandish actions.


You’re the head coach, and your HS team is playing a cross-town rival in basketball and your team really needs a win. Problem is, you’re playing one of the league’s leading teams so you know it’s going to be an uphill battle.

The opposing team – which has a first-year coach who may not know the rule book — comes out for the opening tip wearing some really sharp, very stylish uniforms. They’re wearing them for the very first time. And these uni’s are totally different from the traditional or standard look with the HS name or mascot name on the front, with numbers on front and back.

But as the head coach, you actually know the league rule book cold. And you know that these new uniforms worn by the other team simply do not conform with the league’s very strict regulations on team uni’s.

Under league rules, you also know you are entitled to a forfeit because the other team probably didn’t clear their new uniforms with league officials. And today, the opposing team didn’t bring any other uniforms they could change into.

As the head coach who knows the rules, what do you do? Just overlook the mistake and play the game?

Put the game under protest with the refs, but still play?

Or bring out the rule book, show where your team is entitled to a forfeit and claim it, without playing the game? Remember, your team really needs this win.

The people who responded today said they would definitely put the game under protest with the refs….but then play the game. It wouldn’t be fair to either team just to call for a forfeit just because of a technicality with the rule book. That being said, if the protest is upheld a week later, and the league decided to award a forfeit, then that’s on the first year coach (and his AD) who either didn’t know the rule or didn’t care.

Either way, they are to be held accountable. If you’re going to coach a HS team, make sure you take the time to read the book in full.



You’re the head coach, and your star pitchers is in the middle of a tie game. It’s late in the game, and there’s a close play at home….as an opposing runner tries to score from third with the go-ahead run, your pitcher is covering the plate, receives a throw from the catcher, and the pitcher attempts to tag the runner.

It’s a very, very close play..and the umpire, who is right on top of it, signals the runner out!

The other team goes nuts…and as the opposing coach argues loudly with the umpire, your pitcher – who is now off to the side – quietly tells you that the runner was actually safe…that he swiped at the runner with his glove but he missed the tag.

As the head coach…what do you do..or say…if anything?

The listeners this AM felt universally that even if the ump missed the call, and even if the pitcher says he missed the tag, it’s not upon the coach to “confess” to the umpire. Such a move would be viewed as disrespectful by the umpiring crew. Remember, there’s no replay in HS sports, and whatever the umpire, or ref, or official rules, well, that’s the call – for better or worse.

Long-time good HS coaches warn their players that each game will be full of good calls and not so good calls. But in the end, the players accept the call on the field and move on. There’s no need to “reveal” to the ump what happened.

Can you discuss later on? Sure. But during the game, the call stands.

I’ll come back to this subject in later columns. In the meantime, as a sports parent, feel free to try out these situations on your athletes and see how they react.


ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: Time to Employ Zero-Tolerance?

I used this morning radio’s show to focus on the importance of discipline with kids in sports today. In my opinion, and I realize I tend to be old school, there’s a general lessening of discipline with athletes today. Whether it’s because coaches are wary of having angry parents protest, or file lawsuits, or if they’re just tired of having to be the “bad guy” when it comes to making kids accountable for their actions, coaches, athletic directors, and athletic programs lean much more on gentle slaps on the wrist when it comes to punishing kids for doing dump, dangerous, or selfish things.

This trend troubles me. And judging from the avalanche of calls that came in on the show this AM, a lot of sports fans feel the same way. It’s been noted several times that many high schools have adopted a Code of Conduct, which basically outlines levels of penalties for HS athletes who break the rules. While that’s fine in concept, the execution tends to be tame. First offenders are given a warning, a second offense might mean a benching from a game. It’s only at the third offense that things start to get serious.

Here’s a possible solution

To me, as a firm believer in zero tolerance, there’s no need to provide several chances. Just make it clear to the kids on the team at the beginning of the season that these are the rules, and if you break them, you can expect to be dismissed from the team. Harsh? Perhaps. But trust me, kids will start to think twice before they do something stupid and risk being booted from the squad.

The beauty of zero tolerance is that it actually makes the athlete think first about the consequences of their actions, rather than figure what it all means after they’re caught. To me, the essence of the teenage years is educating people to develop this first sign of maturity – to think about their actions BEFORE they do something dumb.

I bring this subject up as I was reflecting on the recent punishments that were handed down to the two football defensive backs at John Jay HS in San Antonio, TX. You recall these two kids: late in a game, they deliberately assaulted an unsuspecting ref from behind. He narrowly escaped a serious injury.

