Friday, May 03, 2013

When news literally crosses the line


Whoa, is that true?!! I sure hope not! I'm not religious, but this still seems wildly unfair. 

COLUMBUS, Texas -- An act of faith has cost an area track team a win and a chance to advance to the state championships.

So the headline was right after all? Wow! Absolutely outrageous and appalling! This isn't what America is about! See, this is what the Bill O'Reillys have warned us about all —

Though O’Connor cannot say why the student pointed, he says it was against the rules that govern high school sports. The rules state there can be no excessive act of celebration, which includes raising the hands.

Oh. Thanks for clarifying that, sixth paragraph.

So as it turns out, the team's disqualification was due to a technicality, not because track officials want to eradicate Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the Lamb from children's souls.

But as long as we're being spiritual, let's talk about spirit ... of the rules. Excessive celebrations are at best obnoxious, and at worst can start fights. I personally witnessed (and filmed) a brawl that began at the finish line of a sprint at an indoor college meet at McNeese University in 2000. It started when the winner of the heat made a gesture toward a runner-up, and quickly escalated into at least 20 people punching at each other. The mob shoved all the way back to the halfway point of the straightaway before officials could break it up. Rules against excessive celebration and taunting in any sport are meant to prevent such blowups. Fair enough.

Unfortunately, such rules are often so rigidly enforced that anything at all amounts to excessive. And suddenly, there's no difference between a runner basking in the immediate moment of triumph, and Terrell Owens. That saying about the letter of the law and not the spirit definitely applies here.

If anything here breeds outrage, it's how the officials define and enforce this rule (no raising of hands?). It is indeed sad that this team, which clearly won and otherwise did so legitimately, was denied their shot at state. I won't defend it with "rules is rules" either, because the rule (or at least its enforcement) leaves much room for interpretation. In that respect, I'm as outraged as the Christians who made this story viral.

But again, let's be clear. This is not an act of bigotry against Christianity.

It doesn't help matters that WFAA covered this awkwardly (to say nothing of the outrage sites that further butchered the details). The station covered the outrage more than it covered the facts, when its job is to clarify said facts for the outraged public.

Here's how I would have led off:

Track team's relay win overturned over gesture; state championship hopes dashed

COLUMBUS, Texas -- A finish-line gesture has cost an area track team a win and a chance to advance to the state championships.

This past weekend, the Columbus High School Mighty Cardinals had just won a boys' relay race when Derrick Hayes pointed up to the sky as he crossed the finish line. 

Many people, including Hayes' father, allege that officials objected to the religious nature of the gesture. However, ISD Superintendent Robert O’Connor says that track rules forbid any excessive acts of celebration, which includes the raising of hands.

Then I would have cited the rule, and (if any, and if time permitted) cited a past example of its use. I also would have asked officials, coaches and athletes if they were previously aware of the rule; for all we know, this is the first time anyone's ever brought it up. If the runners knew beforehand how strictly officials enforced the rule, well, that's also important. Reported this way, the focus is on the tangible controversy — what constitutes excessive celebration — and not the imagined one about religious persecution. 

Investigation of the rule is in the true spirit of the story. 

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