ESPN’s Outside the Lines produced a short feature a few years ago that looked at the increasing incidents of violence towards referees and officials in youth sports. Earlier this semester, the Oregon States Men’s Basketball Team introduced this type of violence at the collegiate level. It was a teachable moment for all of us, an opportunity for coaches and administrators to demonstrate leadership at a national level. Unfortunately, the incident was quickly swept to the side in a brief public statement, as the athletic department circled the wagons in defense of one of their primary revenue streams.
Wayne Tinkle is attributed with the following statement about the punishment handed out for the incident, “we acted swiftly and severely,” which is corporate public relations speak for, “move along, nothing else to see here.” What the author of Tinkle’s script failed to recognize, is that for those of us living outside the athletic department bubble, a two-week suspension is remarkably mild. If a student retaliated against a professor, resident assistant, or campus security officer by knocking them down to the ground, it is inconceivable that such violence would only be met with a two-week suspension. Another red flag in Tinkle’s script is the absence of any remorse or empathy for the victim. No mention of a personal apology to the referee, or any concern that the incident could have resulted in serious physical harm.
The Gazette-Times interviewed several of the players after the incident, and the comments mirrored Tinkle’s script. They stood behind the player that tripped the referee, claimed that it did not represent the discipline to which they aspire, and expressed a desire to move on. Again, no mention was made of the victim. The writer of the article, or perhaps his editor, implied that the event created a sense of adversity that the team would have to overcome. A public relations specialist somewhere in the athletic department was certainly filled with euphoria when they read the article. Their clients, the assailants, were now treated like victims.
A weak penalty, disguised with rhetoric, and the obvious omission of any empathy for the referee point to a distinct culture within the athletic department that is consistent with the finding of ESPN’s reporting. The question remains, is Oregon State’s culture infected by the negative aspects of youth sports, or is it the sense of entitlement at athletic departments at Oregon State, and other colleges, shaping the attitudes displayed in our youth sports?
It will be a terrible waste of a moment if we don’t find the answer, and more importantly, address the problem.
No one in the program sees it this way now, but Oregon State Men’s Basketball team, through one unfortunate incident, has been given a significant platform – a national platform to address violence against officials at all levels. If someone has the strength and humility to step forward, and if legal advisors can be muted, a tragic incident could be parlayed into a significant moment of change.
I urge a leader, any leader at the university to abandon the corporate script and speak from the heart. This was a tragic lapse in judgment that could have been avoided if the athletic department embraced a culture of respect and empathy towards everyone that helps organize and conduct sporting events at the university. Discipline, a value that is clearly at the forefront of the player’s thinking, will be strengthened when paired with these other virtues.
OSU Alumnus, 1982
Former Barometer columnist