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Empire Editorial: Bring the facts into the open

Posted: April 9, 2013 - 3:42pm  |  Updated: April 10, 2013 - 12:01am

Organized sports in and out of schools are a great tool to keep kids busy, keep them healthy and let them learn teamwork and leadership.

Things can also go very wrong, and that happens when there is a failure to supervise or a culture built up that makes a teenage Juneau athlete fearful to report a beating like the one caught on video last summer at a football training camp.

All it takes is a glance at that grainy cell phone video to see that things went very wrong, and a number of people who were there did not report the incident.

The facts are still being discovered, but the video of an assistant coach punching and knocking out a student last year while other students cheered clearly shows that, until very recently, something was broken in the child abuse reporting system at Thunder Mountain High’s athletic department.

A now-former assistant coach is seen punching an incoming freshman linebacker who had stopped fighting back — indeed turned away from the coach after being struck on the face without headgear.

Teammates cheered and the coach raised his arms in victory as the youth collapsed to the floor, apparently unconscious.

The police and school officials are sorting out the facts, and a lawyer for the youth in the video is going over what may become a messy and costly civil suit.

Regardless of the outcome, the school district owes our community a thorough explanation of how an incident that happened in July was not reported to police and the parents until last week.

We also need to know if other incidents like this have happened, and if they did, were they properly reported?

We as a community don’t need a witch hunt and a scapegoat — we need investigation and justice.

Many in the community, especially in online forums, are raising questions about when and how much the football coaching staff knew about the details of that “boxing match” turned beatdown last July during a football training camp.

Someone even made an odd leap and stated that school football programs are a form of child abuse.

We think notions that demonize school sports are hogwash.

We believe school athletics at every level — properly coached and monitored — are vital to the health and well-being of our community’s children.

Boys and girls who participate in sports get the opportunity to travel to other parts of Alaska and learn not just about sportsmanship, but about living in this vast state.

At a time when travel budgets are threatened by budget cuts, it is important that this disgusting — and we hope, isolated — incident not be used as an excuse to cut an expense or athletics, that is in itself an investment in the character development of our youth.

Major news organizations, including ESPN, have already shared or are investigating this story. It looks like Juneau School District is once again going to be given some national scrutiny.

Rather than retreating into a defensive mindset, it’s time for the district to proactively raise its staff’s level of awareness about hazing and reporting, and clearly tell Juneau residents what will be done to educate and counsel athletes and staff so this won’t happen again.

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