Athletes, teachers and role models Overdose in elementary: Do we expect more of basketball stars than of educators?

January 28, 1998

A WASHINGTON WIZARDS player is arrested on a charge of marijuana possession after being stopped by a traffic officer. A teacher passes out in a school restroom, allegedly from a heroin overdose. Guess which elicited more outrage?

Judging from the attention paid to the travails of all-star basketball player Chris Webber, we know that people expect much from their role models who wear sneakers to work. Judging from the dearth of reaction about Howard County's Garrett M. Bradley, it's uncertain what they expect of teachers.

In his first year as Howard's only male kindergarten teacher, the 28-year-old Mr. Bradley was discovered unconscious in a bathroom at Laurel Woods Elementary possessing drug paraphernalia and a substance believed to be heroin. Criminal charges have been filed. The teacher will have a hearing about his future with Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.

The shocking incident didn't spark a groundswell of opinion. It did not swell into a symbol in society's running debate about discipline and morals and values gone astray, as was heard often, for example, after a Howard teacher died of a heart attack while breaking up a student fight last spring, or when a Baltimore principal was overruled by superiors after suspending most of her students for disobedience last fall. Beyond the Laurel Woods community, a teacher apparently doubled over from drugs didn't seem to be a point of much discussion.

A few people proposed mandatory drug-testing of teachers, although there doesn't seem to be much support, or rationale, for that. Perhaps the event was simply drowned out by that other story, involving another county neighborhood, where Linda R. Tripp lives. Or, perhaps reaction was muted because people viewed this as one teacher's travail in a system that employs 3,000 of them.

There's nothing wrong with that interpretation. It's probably the correct one. But when pro basketball player Latrell Sprewell struck his coach last month, or when Mr. Webber was arrested, the media and public were quicker to interpret those acts as symbolizing a more cosmic breakdown. We would hate to believe that people have come to demand more character and exemplary behavior from athletes than they do of schoolteachers.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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