St. Paul's should use scandal to teach lesson

This Just In...

April 02, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

AFTER LEARNING the dirty secret of his St. Paul's lacrosse players, head coach and assistant principal Mitch Whiteley yanked his team off the practice field Wednesday, forfeited the team's game Thursday and canceled the team's trip to a tournament in Connecticut over the weekend. Whiteley essentially suspended the entire team. He was right in doing so, and he'd be right in going further. What occurred was extravagantly ugly, a form of sexual assault, really - a lacrosse player videotaped himself having sex with a girl (without her knowledge) and by Monday evening most of the St. Paul's varsity had seen it - and yet none of the young men on the team stepped forward to stop the video or to tell his coach about it.

"No one took action," Whiteley said of his players. "I'm holding them accountable for that."

A day later, Daniel Baker, president of St. Paul's School for Boys board of trustees, told The Sun: "We do know that the majority of the lacrosse team was [watching the video] and have stated, categorically, that they feel awful."

Awful about what exactly? About having seen the video, or having been caught in the group that watched it? Do the lacrosse players feel awful that a teen-age girl was exposed, humiliated and degraded for their delight, or do they feel awful because they missed the Daniel Hand Jamboree over the weekend? The nature of "awful" should be examined as St. Paul's sorts everything out and uses this incident, as Baker wisely suggests, as a "teachable moment."

FOR THE RECORD - The spelling of St. Paul's coach Mitch Whiteley's name has been corrected for the database. See microfilm for original story.

It would be a shame to let the moment pass without a lesson.

Nearly 30 years ago, the high school I attended had such an opportunity and let it go.

In my senior year, our varsity football team was highly rated by local newspapers and opposing coaches. We had more returning starters than any team in our league and a lot of talented players drawn from small-town, blue-collar families.

One Saturday night after a game in that glorious autumn of 1971, there was a big party in a muddy clearing in some woods that townies called the Piggery. The party was not organized by the jocks, but many of us had been transported there by Mustang, GTO and peer pressure. Imagine a bonfire ringed by cars, and imagine the trunks of these cars loaded with beer purchased by minors. Imagine a couple hundred high school kids in tight blue jeans, and Led Zeppelin blasting from speakers in the back of a pickup truck. Imagine the bonfire reflected in vodka bottles passed from hand to hand, football player to football player.

Imagine cops showing up.

Imagine that any of this could happen without the whole town knowing about it by Sunday morning.

The next Monday, the entire football team assembled in a classroom. We were there to watch and review film - didn't have videotape much in those days - of Saturday's game. (This is something like what the St. Paul's lacrosse lads were supposed to be doing last Monday when the sex video popped up.)

After we were all seated, our head coach walked into the room. He was silent and grim. He appeared hurt, wounded and then angry. He stood in front of the classroom and declared: "There was a large booze party Saturday night at the Piggery."

You could feel the room freeze.

"Anyone in this room who was at that party - stand up."

Quietly at first, then in what must have sounded like thunder, steel desks and chairs screeched and clanged. There were 17 players on their feet - mostly seniors, including the three team captains. There was silence for a long, tense moment I shall never forget.

"Get out of here," the coach said, not with disappointment but with utter disgust. The suspensions were indefinite.

He was right, of course. We had broken the rules about drinking, or even being around drinking. We had lost our right to represent our school on the football team - indefinitely. Others who had avoided the temptations of the Piggery would play in the next Saturday's game.

It was pointless to argue about the suspension, though some of us did. I remember telling assistant coaches that I had been to the Piggery but hadn't imbibed - like Bill Clinton saying, "I didn't inhale" - and I remember laying the same whine on my parents. A lot of my teammates did the same.

And a lot of parents started making phone calls, and the ones who made the phone calls did not support the coach; they thought the punishment too severe.

Before the week was out, our coach had been forced by parents and a gutless school administration to take us all back. I've never been so disappointed to receive such good news because, after a couple of days of talking about this with my closest friends and teammates, I had come to see the coach as a man standing on principle. I was crushed by his decision, but knew he'd done the right thing.

Parents and school officials should have supported him; we jocks should have taken our medicine. I felt guilty returning to the lineup for the next game.

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