Last week, the two football players were banned from playing any more sports for the rest of the year. Since one kid is a senior, this wasn’t much of a punishment. The other boy is a sophomore. He can petition to play sports again next year. But basically, that was it.

True, the local prosecutor may bring criminal charges against the boys, but nothing has indicated that’s going to happen. Even worse, when the boys made an appearance on Good Morning America a couple of weeks ago, their lawyer was asked what kind of punishment they should get, he said “I think they’ve suffered enough.”

Good grief! Two football players deliberately attack an official from behind, knocking him hard to the ground, and the kids’ lawyer think THEY’VE suffered enough? Suppose the ref had broken his back and been paralyzed, which could have easily happened. Would the lawyer still make the same claim?

In any event, this case is becoming more typical of kids in sports these days, and if this trend continues, I fear that the sense of  respect that athletes have for coaches, officials, and other players will continue to disintegrate.

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: Yet Another Horrible HS Football Incident….

So, the two defensive backs from John Jay HS in San Antonio. TX, go on national TV (Good Morning America) and try to present themselves as good, wholesome kids, that their actions in which they blindsided the ref does not truly reflect who they are.

And to “justify” their actions, the two kids made the following defense: that their defensive coach had told them, “You have to hit the ref….he has to pay for cheating us.” And that the ref had made racist comments during the game. And finally, the kids were most apologetic for their actions against the ref.

The two students also pointed out that they were excellent students, and this kind of aggressive behavior was not the norm for them. In short, that they aren’t thugs.

Meanwhile, at the end of the GMA interview, the kids’ lawyer, then recommended that since they had been suspended from school and kicked off the football team, they had been punished enough.

Then, last weekend, in a heated game between Linden HS (NJ) and Immaculata HS, during the course of play, two opposing linemen got tangled up in a play, with the end result that one player wrestled the other player’s helmet off. And once the helmet was off, the player immediately wound up and smacked the opposing player in the head with it. The injured player needed 10 stitches to close the wound.

Ironically, the refs working that game gave the kid who swung the helmet an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but for some reason, he wasn’t ejected.

What do these incidents mean? 

As Steve Kallas and I debated this AM on my radio show, it would seem that kids today have been well-trained in being contrite AFTER the fact. That is, they’re very good at apologizing for their actions, explaining after the incident that their behavior was not in keeping with who they are, etc. The kid who hit the kid with the helmet also apologized.

Now, the legal authorities in Texas as well as in NJ still have not decided what kinds of criminal charges to bring against these football players, but to me, the bigger issue is why, as sports parents, we can’t get our athletes to THINK AHEAD BEFORE they do stupid and regrettable things.

In this case, it would appear the ref who was hit from behind seems to be okay and not injured. And the kid who got smacked in the head with his own helmet is alright as well, although he now sports 10 stitches.

But suppose that kid had been knocked out from the blow and suffered a serious concussion? And suppose that ref had been paralyzed from that hit?

Apologies from the miscreant athletes wouldn’t seem to count for much then.

Even worse, in both of these cases, the sad truth is that all of this was totally unnecessary and uncalled for. I just hope and pray that we don’t have to witness another terrible incident like these. Parents, please always remind your kids to always think before they act!

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: What Do We Do with HS Football Players Who Attack Refs in a Game?

So by now, I’m going to assume you have seen the very disturbing video of two HS football players in San Antonio deliberately blindsiding a HS ref in a football game. This story has drawn national attention, and rightfully so.

The violent acts speak for themselves: the first kid hits the unsuspecting ref from behind, and once the ref is on the ground, the other player hits him full on as though he’s being tackled. It’s a most disturbing video. Fortunately, the ref , Robert Watts, seemed to be uninjured, but according to his attorney, Watts is still receiving medical treatment. Clearly he could have been seriously hurt due to this outrageous action.

We now turn to the legal side of all this. For starters, as attorney Steve Kallas pointed out on my show this AM, these two football players are most likely minors. That’s why the media isn’t going to extreme lengths to provide their names. However, one of the players is a senior, so presumably he’s 17 or 18. The other player is a sophomore.

Texas is one of 20 states that has very tough laws on its books about athletes, coaches, or parents attacking a ref or an umpire. And in Texas, a youngster who is 17 can be tried as an adult.

As of this writing, the local police department in Marble Falls, where the game took place, still hasn’t concluded its investigation, and hasn’t announced what kinds of charges they will bring. Among the other aspects of the case include the allegation that the ref uttered some racial slurs — John Jay HS, the team that the two boys play for, is predominately Hispanic.

There’s also serious talk that an assistant coach for John Jay, Mack Reed, had urged his players that “the ref needs to pay for cheating us.” John Jay had lost the game 15-9 to Marble Falls, and the two players hit the ref with less than a minute to go in the game.

Kallas pointed out that the ref, who is white, has been officiating HS and college football in San Antonio for 14 years. There are no accounts of his using racial taunts in any time of his career. In fact, in the one statement that the ref has made to the media, he acknowledged that he was injured by the attack and  also asserts that he has been “libeled and slandered.” I assume that has to do with the charges that he made racist comments.

We’ll have to wait to see how all of this plays out, but in my opinion, this was a deliberate and premeditated act. I think that’s VERY significant because there have been past incidents where HS or college players have –  in the heat of the moment of a close game – jumped up and attacked or punched refs or umps after a tough call.

But here, this one clearly had to be planned out, and discussed by the two players. Being a premeditated  act to injure the ref is significant.

Next issue: What happens to the John Jay assistant coach, who is currently on administrative leave? He’s the one who allegedly told the players that the ref “had to pay for cheating us.” It would seem the kids took this quite literally. Is the coach liable for exhorting his players in this manner?

Bear in mind that harsh comments and threats are routinely by coaches in a contact sport like football, as in, “I want you to go out there and play smash-mouth football on  that team…really let ‘em really have it!” But can you make a case that these two kids simply followed their coach’s advice?

Next issue: if the older player is 17, will be charged as an adult for assault? If so, he could be looking at some serious jail time. Does it make any difference that maybe he heard some racial taunts? As Kallas explained, no, racial slurs do not justify physical retaliation.

And finally, once the criminal implications are finalized, what’s the civil liability for these two kids and their family? What about the school, John Jay? Could they be found liable for having a coach on its payroll who urged these kids to hurt a game official?

All in all, this is a terrible black eye for HS sports. Even more, have we now reached the point where we have to literally warn and caution our young athletes NOT to attack or assault officials, refs, or umpires? How sad.


ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: “Be A Man” Puts the Responsibility on the Athlete

You may not know the name Joe Moglia.  But trust me, he’s one of the most remarkable people in sports (and in business) today.

The 65-year-old Moglia currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of TD Ameritrade…and at the same time, he also is the very successful head football coach at Coastal Carolina University. In his three year stint at CCU, Moglia’s team have been highly ranked in the FCS each year, and his record is a stunning 32-10.

Joe was on my WFAN show this AM, and we talked about his unique and amazing career from college football coach at Dartmouth to Wall Street CEO and then his return to college coaching again in his 60s. It’s a remarkable and stunning inspirational story that is well told in a biography about Moglia entitled FOURTH AND GOAL: One Man’s Quest To Recapture His Dream. Written by Monte Burke of Forbes Magazine, it’s a most entertaining story.

But during my interview this AM, Joe talked about his “Be A Man” philosophy which puts the pressure of accountability on his players. “They have to, of course, abide by the law,” said Moglia, “But beyond that, we don’t have any rules for our players. They have to do what’s expected of them every day, and if they do something wrong, then they understand that they will be held fully accountable for their actions — in short, they have to be a man.”

Joe went on to explain that he knows that every kid on team – 118 of them – all dream of someday playing in the NFL. But he also reminds them that the average career of a pro football player is 3-4 years, tops. “After that,” he reminds his players, “You need to be prepared for the next chapter of your life.”

Moglia and his coaching staff spend at least one hour each week talking with the entire team about preparation for life after college football. He also discusses matters that go far beyond football. Topics like world issues, terrorism, domestic violence — all of these issues that have nothing to do with X’s and O’s but everything to do with the real world.

In short, he takes his role as a college coach AND educator very seriously.

As you might imagine, I’m a big fan of Joe Moglia — not only for what he stands for, but for the lessons he imparts to his players about life after sports. As Joe explains, “Football is a great game – a wonderful game. But it’s still a game. What I’m trying to do is prepare my players for the hard parts of life that come into play after one’s football career is over.”

His advice, and his Be A Man approach to accountability, is based upon his 40 years of work in business and in sports. “And to me,” says Moglia, “it works.”

No one knows whether another college — or pro — program will come along and try to hire Joe away from CCU. But one thing is for sure. He’s just the kind of coach I’d want my kids to play for.

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: Steubenville HS Football Player Convicted of Rape Does His Time, Returns to Playing Field

That terrible episode that occurred in Steubenville, Ohio a couple of years ago refuses to go away.

Very briefly, in a town where HS football is a big, big deal, two star players were convicted of digitally penetrating a passed-out 16-year-old girl who had drunk too much at an all-night party. Digital penetration (fingers) is still considered rape in that state.

The judge overseeing the case decided to press charges on the boys as juvenile offenders. That’s significant because if they had been tried as adults, they would most likely been sentenced to 10-20 years in jail. But in a juvenile court proceeding, Malik Richmond was given 10 months, and his teammate Trent Mays got 24 months.

Richmond, now 18, did his time and is back in school at Steubenville. He is also back on the football team. In Ohio, it’s up to the school superintendent and HS athletic director to decide whether any athlete can be re-instated on a team. In this instance, the school football coach clearly felt it was okay for Richmond to return because he said, in effect, teenagers make poor decisions all the time, and in this case, Richmond has paid the price. In addition to spending 10 months in a juvenile facility, Richmond is now registered as a sex offender, and will have to be on report to the authorities for the next 20 years. He will also carry a criminal record.

But today’s debate, which featured law professor Doug Abrams from the Univ of Missouri School of Law, focused primarily on whether the punishment fit the crime. I pointed out that the 16-year-old victim was so traumatized by the incident that she had to move out of town and change her identity. Regardless of her predicament, it was acknowledged that neither she or her parents had any say in the punishments that were handed out. That’s state law.

Professor Abrams, who is an expert on juvenile offenders, points out that in Missouri, that state’s program with juvenile offenders is exemplary, and that 90% of the teenagers who commit terrible crimes do go through rehab and become, for the most part, productive members of society. In other words, the kids DO learn from their mistakes, which is the reason why we have juvenile courts in the first place. Obviously, if Richmond and Mays had been sent away as adults, their chances at productive lives would pretty much be over.

But at the end of the day, here’s what we have: Malik Richmond, who was found guilty of rape, did less than a year in juvenile detention, and now is back on the HS football field. The female victim has moved out of town and will be traumatized forever as a rape victim.

As I noted at the end of the show, I personally would have preferred if the football player had been given a longer sentence – perhaps 2-3 years in juvenile detention. And I also would have taken away the privilege of seeing him return to play football. That’s a privilege he should have lost when he was convicted.

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: Learning A Key Lesson from John Wooden

I asked Chris McCarthy, the highly-regarded and long-time Athletic Director at John Jay HS in Cross River, NY to come on my show this AM to talk about the issue of Accountability with HS student-athletes.

I did this because of the ongoing controversy that was sparked by last week’s show about the HS tennis players from the New Hampshire HS who were suspended from playing in state’s quarterfinals because the boys had opted for Senior Skip Day. The AD at that HS had warned the boys that if they missed school, they would not be able to play.

The boys decided to skip school, they were not allowed to play, and their tennis team lost badly without them.

I wanted to bring in Chris this AM to get his views. And he felt the same way about the punishment as did the AD in New Hampshire. “Teaching kids about accountability is a major part of the HS experience,” said McCarthy. “Kids need to learn about the consequences of their actions. Life is full of choices, but once you make a choice, you have to live with it.”

McCarthy drew upon the wisdom of the late great John Wooden, the legendary coach of UCLA basketball. Chris related the time when Bill Walton, perhaps the best basketball player in the country at the time, decided to grow a beard during the season to support a cause on campus at the time.

Wooden had a strict team policy about his players being clean shaven.

“Bill, I see you’ve decided to grow your beard,” said Wooden calmly. “And I want you to know how much I applaud people who believe strongly in supporting a cause.”

Walton thanked his coach for his support.

But then Coach Wooden added: “But of course, you know the team rule about no facial hair. So, good luck to you and your cause. It’s been a pleasure coaching you.”

This response is something that Walton didn’t expect. In effect, his coach was saying good-bye to him. Clearly, Walton had made a choice, and now Wooden was telling him to live with the consequences.

Within a matter of hours, Walton had shaved and came back to the team. Wooden’s point had sunk in.

I had Chris tell this story on the air, because to me, it really cuts right to the heart of student-athlete accountability these days. That is, know the rules and know what’s expected of you.

That being said, it’s always your choice if you don’t want to follow the rules….but if you don’t, just understand you have to deal with the consequences.

To me, this is one of the most important lessons that students -and their parents – need to understand.